The main purpose of the dissertation is to describe how four Swedish newspapers construct ethical standpoints and what norms they prescribe. This is done through a characterization of the civil disobedience discourse, in particular the discourse about animal rights activism and militant vegans, around the turn of the millennium (1990-2004). Questions asked are how Swedish newspapers construct civil disobedience, what disobedience is supported and what is condemned, and if the newspapers recognize the complexity of ethical dilemmas and facilitate well-reasoned ethical standpoints. The material studied is gathered from Stockholm-based newspapers: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet and Expressen. In total 1115 texts. The methods used are a combination of quantitative and qualitative content analysis, where the qualitative analysis is based on rhetorical analysis and narratology.
The results show that there are mainly two overarching discourses. One supporting discourse, which is predominant in the representation of campaigns justified by economical issues, human rights, peace/anti-war movement and individual rights. One criminalising or demonising discourse, which is predominant in the constructions of militant vegans, the environmental movement and a campaign justified by democratic reasons in Sweden.
In sum, the constructions are characterized by strong polarization, formalisation, ambivalence and a double standard of morality, which risk to circumscribe the understanding of moral dilemmas. The consequence is journalistic constructions where the ends justify the means when the end is a political correct, not defiant norm, or when the end is non political. The dissertation also argues that the concepts, specific words, journalists apply in their representation of social reality risk to set the limits for media representations, as well as for the public's understanding, of the social reality and moral dilemmas.