Government gives SVT top job to ex-minister

The government has named former Social Democratic deputy prime minister Lars Engqvist as chairman of the Swedish national television company, SVT. The appointment has caused controversy, with critics saying that the appointment of someone with such close links to the government damages SVT’s independence.

Greeting his appointment, Engqvist promised to protect SVT from political interference, saying that he would “safeguard SVT’s independence – both from the state and from commercial interests.”

Engqvist and his supporters pointed to his previous experience as a journalist and a leader of large state-owned businesses. He is a former editor of the newspapers Arbetet and Östra Småland, and has served as chairman of the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs.

Education and culture minister Leif Pagrotsky praised Engqvist as a person of “great personal integrity”, but others in the media and opposition parties warned that the appointment made a mockery of SVT’s claim to be politically neutral.

The major broadcasting organisations have traditionally had their leaders picked by one of the main political parties. While the Social Democrats appoint the SVT chairperson, the Moderates choose the head of Sveriges Radio (SR) and the Liberals choose the leader of Utbildningsradio. But Aftonbladet’s Lena Mellin pointed out that the Moderates’ recent appointments to SR have been non-political. The current chairman Ove Joanson is the former chief executive of the organisation.

Mellin reminded readers of SVT’s recent advertising campaign, in which it claimed to offer “free television”, in contrast to media companies in Italy and Russia, which it said were controlled by the governments of those countries.

“The naming of Lars Engqvist shows clearly that SVT is regime TV and not ‘free television’,” said Johan Forsell, chairman of the Moderate Party’s youth movement.

Sources: Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet, Expressen, Resumé