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GOVERNMENT

The Swedish media and the ‘Tooth Fairy State’

A recent report admonishing Swedes about their dental hygiene prompts Swedish journalist and columnist Ola Tedin to reflect on how a sometimes uncritical media appears to serve the interests of the Swedish state.

The Swedish media and the 'Tooth Fairy State'

“Nine out of ten Swedes don’t brush their teeth properly.”

The lead item on national public radio’s morning news on a recent Saturday focused on a perceived lack of awareness on the part of Swedes for their dental hygiene.

Apparently a survey had found that Swedes don’t put enough toothpaste on the brush, brush for too short a time, and insist on spitting out the suds too soon, depriving our teeth of much needed fluoride.

The tone could not be misunderstood.

In apparent awe, the producer of the programme let a dental hygiene expert from some institute go on lecturing about correct brushing behavior for a good two minutes, an eternity for prime-time radio.

The lack of follow up questions or the slightest hint of scepticism brought back memories of educational radio programmes from my school days as a young person growing up in Sweden and the campy news reels from the forties and fifties.

Sweden has a plethora of state-sponsored institutions, organizations and authorities bent on educating the populace towards a perceived better moral, physical and economic behavior.

The current centre-right Alliance government has trimmed at the edges of this massive bureaucracy, but has showed itself to be surprisingly tolerant.

Thus we are still showered with advice, guidelines and alarmist messages concerning more or less every angle of modern life.

Or rather, as the case is with the tooth brushing, well-intentioned advice that appears to be somewhat out of date.

After all, how can one fit the government recommended two centimeters of toothpaste upon the minimal head of the electric tooth brushes used by an increasingly large portion of the Swedish population?

According to organizational theory, if an organization is formed for a specific purpose, it will do everything it can to continue to fulfill that purpose.

Furthermore, the organization will likely try to maximizing the delivery of whatever is perceived to be the primary goal or intentions of the organization’s backers.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, is a perfect example, but Sweden’s National Institute of Public Health (Folkhälsoinstitutet) also fits the model.

By producing reports that raise awareness or concerns about public health, this agency helps justify its own existence.

And I’m fine with that.

After all, politics is the art of making impressions and forming opinions. And Swedish politicians in general, and social democratic ones in particular, excel in using the government apparatus to this end.

But I’d be more comfortable if some of this steady output would be a bit more critically treated in the media.

After all, these are the same journalists who take great professional pride in treating with the utmost scepticism a press release or some new report from any commercial entity.

And rightly so.

But the big mystery is why similar output is treated differently just because it is from a government organization.

As a long-time journalist, I know for a fact that media in Sweden is fiercely independent from government meddling, even at the state-funded public service media outlets Sveriges Television (SVT) and Sveriges Radio (SR).

And yet, take any official report or scientific survey that points to some perceived flaw in our lifestyle and you can be sure that it will be treated with a Pollyannaish lack of the exact same critical reporting that is assumed to be of great importance to help readers, viewers, and listeners to form informed and skeptical opinions on things affecting everyday life in other areas.

It’s not hard to imagine the media’s response if Colgate put out a press release telling the general public to use at least two centimeters of toothpaste twice every day.

Most likely total silence. Or, at best, ridicule.

Yet when an academy in Gothenburg says to do the same thing, it gets three minutes of prime-time on national radio.

No doubt this Tooth Fairy State has many Merry Little Helpers.

Ola Tedin has written opinion journalism for several Swedish dailies, including Sydsvenskan and Expressen. He was the op-ed editor of the Ystad Allehanda newspaper from 2001 to 2011.

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GOVERNMENT

Governments including Sweden’s see support tumble for their handling of COVID-19, survey shows

Governments are fast losing support for their handling of the coronavirus outbreak from a public that widely believes death and infection figures to be higher than statistics show, a survey of six countries including Sweden revealed on Saturday.

Governments including Sweden's see support tumble for their handling of COVID-19, survey shows
Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven (L) speaks with Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen during an EU summit in Brussels on July 20, 2020. AFP

Support for the federal government of the United States, the country with the most reported infections and deaths, dropped by four percentage points from mid-June, with 44 percent of respondents declaring themselves dissatisfied, said a report by the Kekst CNC communications consulting group.

In Britain, just over a third of respondents approved of their government's actions, a three-point decline in one month, according to the report, based on an opinion poll conducted over five days in mid-July. 

It also included France, Sweden, Japan and Germany.

“In most countries this month, support for national governments is falling,” the report said.

The notable exception was France, where approval rose by six percentage points, yielding a dissatisfaction rate of 41 percent.

France, which has the world's seventh-highest COVID-19 toll, has all but emerged from lockdown but has seen infections increase in recent days, prompting the government to order face masks in all enclosed public spaces.

In Sweden, which took a controversial soft approach to lockdown and has a higher toll than its neighbours, the prime minister's approval rating has shrunk from a positive seven percent to a neutral zero, the poll found.

'Resigned'

People who participated in the survey —  1,000 per country polled — generally believed the coronavirus to be more widespread, and more deadly, than official figures show.

“Despite relatively low incidence rates compared to earlier in the pandemic in most countries (with the exception of the US), people significantly overestimate the spread and fatality rate of the disease,” Kekst CNC said.

In Sweden and Britain, the public believed that six or seven percent of people have died from the coronavirus, about 100 times the reported rate.

In the United States, respondents estimated that almost a tenth of the population had died of the virus, more than 200 times the real toll, while Germans thought their tally was 300 times higher than what has been reported.

Such views, said the report, “will be impacting consumer behaviour and wider attitudes — business leaders and governments will need to be conscious of this as they move to restart economies and transition into living with coronavirus for the medium to longer term.”

The poll also revealed that fear of a second outbreak wave is growing, and that an ever larger number of people believe the impacts will last for more than a year.

People “are becoming resigned to living with coronavirus for the forseeable future, and looking to leaders and business to pave the way forward,” the report said.

They are also increasingly likely to prioritise limiting the spread of the virus even if the economy suffers.

“In the US, 54 percent want the government to prioritise limiting the spread of the virus over protecting the economy,” it said.

The poll found that mask-wearing was generally popular, except in Sweden, where only about 15 percent of people sport a face-covering in public.

Even in the United States, where mask-wearing has become a politically polarising issue, 63 percent of respondents said they were in favour.

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