In some recent articles, I have discussed media issues, prompted by the fake news debate. I have also written about my country of origin, Norway, since Princess Märtha Louise has been in the news and targeted by the media in ways I think has been wrong. She is holding seminars about faith, spirituality and how to live; the media have gone after her, not just reported what she says and does, yes, even in that country, which tops rankings regarding media freedom and human rights. I shall write more about this below, but first, there is need to include some background information.

The proud and patriotic Norwegians celebrated their national day on 17 May, commemorating the 1814 constitution and more; I believe the country’s history and today’s political approaches are of interest to other countries. Besides, there are many Norwegians of Pakistani origin, about 50,000, some even top-politicians, with relatives in Gujrat and Quetta; many women are doing particularly well as medical doctors and in other fields. They and other immigrants constitute an important group of the ‘new Norwegians’, the some 800,000 immigrants and refugees in the oil-rich land with just over 5 million people.

There are some 200,000 Muslims in Norway now, worshiping in over 150 mosques, and there are more congregations and sects since Muslim religious leaders want their own flocks – like many indigenous, Christian Norwegians have wanted over generations. The ‘new Norwegians’, Muslims and others, contribute to making religion more dynamic than it was when almost every soul was a Protestant-Lutheran, as it was when I went to school and every first lesson at school started with a prayer and Bible-history. In 2012, the State Church gave room to the People’s Church.

Most Norwegians are low-key and moderate in their religious expressions. One mustn’t ask a colleague or friend direct questions about personal faith. In surveys some two-thirds say they believe in a God, but only some two percent attend church regularly on Sundays. When tragedies strike, and also at celebrations, the church plays a role. In future, I hope that mosques and interfaith ‘rooms’ will be used, too. But religion is more in the heart than worn on the sleeves. Even some ‘new Norwegians’ of the Muslim faith have begun following Norwegian ways, so, they may not fast every day this Ramadan, still seeing themselves as Muslims.

In my article last week, I focused on issues of openness to other faiths, which is essential today to create a more peaceful world with diverse and inclusive communities. At this time of year, during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims reflect deeply on religious issues. People of faith, and others, too, should appreciate this tradition.

Having this background, let me discuss more specifically the Norwegian news story about Princess Märtha Louise and her colleague and fiancé, Derek Verrett, who have been under fire by the media’s because of their discussion of faith issues. On Thursday, Ascension Day was celebrated by Christians, and also Muslims believe in Jesus, Issa, being taken up to heaven supernaturally. We are taught to believe in this literally, although the message goes much beyond the event. But when Märtha Louise and Derek Verrett talk about supernatural forces and events in our time, they are criticised, indeed by the media.

I would like to begin by saying a big “thank you”, first to Märtha Louise and Derek Verret. I also would like to thank the Norwegian media, not at all because they have been right about their biased reporting about the ‘Princess and the Shaman’, but because they were so entirely wrong that it shocked me; hence they made me reflect on the mainstream media’s role.

The media did not just report about the quite untraditional thinking about religion and spirituality that Princess Märtha Louise, 47, and Derek Verrett, 44, presented at a series of public seminars in Copenhagen and several Norwegian cities over the last couple of weeks. Instead of reporting, the media judged and drew conclusions. They seemed to be massively against the new thoughts, about faith, healing and human relations, and other issues, which mostly belong to the Christian charismatic movement.

It is all right to be sceptical and ask questions, but not judge before one has listened. It is wrong a priori to be against religion and faith, and many Norwegian journalists would be that, or they would like to be seen as being against such ‘outdated superstitious traditions’, as they may call it. I believe many journalists in the more than 1,000 newspaper articles, plus electronic media programmes, discrediting the overall content and message of by the ‘Princess and the Shaman’ – and religion in general, indirectly. The Bishop of Stavanger even withdrew her earlier permission to use a church hall for a dialogue event.

Some media people were probably especially negative since Derrek Verrett is an African-American. Well, he does also have some indigenous Norwegian relatives! But maybe it would have been easier for the Norwegians to be open to him if he had only belonged to a ‘standard’ American or European tradition, not having impulses from North-Asia and elsewhere, and looking African? Furthermore, Norwegian media quickly began using the term ‘shamanism’; few Norwegians, including the journalists themselves, would have any understanding of that term.

When even top educated and experienced journalists and editors can behave the way the Norwegians have done in the recent weeks, ‘hunting down’ two searching people with untraditional ideas, I wonder how other less educated and experienced, and less free and independent media, would have behaved. I wonder what it is when educated and experienced media people become preachers themselves, being against the story they should report objectively. I wonder how the media people can throw overboard the methods and training they have for their jobs. I also wonder why more level-headed and neutral people, such as social scientists, media researchers, anthropologists, historians, theologians, philosophers, and others, mainly chose to keep quiet, seeming afraid of going against the tide and the trend. And that is indeed what is shocking and scary. This time, the substance of the story isn’t all that important, one can say, but maybe it is, too; next time, it can be political ideology.

In this time and age, we all know that fake news is spread on social media. But we seem less aware of problems with the mainstream media. Mainstream media must be strengthened and renewed. When I witness the way the Norwegian media have treated the Princess and the Shaman, I am disappointed by the media.

Let me again stress that I am impressed by the independence and strength of Princess Märtha Louise and Derek Verrett. Märtha Louise’s parents, the King and Queen of Norway, must indeed be impressed by them. That is another side of the story, and that I would like to reflect on in another article some other time, namely the importance of following one’s calling and being stubbornly independent, searching for truth and happiness, faith and right human relations.

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from university, diplomacy and development aid.atlehetland@yahoo.com

In my article last week, I focused on issues of openness to other faiths, which is essential today to create a more peaceful world with diverse and inclusive communities.