Wednesday 14 March 2018

Why DAB Radio in Norway, But Not in Sweden?

An effective lobby in Norway made politicians to disregard public interest
As the only country in the world so far, Norway has taken the step of closing the FM
Photo: Odd Richard Valmot
network for national terrestrial radio and switching to digital DAB +. Given the massive development of radio online and the fact that FM is an established world standard in all 220 countries, this dramatic step has surprised the outside world. How could two neighboring countries - Norway and Sweden - make such diametrically different decisions? In Norway, the conversion has not been popular and the listening to NRK and the TV commercial networks have also decreased in favor of local radio on FM. DAB is already forgotten. But what and who was behind the controversial Norwegian decision?
(Image: Minister of Culture Anniken Huitfeldt (Ap) and Culture Ministry official Øyvind Christensen, at publication of the 2011 Storting DAB Proposal)

DAB radio has been broadcast in Norway since 1995, but no consumer demand has been registered nor any complaints about FM radio. In their decisions in the parliament (Stortinget), politicians could not refer to any expression of citizens' interests and needs for DAB.

Special interests in the radio industry - commonly referred to as the DAB lobby - have realized that what could give DAB radio a chance to break through was to scrap the FM radio. Therefore, listeners would have no choice but to purchase new DAB receivers. Here it was underestimated that the Internet could become attractive alternative for both radio and other music distribution.

The lobby has effectively been able to influence politicians in the parliament, cultural ministers, as well as officials in ministries and authorities. Under the misleading term "the whole radio industry", the agenda has been set by the lobby which provided virtually all the facts for the political decision-making by three parliamentary proposals in 2006, 2011 and 2014. Unlike in Sweden, some qualified authorities have not been invited in this consultation (referrals) as Norwegian defense, shipping and fisheries, as well as the OAG and other opinions.

The lobby reached "all the way", due to the fact that DAB was not questioned until it became too late - after the last decision was taken in Stortinget. Protests and opinion start coming in from listeners while it turned out that Sweden did not intend to switch off FM and go DAB. In Norway, the lobby's only setback has so far been that no decisions have been made to also shut down FM for local radio (except in some of the big cities).

The companies behind the lobbying activities were public broadcaster NRK, German Bauer Media (former owner SBS), Swedish MTG and the broadcast provider Norkring AS. A closer examination shows that the DAB lobby surprisingly comprised a limited number of people, most of them from NRK and MTG.

Here are the men who pushed the politicians on board the train (in alphabetical order):

- Hans Christan Andersen, Sahaga AS
- Kenneth Andresen, MTG
- Jon Andersen Branæs, NRK
- Øyvind Christensen, Ministry of Culture
- Hans Petter Danielsen, MTG
- Jørn Jensen, NRK
- Alf Lande, New Media Network
- Lasse Kovik, Bauer Media (formerly SBS and MTG)
- Marius Lillelien, NRK
- Ole Jørgen Torvmark, Digitalradio Norge AS
- Øyvind Vasaasen, NRK

Digitalradio Norge AS jointly owned by NRK and MTG with Öyvind Vasaasen as Chairman of the Board and Ole J Torvmark as Director had a central lobbying function. The task of the company was to informed the public about the transition to DAB. However, some observers call Digitalradio Norge ”a troll factory” mixing true facts with pure lies, slanted or excessive facts. Criticism has been met with silence or blockout in social media.

NRK, for its part, has not allowed its employees to criticize the DAB initiative externally. It has also been noted that, while being a part of the lobby, NRK is also the country's most important news broadcaster on radio and television. Many facts that may be negative for the DAB system have ben withhold from listeners and viewers. The NRK public service remit to pursue program activities objectively and impartially has been violated.

”Foreningen Norsk Lokalradio” (The Association Norwegian Local Radio) was created by the lobby in order to counteract the established Norwegian Local Radio Association's stand for retaining FM. The association chairman is HC Andersen, who owns Sahara AS, a major importer of DAB receivers. The association now seems to be inactive which can confirm its disruptive purpose.

The Norwegian lobby is supported by the international activities carried out by the public service organisation EBU and its connected lobby organization WorldDAB. In this context, the unique Norwegian FM switch-off is very important because the position of DAB system on the global market is quite fragile. Many in the Norwegian DAB lobby (mentioned above) now are appearing at international radio conferences and telling stories about "the Norwegian success" with the FM switch-off and DAB radio. Upcoming is Radiodays Europe in Vienna 18-20 March 2018.

Few politicians are directly involved in the lobbying process. However, it can be mentioned that MTG can be said to have its own representative in Stortinget with Kårstein Eidem Løvaas (h). Otherwise, Svein Harberg (h) has had a prominent role with Social democrats Arild Grande and Kåre Simensen. It should also be noted that the political majority has an uncritical confidence in NRK and others in the DAB lobby. Several ministers of culture from the two major parties (Conservatives and Social Democrats) have signed the digital radio proposals trusting fellow politicians and government officials.

Per Morten Hoff, former Secretary General of the IT industry organization IKT Norge, in 2016 warned: This is introduced by coercion and people do not like to be forced to a new technology. According to him the politicians in Stortinget have been deceived.

Public Access emphasizes that from what has so far been revealed, there is not any evidence of illegal actions committed by any of the persons, companies or organizations mentioned in this article. Lobbying is a totally legal business in Norway. It is more an issue of democracy. Freedom of expression does not require true facts.

In Sweden, however, the DAB lobby failed because it was not as well-organized as in Norway. In particular, resistance was mobilized in good time with a considerably wide range of consulting responses from qualified authorities, scientific institutions, a more internationally oriented discussion and also a report of the Office of the Auditor General. A united parliament in 2016 rejected the proposal to replace FM with DAB + in Sweden.
This was considered a major setback for EBU and WorldDAB, which now are hoping for better luck in Norway.

Also read

One Out of Two Norwegians Are Still Dissatisfied With DAB Radio
DAB Radio in Norway Close to the Abyss. FM Still On
Norway: Two out of three parties in a new government skeptical to DAB radio
Deteriorating Emergency Radio in Norway After DAB Transition