Why a guide?

The discussion of so-called hate expressions, harassment, threats and bullying, and of general content and form in online comments, debate fora and social media, has gained importance in the public sphere. This is of high relevance to edited media. Many media outlets still provide commentary sections with their published stories, and in addition, many have established profiles in different social media, where audiences can express themselves directly, without advance moderation.

The Association of Norwegian Editors (Norsk Redaktørforening) is frequently contacted by editors and others, with questions of how to handle different issues that can be included in the term 'online discussion'. Which rules to follow? What is the responsibility of the editor and the media outlet? How to manage the content in such a way that one avoids, to the largest possible degree, illegal or unethical expressions, while stimulating an open and unbiased exchange of opinion?

For the sake of clarification: This guide is limited to digital publication. The term "online discussion" includes all kinds of comments and posts in digital fora. We do not discuss questions related to copyright, for instance, in this guide. We limit the advice to what can be potentially illegal or unethically offensive due to its content, rather than its origin.

This guide is an attempt at systematising responses to questions we know many editorial leaders ask. The guidelines were developed by the secretariat of The Association of Norwegian Editors, with suggestions and proposals from editors, journalists and attorneys.

Initially, let us emphasise that even though a guide like this will contain many warnings and thus carry a sceptical undertone, there is no doubt that the option for readers to comment - when maintained and managed properly - has been and will continue being an enrichment to the exchange of opinion within edited media.

We want to thank all those who have contributed to the work with this guide, with special thanks to editors Halvor Fitness Tretvoll, Erik Stephansen, Tone Tveøy Strøm-Gundersen and Geir Ramnefjell, and from attorney Jon Wessel-Aas, for their advice.

The guide will be updated. If you would like to give input, please contact us at The Association of Norwegian Editors.