Sweden: RSF asks the country’s second biggest party to stop undermining press freedom and right to information
After the recent parliamentary election, the Swedish Democrats blocked access of several journalists to their election night and threatened the media in general. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warns of the link between political and physical attacks.
His words sounded chilling. When a journalist of the Swedish public broadcaster, SVT, asked on September 12th the chief of staff of the Swedish Democrats what he was looking forward to after the party ended second in the general election the day before, Linus Bylund responded: “A lot of work, a lot of what we call journalist rugby,” meaning “pushing journalists around.” A dangerous statement for reporters which can be also interpreted as a threat to the public media: in the past, a representative of the Swedish Democrats in the foundation owning the public broadcaster questioned its independence.
But in another interview on September 12th - for Aftonbladet TV - Linus Bylund went even further. When asked about the party’s migration policy, he complained of “having to dance to (the journalists’) tune” during the election campaign. The leading politician of Sweden's second biggest political party threatened that “now we will do the opposite and we will decide when we want to speak to the media about different things.”
In fact, the Swedish Democrats decided to restrict the media’s access to information already during the election night. Pretexting lack of space, one of the country's largest parties refused to let in several international media including Le Monde, Libération, BBC World, The Local, Politiken (Denmark), YLE, Hufvudstadsbladet and Helsingin Sanomat (Finland), as well as certain Swedish outlets with a left-leaning editorial line such as Flamman and Dagens ETC. They were all able to access the campaign headquarters of the other parties.
“It is extremely worrying that a representative of the Swedish Democrats publicly encourages to ‘push around’ journalists whose work is to hold politicians accountable and report in the public interest. Politicians should create favorable conditions for journalism, not undermine them.
“Politicians bear the responsibility for the climate for journalism. If they attack journalists, they can create conditions favorable to self-censorship and to physical or online attacks. And more power means more responsibility.
The experience from other European countries shows that there is a link between political attacks on journalism and physical or online attacks on reporters. Ahead of the French 2022 presidential election, the candidate Eric Zemmour insulted journalists who were later targeted by violence at his own meeting. In Slovenia, journalists of the public broadcaster RTV SLO suffered physical aggression repeatedly in 2020 during the mandate of the former Prime Minister Janez Jansa who regularly attacked the media’s reporters, once calling them “worn-out prostitutes for 30 or 35 euros”. And as Italy prepares to hold a general election on September 25th in the context of certain parties’ media bashing, the journalist specializing in migration issues Karima Moual received death threats online.
Sweden is ranked 3rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index.