Redd Våre Barn
10 July 2012The media gives victims of the social services "the silent treatment"
by Arild Holta
•••This article was first published on 4 July 2012 by Pravasi Today in Delhi:Arild Holta runs the website Redd Våre Barn (Rescue Our Children) for information about the abuse of families going on through actions carried out by the child protection system of Norway. He takes frequent part in debates on the internet and is the writer of a book and many articles about child protection and other subjects close to his heart. He and his wife have raised their ten children, successfully fighting off several attempts by the child protection agency to deprive the children of their family and their home.
Norwegian newsmedia was not only mute, but strikingly ignorant and uninterested regarding the Bhattacharya case, in which two Indian kids were isolated from their parents and planned kept away forever by the Norwegian Child Protection Service (CPS). Indian media and numerous blogs and websites in India, as well as in other countries following the Indian lead, were overflowing with comments and analyses. In Norway almost nobody knew of the case and neither ordinary people nor the media were interested, with the exception of one long, informative article in the weekly paper Ny Tid, which was picked up not by other Norwegian media but by India and other countries. Only with strong publicity in India did local newspapers in Stavanger, the city where the Bhattacharya couple lived, start reporting more visibly, but their articles functioned more as a mouthpiece for the CPS than as an investigating power finding and reporting the truth about this case and its relation to the actions of our social services in general.
The Bhattacharya family, at least Mrs Bhattacharya and the children, should certainly have left Norway at an early stage, before the CPS began their "assistance" in the home. Much harm to children and parents could then have been avoided. Others could leave also. Norway has an agreement with the European Union giving freedom to settle and work within the EU. It is therefore possible both for Norwegians and for others holding settlement and work permits here to find more congenial places to bring up their families. Many other foreigners in Norway have the possibility to go back to their own countries or go elsewhere, and of course take their children with them, as long as they go before Norwegian CPS has confiscated the children on "emergency" or a case at a county committee has opened.
But you only leave the country in good time if you know there is a serious threat.Why are people ignorant of the danger?
People do not know how the CPS operates. They would know if our news media reported reliably about the reality and seriousness of the family destructions going on. So how does our Norwegian press react to the possible wisdom of leaving? It is evident to those who have studied CPS activities over a number of years that our official media corporations are far from interested in bringing out such information as could give both Norwegians and other nationalities realistic warning. Their across-the-board policy is that no such serious criticism of our welfare state should emerge and that people who voice it are crazy, have mysterious agendas, or lie about their own CPS cases, while the CPS and our courts are unquestioningly trusted to be truthful and competent. Families hit by the CPS have their articles or letters to the editor rejected or strongly censored if they try to raise public opinion by telling details of how the CPS has acted in their case. Any interviews journalists consent to do with the families usually come out twisted.
The internet has increased the possibility of families to report realistically about their CPS cases. Media editors dislike this by-passing of their publications; they tend to interpret freedom of expression as "freedom of the press". At intervals they suggest censorship over comments and articles on the web, they want to impose their own "editorial principles" and install super-editors over all websites.
Back to Stavanger: About two years ago the newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad ran a series about the CPS. A summary concluded that the authorities ought to take action against websites advising people to leave the country when they experienced harassment by the CPS. Primarily that means the website I run: http://forum.r-b-v.net
A young student of journalism did some investigating around changes in the media's handling of CPS cases. Previously, the few times newspapers wrote about CPS cases, their articles gave some attention to individuals affected by CPS actions, which generated a measure of sympathy for families. Now, articles about the CPS tend to avoid a human focus, leading to less reader engagement on a human level. The student in her published study mentioned that she had worked as an apprentice in a newspaper's editorial office, receiving mail, faxes and telephones to the news section. Appalling information came in, of destroyed childhoods at "children's homes" – institutions where the CPS had placed children who now as adults complained about the CPS. The student passed it to the editor, who crumpled it up and threw everything in the waste. Not long afterwards there was national uproar about children's homes and earlier CPS victims. Some succeeded in obtaining moderate financial compensation; still it all died down and the way the CPS is run has not changed.
Some years ago the work I do on the internet was commented on in a rather subjective way in a newspaper further south in Norway. I sent a reader's comment to the paper, explaining about our work. The newspaper ignored it. The local paper where I live has completely ceased publishing articles or comments with more than very mild criticism of the CPS.
Web-debates run by newspapers and other more or less official bodies have long exerted strong censorship over comments relating to CPS matters. Criticism is often deleted, unless critics apply self-censorship and wrap their criticism in cotton-wool. Quite typical is for the media to bar comments under articles about the CPS. One debate site recently threw out an active family-defender and forbade another to write anything about child protection. I have personally not been barred yet from the site concerned, but it may realistically come at any time.
A few years ago those who have experienced the dark side of our "child protection" discovered that Facebook could be used to find alliances. Several hundred groups, including some on Facebook-integrated http://causes.com
, popped up against the CPS and Norwegian family policies. Some of the groups quickly had several thousand members, although of course only a small fraction are active. My group "Remove the abuser, not the child" has 34,000. It bears some witness to the suppression of free speech about important issues. For this to happen in a couple of years in a population as small as Norway's was quite a revelation. Our traditional media establishments continue to be silent.
We experience, though, continued complaints on Facebook about our critical writing and many have had to argue against exclusion and closing of groups. Several people have not succeeded in coming back in. Norwegian Wikipedia editors concerned with our type of issues completely adhere to the official view of everything about the CPS and no modification by CPS critics of these articles is therefore possible.
Since we started up, however, the proliferation of websites and groups on the internet has made it easier to raise awareness of the censoring practices of the official media. This may have stemmed these censoring practices slightly when it comes to comment and debate sections, since provoking readers beyond all reason is perhaps hazardous at a time of falling circulation.What motivates the media?
Norway has a great many newspapers and a few tv-channels, but they are practically all owned by large conglomerates with close ties to political groups or other policy-formers, or dependent in other ways on the state, not least financially through parliament grants of "press support". It is therefore no miracle that our media businesses are unanimously state-subservient and active admirers of our welfare state.
Political constellations may explain some weaknesses of Norwegian media when it comes to giving publicity to the experiences of people who have been abused by the authorities. More than 70 per cent of Norwegian journalists and editors have been found to be supporters of the moderate socialist Labour Party, which has dominated Norwegian politics since the second world war, or of the left-socialist party. Probably considerably more than 70 per cent of CPS workers vote for these parties. A new, large study of the attitudes of journalists showed almost none to have voted for the one party represented in our parliament which has, at least previously, been somewhat critical of the CPS.
However, there is practically uniform support for so-called "child protection" – not only for the ideal but for the present CPS – in all sections of Norwegian politics. There are no clear disagreements following a right/left axis. Nor does there appear to be so internationally: In Russia some communists and socialists have demonstrated against Norwegian child protection policies towards their expatriates. Pravda has brought several articles about shocking Norwegian CPS. In Norway, on the other hand, left-leaning political circles that have power are very strongly in favour of forcible removal of children from parents whenever the CPS wants. But so is our major conservative party. A prominent conservative politician recently stated that no political body had ever contributed enough to CPS budgets. The most extreme CPS supporting party in our parliament is perhaps a fairly small Christian party.
The problem is therefore general in the politics of a country with a public sector so large that all parties must take account of voters who are public employees. The more social bureaucrats, the more voters defend the continued expansion of the social work sector. This becomes a political power totally dominating even the professional debate about the inner meaning and reasonableness of the measures and actions of the CPS, so that the child-professional circles' lack of arguments based on research and facts is hardly mentioned.Direct censorship from the authorities
Clearly, the wishes of our authorities of having their policies, administration, agencies and agendas presented as positive and uncontroversial carry great weight with our media. There are even examples of "somebody" phoning newpaper editors, telling them that if they continue to write critically about such-and-such an issue, they will not receive information and cooperation on other cases which the paper wishes to write about.
The authorities also employ, or attempt, direct censorship of private individuals. Many families are told by the CPS or even by their own, CPS-friendly lawyers, that going public with their case story is proof of "care failure". CPS victims are pressed to remove their comments from websites. People in a difficult situation, afraid what may happen to their children, understandably often yield.
Firms and other people dependent on the authorities also often comply with what is "politically correct". Because of the media situation I placed my debate and information forum on a server abroad, after another forum owner had her site closed down by the Norwegian internet supplier. In the few years my forum has been running, we have had several struggles against both central authorities and the CPS, who want to censor our forum. We have had to fight the Data Inspectorate and the appeal instance (a so-called board of privacy protection). In 2004 a municipality demanded criminal trial of three other people for publishing names of untrustworthy social workers, psychologists, lawyers etc on two other websites. It took letters to the Ministry of Local Government, who consulted the Legislation Department of the Ministry of Justice, the Data Inspectorate and the appeal instance before it was finally clear that lists of names simply saying "We cannot recommend the following persons" are protected by Article 10 (Freedom of expression) of the European Convention of Human Rights.
But continued political initiatives to introduce censorship legislation in matters like criticism of the CPS contribute to making the future uncertain for families, and for those who try to help destroyed families. It will still take long, hard work by many others also to reach general understanding of the central point of freedom of expression: It is practically the only way individuals have of fighting against injustice and abuse from their own state. It is not for nothing that Article 10 takes precedence over several other human rights in the Convention.