Freedom of the press in Sweden

A month ago a controversial newspaper article in left-wing Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet alleged systematic Jewish and Israeli organ harvesting involving body parts from Palestinian Arabs.

With the initial shock of those sinister –and unsubstantiated – claims now dying down, this is a good time to examine what that article signified and how it plays out in the wider Swedish media discourse.

Much of the controversy hinged on “freedom of the press”, with the newspaper and its supporters claiming that in a democracy like Sweden the press is free from the fetters of outside control.

And so indeed it is.

Or is it? On Friday September 11, rockets were fired from the Lebanon into civilian Israeli territory in an unprovoked surprise attack by militants under the control of Hizbollah. Hizbollah maintains de facto control of southern Lebanon and, as a major parliamentary faction, is in negotiations to play a sizeable role in the next Lebanese government.

Newspapers in countries with a free press all ran headlines along the lines of “Rocket fire from Lebanon” or “Rockets from Lebanon provoke Israeli artillery response”.

Not so the Swedish press. To a man, virtually every newspaper in Sweden carried headlines such as “Rockets rain across Lebanon-Israel border”, “Exchange of fire between Lebanon and Israel”, “Cross-border rocket fire between Lebanon-Israel”.

No mention of who initiated the unprovoked attack. The headlines and the articles were skewed to show that Israel was engaged in military action. One newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, wrote “At least eight rockets struck Lebanese territory” and only much later in the body of the article mentioned that the attack was initiated from the Lebanon.

So was the Aftonbladet article last month an aberration, or was it symptomatic of how Israel is treated in Sweden?

Most foreign news coverage in Sweden is provided by Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå (TT), a Soviet-era Pravdaesque nest of left-wing and ultra-left-wing journalists obsessed with only one subject: Israel.

TT has a virtual monopoly on foreign news dissemination since for budgetary reasons most media outlets here subscribe to its services. This therefore means that a radical left-wing entity, an unelected political power broker with a highly specific political agenda, is in competition with the Swedish government to determine how Swedes perceive one aspect of Stockholm’s foreign policy: Israel. TT’s news is distributed in the printed media, the electronic media and over the airwaves on both radio and TV.

Since Swedes are avid news consumers, this puts TT in a critical position of power. And it exercises that power 365 days a year.

The question therefore has to be asked: was the Aftonbladet article a one-off piece of poor judgement, woefully inadequate research, immature language, sinister innuendo, offensive racism and subjective pursuit of one particular newspaper’s policies?

Or was it yet another example of the daily battering that Israel takes in the wider Swedish press? A crude, vicious, calculated, blatantly anti-Israel and barely concealed anti-Semitic attack on the world’s sole Jewish nation?

The answer depends entirely on the ethical integrity of anyone who reads, watches and listens to the Swedish press. In other words, it depends on the honesty with which one views the question and objectivity with which one analyses the facts.

What is beyond doubt, however, is that Swedes as a nation are not anti-Semitic. The government are not anti-Semitic. The politburo of the Church of Sweden is anti-Semitic in its obsession with Israel. The general membership of the Church of Sweden is not. Not for nothing are increasingly large numbers of Swedes leaving the Church of Sweden and opting not to pay Church dues.

Large swathes of the Swedish press are totally consumed by hatred of Israel. They produce unsubstantiated stories, regurgitate hearsay without corroboration, deliberately rewrite facts, deliberately mistranslate articles from the foreign press, deliberately omit the truth, deliberately disseminate lies – all in the cause of an anti-Israel policy pursued by a shadowy non-governmental agency with very real power, the power to shape citizens’ minds.

Targeting Israel has developed into a religion in Sweden. It is a religion practised by a majority of the Swedish media. The foremost victims of this religion are Sweden’s own Jewish minority: it is no longer safe for Jews to wear a skullcap or Star of David in the country in which they have been living as a recognized minority for 250 years.

It is against this background that the Aftonbladet article should be seen. In Sweden freedom of the press is unassailable. Unfortunately it is abused to give the press total freedom to vilify Israel and, increasingly, Jews.

Considerable foreign media focus was trained on what the Swedish government did or did not say in the aftermath of the Aftonbladet debacle.

The spotlight needs instead to be trained on the agency that really runs the country: the Swedish media and its shock-troops in a propaganda machine with far-reaching tentacles and very real power – news agency TT.

Ynet, JPost, Haaretz, Haaretz2, JIW, Global Arab Network, Daily Telegraph, Washington Post, SBS Australia, Australian Herald, Euronews, WN, Tiscali, Gloria Center, Israel i Sverige (in Swedish),