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Journalist union accuses EU over press subsidy secrecy

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11:39 CEST+02:00
The Swedish union of journalists has accused the EU Commission of colluding with media firm Bonniers against the system of press subsidies. Margot Wallström is also criticized for proposals that would further classify the EU Commission's routines.

In a debate article in Dagens Nyheter on Monday, Agneta Lindblom Hulthén and Arne König of the Swedish Union of Journalists (Journalistförbundet), together with freelance journalist Staffan Dahlöf, accuse the EU Commission of colluding with media giant Bonniers against the current Swedish system of press subsidies.

The commission is accused of withholding documents that are in the public interest.

The trio also accuse EU commissioner Margot Wallström for working to stifle public debate of commission business in general with new proposals that would increase the secrecy around commission procedures and routines.

The Local reported on April 4th 2008 that the Swedish government had proposed that two major newspapers, Svenska Dagbladet and Skånska Dagbladet, are set to lose almost all of the subsidies they currently receive from the state.

According to the proposal, press subsidies to newspapers in large cities will be reduced incrementally from the current level of 65 million kronor ($10.7 million) to 17 million kronor. The reduction will start next year and be phased in over a five-year period.

It became public knowledge in May 2007 that it was Bonniers who had reported the Swedish system of press subsidies to the EU Commission. Bonniers' complaint became a public document as it was submitted to the Swedish ministry of culture.

There are however, several further documents that support Bonniers' complaint which have not been released into the public domain. These documents are not identical to the report submitted to the ministry of culture and therefore should also be released, the trio argue.

The union of journalists has requested the documents, which include a letter from Bonniers to the commission and a report covering the press subsidy system entitled, "A costly failure" from December 2006 as well as memorandums entitled, "The subsidized profit machine" and "The newspaper Svenska Dagbladet and the Swedish press subsidies" from January 2007.

The trio claims that the EU has denied that the documents were of "public interest" and refused to release them arguing that it: "would seriously jeopardize the commission's ongoing review" of the Swedish subsidy system.

"The commission, which could ultimately decide the future of the Swedish press susbidy system, is thus holding documents separate from those in the possession of the culture ministry; information that has not been accounted for in the Swedish public debate," the trio write.

"Information that none of the affected competitors have had the right to see and comment upon. There have been classified," they continue.

The commission is accused of sacrificing democracy and open debate for its own internal procedural requirements and the authors direct criticism at new proposals drafted by Swedish EU commissioner, Margot Wallström, that further establish the commission's stance.

"She quite simply removes the possibility for even requesting access to the types of documents submitted by Bonniers. Such documents would thus only be released once a decision has already been made."

"In the future, General-Secretary (Catherine) Day does not even need to consider the public interest in trying to understand what their overlords are doing," they write.

The authors recognize however that the rules and regulations that govern the EU commission' procedures are ultimately subject to the member states in the council of ministers and to the EU parliament.

"And here, to say the least, there is significant scope for improvement", they conclude.

Bonniers is a privately-owned Swedish media group of 150 companies operating in 21 countries. The group controls titles such as Dagens Nyheter, Expressen and Dagens Industri as well as TV4 and SF.

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