“It’s absurd that she should be punished because her sister got a better job,” K-G Bergström, another Sveriges Television (SVT) presenter, told the Expressen newspaper, after learning that fellow SVT presenter Karin Hübinette was going to lose her job.
“It’s well-intentioned of SVT to want to protect our impartiality, but they overreacted.”
Hübinette has been a presenter for SVT news programme Agenda since 2006.
The programme, broadcast every Sunday evening, features live in-depth interviews and debates with prominent newsmakers in order to, in the words of SVT “set the agenda” for the upcoming week’s hot topics for discussion.
Hübinette has also served as a host on the Aktuellt nightly news programme.
But the popular newscaster’s time in the presenter’s chair was brought to an abrupt end on Tuesday when her sister, Hillevi Engström, was named as the employment minister in Fredrik Reinfeldt’s new government.
Within hours of Engström’s appointment being made public, SVT announced that Hübinette was being removed from Aktuellt and Agenda.
In explaining the decision, SVT cited the potential conflict of interest that could occur if a journalist were required to interview a close relative. The broadcaster felt that there was too strong a likelihood that Hübinette’s journalistic integrity would be compromised should her sister be called in to be interviewed on the programme.
For her part, Hübinette took the sacking in stride.
“I understand the decision completely and I would have made the same decision if I had been my own boss. But I’d be lying if I said that it was fun,” she told the TT news agency following SVT’s announcement.
While Hübinette was happy for Engström, she admitted that her sister’s success had “dramatic consequences for my career”.
Speaking to the Aftonbladet newspaper, she described losing her job as a political journalist and presenter as “like a divorce; in a way SVT is done with me when it comes to this type of work.”
Several journalists have rushed to her defence, claiming that SVT was too hasty and too harsh in pulling Hübinette off her beat entirely.
Lena Mellin, deputy editor of Aftonbladet, argued that SVT “overreacted” by removing Hübinette.
“To get rid of Hübinette is like saying she is unprofessional. She is not,” wrote Mellin.
Mellin admitted that Hübinette shouldn’t interview her sister, but she pointed out that Sveriges Radio allowed reporter Cecilia Bodström to keep her job even though her brother Thomas had been appointed justice minister in a previous government.
“There is more than one way of handling siblings,” she wrote.
But the newpaper’s culture editor, Åsa Linderborg, defended SVT’s decision.
“Obviously no one should be held responsible for what a sibling says and does. But the possibility that I, as a television viewer, might suspect that a presenter for a news or society programme is related to a Moderate (or any other party) means that SVT can’t do anything else than reposition Karin Hübinette,” wrote Linderborg.
SVT’s Eva Landahl attempted to downplay the firestorm of criticism by writing in Aftonbladet “we’re not letting Karin Hübinette go”.
“Karin and I are in complete agreement that it’s impossible for her to interview and look into her own sister. That creates practical problems for us,” she wrote.
“The programme is built around a few presenters and to always have a substitute, in case Hillevi Engström should need to be called into the studio on short notice, is simply not doable.”
Nevetheless, many members of Sweden’s journalist corps don’t fully agree with SVT’s handling of the situation.
“I don’t know what the reasoning was behind the scenes, but when it comes to preserving credibility, that’s the right principle,” Sydsvenskan daily editor Daniel Sandström told the Dagens Media newspaper.
“But the image I have of Karin Hübinette is that she could have probably handled the conflict of interest from the point of view of the viewer.”