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Politics as 'marriage therapy'? Norway TV debates strike harmonious chord

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By Gwladys Fouche

OSLO (Reuters) – No butting in or talking over your opponent and try to see things from their perspective – those are the ground rules adopted by two political shows in Norway that aim to buck a global trend towards ever more bitter polarisation of opinions.

As politicians in the United States, Britain and many other countries adopt increasingly confrontational poses and appear to shun compromise, Norway is trialling new ways to debate political issues ahead of its local elections on Sept. 9.

“After nearly 10 years of presenting political debates, I realised the format was tired, the politicians were tired and I was tired, of all the quarrelling,” said Ingunn Solheim, who had the idea for a new show called Einig? (Agree?).

In the show – with no moderator to direct the debate – politicians or campaigners have to respect the ground rules as they discuss statements like “there should be as few abortions as possible” or “many immigrants do not want to integrate”.

The result? A pro- and anti- abortion campaigner having a thoughtful discussion about the dilemma of interrupting a pregnancy. People on opposite side of the asylum debate close to tears as they understand they have more in common than expected.

“It is a little bit like marriage therapy,” Solheim told Reuters. “We are trying to make them actively listen to one another and make them explore different points of view, rather than attacking one another.

“And if you feel your partner has heard and understood you, it is easier to do the same thing back.”

In a similar vein, a TV news show for children, Supernytt (Super New), invited the prime minister and other politicians to debate whether schools should abolish homework and whether there should be road tolls to limit traffic into cities — a hot topic in this election.

Their instructions: don’t use complicated words; don’t blame others; raise your hand to say something; don’t interrupt; say something nice about your rivals.

“When there is fighting, it is impossible for children to understand – and to be frank, it is the case for adults too,” said Frank Sivertsen, Supernytt’s editor.

The result is a more relaxed atmosphere and politicians explaining complex issues in an understandable way, he said.

“They had to explain themselves in a more direct language. It is more difficult to talk yourself out of a tough spot,” said Sivertsen.

Some viewers enjoyed the result.

“I liked both shows a lot,” said Astrid Bergmaal, 37, at her home in east Oslo, with her seven-year-old son Mathias.

“They listened to one another in a completely different way than they do in other shows and you get much better answers.”

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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