ABC Nyheter reported on Thursday that Norwegians had started to ring the Royal Palace in panic after rumours of an impending divorce circulated on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
It based its story on a recording of a call to the palace posted onto YouTube by Katrine Angelica Østlyngen, a journalism student.
“We are familiar with the rumour, and it’s just a rumour,” a palace official told her. “You are not the first to have called and asked about it. But it’s not true.”
Kjersti Løken Stavrum, general secretary of the Norwegian Press Association, said that the website had broken the rules of good journalism.
“I think that they ended up passing on rumours, because although they themselves are not responsible for the taping that they published, they haven’t really done any research themselves,” she told The Local. “I think that in principle the established media shouldn’t pass on rumours. I don’t think that’s journalism. Journalism is fact-based reporting, based on sources that can be traced.”
Tor Strand, ABC Nyheter’s editor, denied the charge.
“We never print stories about rumours, but this is a story about people’s reaction to the rumours. For me that’s a big difference,” he told The Local. “This is not a story about the content of the rumours, it’s a story about how Norwegian people got anxious because of the rumours.”
He admitted that he had received angry emails and phone calls from editors on other newspapers on Friday and over the weekend.
“It’s a tradition among Norwegian editors and journalists to not write about rumours whatsoever, and of course they don’t agree with me in publishing that story,” he said. “But the way I see it, our story is no different from the story you intend to write yourself. We don’t sas what the rumours are all about — apart from the main conclusion that there is going to be a divorce.”
Stavrum argued that the biggest problem with ABC Nyheter’s report was that stories about famous people’s relationships, like those about their sexual orientation, are difficult for the subjects to quash.
“They’re the kind of rumour which are very hard to deny. For years there were rumours that Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was gay. It’s not easy to go out there and say ‘we are not going to divorce’, or say ‘I’m not gay’. I think they are quite similar.”