Hennes and Mauritz facing bribery probe

A Swedish prosecutor has begun investigating allegations of bribery after a group of fashion journalists were given an all-expenses-paid trip to New York by clothing retailer Hennes and Mauritz.

Travel, hotel and living expenses were included and came to around 15,000 kronor per person.

The newspaper Resumé revealed that several major Swedish fashion magazines graciously accepted the offer from H and M, which flew the journalists to New York for a presentation of its autumn collection.

Hennes and Mauritz says that some 200 journalists from different countries were flown in and stayed at the same hotel.

In June, prosecutor Christer van der Kwast was tipped off about the trip and began looking into the affair. The allegation against Hennes and Mauritz is bribery, while the journalists are suspected of corruption.

An investigator told TT that facts are still being collected and that nobody involved has yet been interviewed or informed of the allegations.

“We are going to look at this now, but we’ll wait and see as far as the question of new guidelines is concerned,” said Liv Asarnoj, press officer at H and M, to news agency TT.

The chief editors of several of the magazines which accepted the New York offer defended their decision in Resumé.

“In the newspaper world it is unusual to go on trips like this, but it happens in the magazine world,” said Cosmopolitan’s Jonna Bergh Wahlström, who added that such jaunts were seen as “research”.

“Our readers are interested in the latest news about trends at a fair price,” said Elle’s Kristina Adolfsson. But she described her policy as “unbelievably restrictive” where travel was concerned.

Femina’s Lisbet Lundahl agreed that the trip raises a question of press ethics.

“I still think it was OK since we didn’t write more about Hennes and Mauritz because we were there,” she said.

According to the ethics ombudsman at the Swedish Union of Journalists, Justus Bennet, it’s a serious matter if fashion magazines have a different policy to other newspapers and he said a shake-up is needed. He said that whether or not the trips resulted in an article was irrelevant.

“The point is to take care of all journalists’ credibility. It affects colleagues if in the end readers think that all fashion reporting is bought,” he said.

Anyone surprised? Discuss!

TT/The Local