Norway’s WEXFO: Ambitious Program, Strong Registration

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The inaugural outing of the World Expression Forum will include a visit to the island Utøya and new research into young people and democracy.

At Utøya, an island in the Tyrifjorden lake 25 miles north of Oslo. It’s here that a youth camp sponsored by the Norwegian Labor Party became the scene of a nightmarish massacre of 67 people by a right-wing terrorist in 2011. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Vigdis Homlebekk

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

In-Person and Digital Engagement Still Open
Organizers of Norway’s newly founded World Expression Forum (WEXFO) have announced a high level of registration for its inaugural gathering at Lillehammer, set for May 30 and 31, just days after the conclusion of the World Economic Forum’s May 22-to-26 run at Davos.

Recent conversations with WEXFO founding managing director Kristenn Einarsson—well known to Publishing Perspectives readers as chair of the International Publishers Association‘s (IPA) Freedom to Publish committee and the former CEO of the Norwegian Publishers Association—indicate that attendance could be near 300 people.

Nevertheless, there is still time to register and participate in this first-time edition of the program, Einarsson tells us, either in person on-site at the forum or through the digital pass being put into place for those who need to attend remotely. Information on ticketing is here.

Kristenn Einarsson

A more detailed sequence of programming for the two days now indicates that participants will have a wide selection of workshops available, making it possible to interact with key speakers and moderators.

For example, at 9 a.m. CEST (GMT+2) on May 31, engagement will be available in workshops themed:

  • When Artists Become Human Rights Defenders at Risk
  • Reporting from War and Conflict, a topic of course made especially timely not only in Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine but also in the fatal shooting of Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin
  • How To Strengthen Freedom of Expression and Avoid (Self-) Censorship
  • Young People and the Challenge of Daring to Speak Out
  • How To Engage With Russia?

Maria Ressa

And in a second round of workshops, these at 10:40 a.m. CEST on the 31st, participants will examine issues including:

  • Challenges for Academic Freedom
  • Attitudes and Limits in Flux: Are the Limits of Freedom of Expression in Flux, and If So, Where Should They Go?
  • Media and Technology: Where To Go From Here? Regulations, Market, and Journalism
  • Open Source Investigation as a Tool for Journalists
  • Technology and Society: How To Maneuver in Conflict, War, and Polarization?
Young People and Democratic Inquiry

Speakers at Norway’s first WEXFO, May 30 and 31, include, upper row from left: Adele Matheson Mestad, Norwegian National Human Rights Institution; activist Ali Dorani; IPA president Bodour Al Qasimi; and Burhan Sönmez, president of PEN International. On the lower row from left: Bård Vegar Solhjell, director general of Nordad; hate crime specialist Abetare Krasniqi; Bellingcat’s Christo Grozev; and Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

In partnership with the Eastern Norway Research Institute Østlandsforskning, WEXFO has commissioned a report on what’s known about young people’s participation in democracy, both in Norway and in other countries.

“Free media, literature, and other art forms are fundamental preconditions for freedom of expression. They provide knowledge, and are central to constructive, critical debate.”WEXFO

A study of what level of engagement is known to be in place now and what might encourage deeper involvement, of course, is becoming quickly more pressing, as pressures on the world order increase and autocratic dynamics rush in to fill complex challenges to democratic resolve.

That project is funded by Sparebankstiftelsen, with a hope of standing up pilot projects similar to this one in multiple parts of the world.

And on the afternoon of Sunday, May 29, many participants will tour the island of Utøya, where a youth camp on July 22, 2011, became the scene of Anders Behring Breivik’s unspeakable domestic terrorist attack that left 67 people dead and 32 wounded. That assault followed Breivik’s car-bomb attack a couple of hours earlier at Oslo’s Regjeringskvartalet.

The assailant, convicted in both incidents, is now serving a 21-year prison sentence, the maximum civilian criminal penalty in Norway, which possibilities for extensions as long as he’s deemed a danger to society.

In alignment with the WEXFO ideal of intelligent debate and inquiry, Utøya today serves as a venue of democracy both for Norwegian and international visitors. On May 29, the WEXFO delegation to the island will hear from Jørgen Watne Frydnes, a Labor politician, member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, and general manager of Utøya, formerly with Médecins Sans Frontières.

The WEXFO Program

In six major sessions over two days, as well as the workshop sequences, the WEXFO program is designed to address a wide range of rising threats to freedom of expression and to explore topics—many of them quite vexing—including:

  • Combating Growing Authoritarianism and Illiberalism
  • Technologies and Regulations
  • Society [and] How To Deal With Hate Speech

Perhaps one of the most challenging comes late in the program, when “Who Is the Enemy and Who is the Ally?” is the topic, examined by—among others—IPA president Bodour Al Qasimi and Prix Voltaire laureate Rasha Al Ameer of Beirut.

“Our greatest need today is to transform hate and violence, the toxic sludge that’s coursing through our information ecosystem, prioritized by American Internet companies that make more money by spreading that hate and triggering the worst in us.”Maria Ressa, Nobel Lecture

Of key interest, of course, will be an event on May 31 in which Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa (who called out Facebook in her Nobel address) and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the former 26th prime minister of Denmark and now on the Meta (Facebook) Oversight Board, will be joined by  Anette Trettebergstuen, Norway’s minister of culture and equality, and TV2 journalist Kadafi Zaman.

Ressa’s co-winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, journalist Dmitry Muratov, is also on the program, in conversation with Jokob Nielsen on “Freedom of Expression at War” and in the workshop called “How To Engage With Russia?”

More information on the WEXFO program is here; more on its speakers is here; and, again, more on registration and attendance is here.

WEXFO 2022 is made possible by a consortium of at least 64 shareholders, who have bought a total 97 shares, each valued at 25,000 Norwegian kroner (US2,570). As you can see from the list, many publishers and publishers’ associations are among those shareholders.

More on WEXFO is here. More on the freedom to publish and the freedom of expression is here, more on the International Publishers Association is here, more from us on Kristenn Einarsson and his work in the freedom of expression is here, more on the Prix Voltaire is here, and more on the Norwegian publishing market is here

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Our ongoing coverage of the Russian war on Ukraine and its impact on the country’s publishing industry and players is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here. 

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.