MEDIA WATCH : Norwegian Media Does Not Ban “Banning”

Profanity, or banning in Norwegian, is the use of words that are usually viewed as offensive or rude, and are used to provoke or to "colorize" a dialogue. In most languages, it is possible to find examples of profanity. Swearing is as old as language itself and curse words, in many different contexts, have been in use ever since languages have existed. Yet, these words have often been perceived as inappropriate to use in the public domain and/or services addressing to a general audience. Therefore, there are usually limits to their use within the media sector.

However, a recent study has indicated that it's becoming less taboo to include swear words in a newspaper or TV program. Linguistics Professor Ruth Vatvedt Fjeld at the University of Oslo examined the occurrence of profanity in the online editions of ten major Norwegian newspapers. In the course of the study, she checked the most typical swearing expressions like "damn," "Devil," "bastard," "bloody hell," "Satan," and "heck". Prof. Vatvedt Fjeld came up with the conclusion that such popular words are no longer banned in the media.

Fjelds’s study shows that the newspaper Dagbladet allows the most profanity on their pages, followed by VG and the Trondheim-based newspaper, Adresseavisen. On the other hand, the newspapers of the more traditional Christian areas – south and west coast – are more careful with profanity than the east and northern Norway-based newspapers, according to the results of the research.

Lars Helle, Dagbladet’s editor-in-chief told NRK that he is not glad to find themselves on the top of such a list, as they never have had such a goal, but asserted it is sometimes appropriate and necessary to allow certain profanity usage, especially when citing other people’s expletives in certain situations.

The researcher Marianne Rathje believes that profane language does not signal low social status any longer, but it is rather perceived as a free and creative approach to language performed by the editors. Lecturer in media language at Volda University College, Jon Peder Vestad also thinks curse words are used much more in Norwegian media texts than before. However, he believes the censorship of swear words is often necessary even though it may violate the principle that journalists should not reveal their own attitudes within the comments of others.

– “It's not a liberated mission to spread their language attitudes to the society. Many of them want acceptance for their own language patterns, but they forget that much of the public do not share their standards, "said Vestad to Journalisten.

As language consultants for NRK, Fjeld and Vestad state that there is no need to offend anyone with the use of such abusive language by pointing out that there is even too much profanity in children's programs. They also suggest that it must be possible to talk about sex without having to resort to profane sex terms and stress that it is necessary to control the media language as languages and attitudes evolve.

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