Every newspaper cocks up once in a while. Today, The Local got caught with its trousers down. Unfortunately, it concerned an article that had already erupted onto the pages of the world press.
The article in question was about a masturbating Swede caught in the act on a public beach. He was hauled before a Swedish court, but acquitted of sexual molestation because he was not “aiming” at anyone in particular. This much was true.
Unfortunately, our article included a typo in a quote that prosecutor Olof Vrethammar gave to the local edition of the excellent Mitt i newspaper, which first broke the story.
In our article, he was quoted as saying that following the ruling “we can conclude that it is OK to masturbate on the beach”. The problem is, the original quote actually said “we CAN’T conclude that it is OK”. Somehow, despite several sets of editors’ eyes looking at the story, we missed this crucial error – the quote seemed to make sense in context (we have since corrected the article).
As luck would have it, newspapers around the world picked up the story (and the quote), giving many readers – and not just The Local’s readers – the impression that no-holds barred sexual exhibitionism was now legal in Sweden. Of course, it is not.
Before we were even made aware of the original error in the quote (thanks, Vice Magazine) we became concerned that the global media coverage might give people the wrong idea about Sweden. Some commenters even
joked they planned to buy plane tickets to this spectacular – and in many ways beguilingly liberal – country on the basis of the story. We therefore published this interview with the prosecutor in which he clarified what the ruling did and did not mean.
Of course, the original mistake should have been caught earlier. We should have checked and double-checked the article against the original quote – as we usually do. If we’ve caused prosecutor Vrethammar any embarrassment, we’re sorry. And in the unlikely event that anyone has booked a ticket to Sweden on the basis of this story, come anyway – it’s one of the world’s most beautiful places – but please, keep your trousers on.
James Savage, Managing Editor