The good news, literally, is the Barents Observer exists again as a fully independent newspaper. The bad, also literally, is Norwegian officials may have killed the old version because Russia complained about it.
The Independent Barents Observer was launched by Editor Thomas Nilsen and others who resigned from the “official” publication last month. In an interview with the BBC, he said the turmoil occurred because papers’s owners, consisting of government officials in Norway’s three northernmost counties, caved into criticism from Russia, especially articles during the Ukraine crisis criticizing President Vladimir Putin’s increasing crackdown on independent media.
The head of the board called me into his office and said, ‘You’re sacked. Please take your things and leave the office by the end of today,'” he said. “I’m very frustrated that something like this could happen in Norway in 2015.”
The Barents officials and the Russian embassy in Moscow deny the accusation.
Nilsen was eventully reinstated after his firing was widely denounced in Norwegian media and ridiculed as hypocrical in Russian media. But the owners remained committed to enforcing a new policy eliminating the paper’s right to publish without censorship, resulting in the walkout by the editorial staff.
The free online newspaper based in Kirkenes provides English-language coverage of the surrounding region, including Svalbard. Among their high controversial articles was breaking the story about Russian Deputy Minister Dmity Rogozin’s visit to Svalbard in March despite being banned from Norway due to his role in the Ukraine crisis.