2006 was a year of big ethical challenges and high-strung financial deals, or "The year of Mohammed and Montgomery" as Norwegian trade journal Journalisten so aptly headlined its summary of Norway's media year.
The year started with Norwegian and Danish flags and embassies set ablaze in the Middle East, following the publication of the infamous Mohammed cartoons, and ended with loud protests about former Mirror boss David Montgomery wielding the axe in his new won European media empire – both potent symbols of a rapidly changing (media) world.
"There are no time zones anymore," said Christopher Willcox, the then US deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, while describing the challenges in fighting the propaganda war in Iraq, during a seminar I attended in May 2003. Internet, he complained, has made "segregating messages for different groups very difficult".
The cartoon war showed us that there is no national media anymore: as networks of communities spawn the globe, and groups of all interests and persuasions use internet to communicate across borders and distances, every news story in every language has a potential global audience and can spark global reactions and alliances.
The Orkla-Mecom debacle
So does national media ownership really matter in this new global reality? David Montgomery, and his British investment vehicle Mecom's, successful bid for Orkla Media certainly had politcians and journalists in Norway, Denmark, Germany and elsewhere up in arms. "These newspapers are not only businesses but democratic institutions vital to local political debate, a weakening of these newspapers would be critical ," Norway's culture minister, Trond Giske, told me in an interview, and repeated his 'strong preference for a Norwegian buyer' all through the sales process.
The Orkla-Mecom debacle was a typical example of the tension between the local and the global: it could have been Ganette's acquistion of local newspapers in the UK or MacDonalds buying a local restaurant chain in India – at core it was the same story, same reactions, just different countries and different industries. Mecom's acquistion of Orkla Media was also symbolic of the democratisation of finance: could a "fly" like Mecom have found the financial backing to "swallow an elephant" like Orkla Media 30 years ago? The company's highly geared business model continues to be a cause of great concern among the employees of former Orkla Media.