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“Why is our way of living ‘fake news’?”: Norwegian ‘time-free zone’ leader responds to media backlash

The leader of the Sommarøy ‘time-free zone’ project has hit back at media backlash over the alleged PR stunt that put the destination on the map.

Last week, an island lobbying to make itself a time-free zone was found out to be a PR stunt headed by Visit Norway and Innovation Norway, the country’s public tourism board. This prompted an apology by the director of Innovation Norway, Håkon Haugli, who promised that “we will not do such a thing again”.

The idea behind the TIME-FREE ZONE project, started by community member Kjell Ove Hveding, insisted that disregarding watches would make it easier for residents, especially students, employers and workers, to make the most of the precious months when the sun does not rise in the region through November to January.

Innovation Norway caught wind of the story and worked with the islanders to capitalise on the push for a time-free zone, with Hveding meeting with a Norwegian member of parliament on 13 June to hand over the locals’ signatures and to discuss the initiative, with cameras at the ready.

The project was then sent to media agencies around the world, garnering massive attention for the island; Innovation Norway celebrated the success by gloating that the “response has been exceptional”.

Hveding has defended the project, saying that it is entirely genuine:

“It is real. It isn’t ‘fake news’ … We told our story, and we have told it openly and honestly,” Hveding said.

“On Sommarøy, we have lived in a time-less way for generations, with fishermen and others who have used the weather, the light, and the tide as work hours. I grew up taking a siesta every day, and when Innovation Norway suggested we should focus on the clock and the time, I naturally said yes. In the middle of the night, we do everything from painting our houses and mowing our lawns to going on swims and boat trips, while the rest of Norway is sleeping. And there are a lot of children on Sommarøy who don’t have a strict bedtime during summer,” he said.

Hveding said covering a bridge with watches was his idea, and that he also encouraged other islanders – if they wanted to – to do the same as a personal decision to take their own time seriously.

However, Hveding did admit that VisitNorway had collaborated with agencies, produced videos, and sent out press releases to promote the project. He said that the criticism VisitNorway had received for not being upfront about its role in the project was valid. He also said he did not think the time-free zone would be formalised.

“We, the people of Sommarøy, have told the story of how we live, and of how we wish to take it even further. We wish to continue to tell our story, even if VisitNorway’s project has ended.”

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