There has always been a de facto ban on the participation of Sverigedemokraterna (the Sweden Democrats) in Swedish public life. Postal workers refuse to deliver the party’s publications. The party finds itself unable to book space at convention centers.
And newspapers refuse to carry Sverigedemokraterna’s paid advertisements. This practice is not new, but up until now it wasn’t publicly acknowledged. It has just become overt, however, at least for Aftonbladet, Sweden’s largest newspaper.
This self-righteous censorship is ironic, coming from the newspaper that brayed so loudly about “freedom of speech” after publishing an article accusing the Israeli Defense Forces of harvesting the organs of Palestinians.
Our Swedish correspondent CB has kindly translated Aftonbladet’s announcement of its newly-proclaimed fastidiousness regarding the Sweden Democrats:
This is why we refuse SD’s election ads
Aftonbladet’s legally responsible publishers Jan Helin and Lena Mellin: The emotions they appeal to are anything but harmless
This Tuesday the Swedish parliament convened. On Saturday there will be one year left before the elections. As legally responsible publishers of Aftonbladet we declare today our attitude about the fact that Sweden has a populist xenophobic party which may possibly enter parliament.
We will handle the Sweden Democrats the following way:
We will not publish ads from the Sweden Democrats.
We will publish debate articles [editorials or op-eds] from the Sweden Democrats after normal editorial scrutiny. Does the text contain new information, new arguments, new questions? Does the text remain within the ethical and judicial limits of the press?
We will be open to editorial examination of the Sweden Democrats. Why this declaration of a publishing policy towards the Sweden Democrats in particular? We think it is necessary for several reasons.
What is about to happen in Sweden has already happened in most European countries. A populist xenophobic movement gets a grip on the public discussion and, in the end, politics. We as publishers do not want to stand spineless and naïve before that development.
A passive and comfortably journalistically correct line of policy should be the following:
As long as the Sweden Democrats stick to harmless and lawful messages in their advertising, there is no reason to block anything.
We mean that this attitude ducks an important debate and facilitates the rise of a xenophobic agenda in Swedish public discussion.
It is enough for Aftonbladet’s editorialist Lena Sundström to travel over the sound to Denmark to see how such a non-attitude facilitates change.
Denmark has changed since the Danish People’s Party [Dansk Folkeparti], with Pia Kjærsgaard as their leader and agitator, entered Folketinget [the parliament]. To us Swedes it is a visible change. The picture of jovial, open, somewhat bohemian Denmark has been displaced by a picture of an intolerant society with politicians who agitate hard against certain groups of people because their customs and practices are regarded as threatening to the Danish.
In Norway the Popular Party [Fremskrittspartiet] advanced in this week’s elections. In France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, and Austria openly xenophobic parties have been established for several years.
It may be happening in Sweden, too. The Sweden Democrats, with roots in the anti-democratic national movement, are today established in half of the country’s municipalities and in a number of county councils. According to several opinion polls they are close to entering parliament [according to most recent polls, they are well over the limit for entering — translator].
During a very vigorous purge the party kicked out former members of Nazi groups and criminals. Over the long term, the Sweden Democrats have labored to move from extremism towards something that is viewed as Swedish normality.
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Parties like the Sweden Democrats find their life’s breath in martyrdom. They get their life’s breath from a conspiracy that says that they know something about Sweden that isn’t allowed to be spoken. The media’s silence about movements like the Sweden Democrats in all but tendentious examinations is the perfect fuel for this conspiracy.
We do not believe in this. We believe in open democratic discussion. We believe that the Sweden Democrats’ arguments must be met with arguments. We also believe that it is more important to listen to the Sweden Democrats’ voters than to the party. To actively try to make them invisible is the best present the Sweden Democrats can get from the Swedish media.
Then why not allow their ads?
Isn’t that a restriction of the free word? Perhaps. But, in reality, nothing is being said in Swedish election ads that brings the political discussion forward. These are messages to stimulate the emotions, not progressive messages meant to stimulate thoughts.
Emotions are important for people’s choices of parties, and not seldom for deciding political elections. Especially our own, where the specific issues between the parties no longer span the ideological chasms. The Sweden Democrats’ ads will with all probability be harmless regarding their specific issues. A child in a Bullerby [one of Astrid Lindgren’s famous children stories about a Sweden in the past] below the word “freedom”, for instance.
Aftonbladet’s refusal to publish ads from the Sweden Democrats is thus with all probability a manageable loss for the free word.
The objection is given: Why shouldn’t the Sweden Democrats have the same right as other parties to stimulate emotions? But it is exactly the Sweden Democrats’ emotional pull that we make a stand about.
The emotions that the Sweden Democrats appeal to aren’t harmless. There is a double agenda in the Sweden Democrats’ emotional rhetoric that we don’t want to be the messenger for.
An undercurrent in the Sweden Democrats’ Bullerby says that if you vote for them, Sweden can be like it was before. Without masses of noisy immigrant gangs who steal your kids’ cell phones and commit rapes.
The essence is always to define the unknown as a threat, the immigrants as a problem. Either they are a problem because they take our jobs, or they are a problem because they don’t take any jobs. But it has never been about which immigrant works or not in the world of the Sweden Democrats. We are instead to understand that the unknown is threatening. It’s the same thought that the national movement has had since the 1920s.
Aftonbladet will not contribute to carrying those emotions into the public space through paid ads by the Sweden Democrats. That is not to be objective and neutral. Nor is it putting one’s self on a journalistic high horse. It is a standpoint.
Jan Helin firstname.lastname@example.org Lena Mellin email@example.com
Hat tip: TB.