SVT defiant over ad: we expected Italian reaction

An advertising campaign by Swedish Television has caused a diplomatic incident with Italy.

To a soundtrack of mandolins, a short film, which is part of SVT’s “free television” campaign, compares the company’s independence with that of the Italian media. A caption states that 90% of Italy’s media is controlled by prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and suggests that this helped him win power.

The campaign has been harshly criticised – not only by the Italian media but also by the country’s public and politicians.

Telecoms minister Maurizio Gasparri, who is close to Berlusconi, is upset with the campaign movie:

“It’s full of incorrect information,” he said in a statement to Italian paper Corriere della Sera.

Even politicians who oppose Berlusconi’s media power have joined in the attack on SVT. Franco de Benedetti, a left-wing democrat, thinks the whole campaign is a demonstration of SVT’s lack of common sense and an interference in Italy’s internal affairs.

“Berlusconi has been elected as prime-minister in a democratic way, by a majority in Italy,” he said.

“A prime minister who owns 90% of the national media is peculiar, but it is our problem and no one else’s. SVT has not criticised us in a normal way, but instead has gone too far.”

In Rome, the Swedish Embassy was deluged by letters and e-mails in protest and the Swedish ambassador, Staffan Wrigstad, was summoned to the foreign ministry in Rome.

“Many from the Italian side were worried, said Wrigstad to Aftonbladet. “They think Swedes have a very simple picture of Italy.”

Wrigstad has now written “a sharp letter” to the head of SVT, Christina Jutterström and the social democrat chairman of the company’s board, Allan Larsson.

According to Svenska Dagbladet, the campaign has so far been reported to the Swedish Broadcasting Commission as inappropriate four times. Mikael Söderlund, right-wing vice mayor of Stockholm was one of those who reported the movie.

“The chairman of SVT’s committee is appointed by the government and there are many examples where the channel has acted in accordance with the government. The campaign also presents incorrect information concerning the Italian media,” said Söderlund to SvD.

But the reaction at home and abroad appears only to have strengthened SVT’s position on the matter.

“We can’t let ourselves be influenced by political interests,” said Helga Baagöe, the information director at SVT. She described the whole incident as “a debate”.

“We want to debate Swedish Television and make the public service mission clearer. We must therefore be ready to provoke,” said Baagöe to TT. “In Italy the government has direct influence over the public channels. That’s where Berlusconi comes into the picture; he owns the TV-channels himself.”

She pointed out that the information expressed in the campaign had come from, “among others, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the International Association of Journalists”.

“We had thought that there would be a reaction from Italy,” said Baagöe.

Sources: Svenska Dagbladet, Expressen, Aftonbladet