Wednesday, November 10, 2004


With "Swedish eyes" - How the U.S. Presidential Election was framed by Swedish journalists

Today, the Swedish-American Cultural Union invited the Swedish community (and anyone interested in Swedish News about the U.S.) to a lunch lecture, held at the Pier Seven Restaurant in Washington D.C.'s Waterfront area.
The invited speakers, Thomas Nordegren from Swedish Public Radio (SR) and Lisa Karlsson (for the Swedish Public TV's (SVT) program Agenda), answered questions about Swedish media and the election, posed by the Swedish Embassy's Press Councelor Claes Thorson.

Bias background:
Thorson started off the discussion by declaring that both Mr. Nordegren and Mrs. Karlsson had asked about the crowd since they were nervous about the effect of a statement, made by the SR journalist (and former US Correspondent) Cecilia Uddén, who argued on Swedish radio that she didn't want to be objective or bi-partisan when she was reporting during the election. In fact, Uddén argued, she strongly supported John Kerry and had no intention of not letting it show. She was later pulled from the public broadcast network by her superiors and put in "quarantine" over the election. Which of course begs the question - how could she be so defiant in her argument and yet so sure of herself? At the time when she said it, how could she feel so certain that it was alright for a public service journalist to favor John Kerry? Maybe the answer is that she felt very secure, knowing full well that her fellow reporters at the Swedish public radio network, all agreed with her? In any way - by simply pulling her from the air does not help to solve the problem. The Swedish media's picture of the United States in general, and Republicans in particular, is a long overstatement of media bias.

The Discussion
Thomas Nordegren started off by explaining that Kerry was well liked among Swedes, because he is a "European type of intellectual." Mrs. Karlsson responded to the allegations about media bias by simply stating that she was bi-partisan. Her evidence for this claim was the following sentence: "I never said that Kerry was gonna win.[...] But you do what you have to do to balance and be impartial[...]"
When asked about the "reaction back home", Mrs Karlsson replied:
"I think the reaction in Sweden and Europe as a whole are similar. I've heard many of you here react to the election. And it was surprising for the Europeans too that Bush won with such a big margin. It was a chock, and they are nervous now. They are afraid and they do listen to Tom Delay when he says that we [the U.S.] are going to put God in the center of the debate."

Nordegren continued: "I think it is more of an attitude thing. Some of the more informed [Swedes] didn't think it would be a change in policies" [...]It is hard to explain to Swedish listeners why Bush is so well liked. I've done interviews with Jerry Fallwell and so on, but the listeners don't believe that this is a part of the debate. [...] And if I can go back, to the election and do something different, ... well, I followed Karl Rove, but I missed the evangelical part of the moral vote. But so did the BBC, and they have 40 journalists here." [Note: So did even Karl Rove himself as many evangelical societies have now explained that they were organising their efforts quite outside of the GOP movement. As the Washington Post reports it: "But the untold story of the 2004 election, according to national religious leaders and grass-roots activists, is that evangelical Christian groups were often more aggressive and sometimes better organized on the ground than the Bush campaign."]

Mrs Lisa Karlsson then closed the discussion with a statement that, more than anything, shows just how much she is buying into the Democrats' agenda: "This is a very divided country. The ones who are voting for Bush are the rural voters, those who are least likely to be hit by a possible future terrorist attack. They are also the ones who would benefit the most from Kerry's economic ideas about minimum wage. " [O really? A great number of the members of The American Economist Association (AEA) would argue that a minimum wage is directly harmful for workers, since it shifts the economy towards import alternatives. Any economic policy which drives up the prices on labor will increase unemployment rates. That's pretty basic economic theory. If Mrs Karlsson thinks that her editorialising is fair and objective news reportings, then I guess it is futile to discuss media bias with her.]

When I asked Mrs Karlsson about Mrs Uddén's statement on Kerry, she replied: "I think it was an unfortunate way to say what Cecilia Uddén said. And of course I don't agree. But I also don't agree with the statement that I have to be objective - or should I put it in this way - I should be bi-partisan. I am supposed to use my Swedish eyes when I am reporting. I have met Cecilia Uddén and maybe that's what she meant when she said what she said."

[Her "Swedish eyes"? Wonder what that might mean? A new way of defining a bias?]

I spoke with Mr. Nordegren after the public discussion. He agreed that the question about media bias was a problem which dealt with framing the news and putting different news pieces into perspective. Hence, it seemed as if he and Lisa Karlsson did have different opinions on the matter.

As for me, I read a few headlines from Swedish newspapers to the audience who was gasping for air. Lines like these: "Kerry is a more sophisticated politician than Bush, and maybe this country does not want such a president" (Lars Moberg, SVT), "Half of the American electorate wake up as losers today - how will that effect America?" (News anchor, SVT), "Even the weather responded to the election result and the night after the election became rainy and drizzly" (Aftonbladet) ... and so forth... (More headlines from Stockholm Spectator.)

Research about media bias is very interesting, and stimulating. And sometimes, just so very obvious.

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