Åkesson interview wasn’t unfair: TV watchdog

Sweden's broadcasting regulator has rejected complaints that the country's top TV chat show host was guilty of bias in a controversial interview with Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson in March.

Åkesson interview wasn't unfair: TV watchdog
Jimmie Åkesson during the controversial interview. Photo: TT

The scrutiny committee for Sweden’s authority for radio and TV on Monday said that it did not think that the interview with the politician was contrary to the requirements for objectivity and impartiality, SVT reported.

Broadcast on March 27th on Swedish public broadcaster SVT, the interview with the nationalist leader resulted in hundreds of complaints both in Sweden and across the border in Norway, where the programme was also broadcast.

In Sweden complaints started coming in even before the interview was aired, with many criticizing the broadcaster on social media for giving the controversial far-right leader a forum on Norwegian journalist Fredrik Skavlan’s popular show.

But once the programme had been broadcast, most viewers focussed on how the interview was conducted, arguing that Åkesson, who went on sick leave last October, had been treated too harshly by Skavlan.

During the interview Skavlan repeatedly asked Åkesson about controversial, and often racist, statements made in the past by Sweden Democrats.

A blogger for Sweden's GP newspaper titled his entry on the interview: “Skavlan was a pitbull”.

The interview also touched upon the fact that the nationalist leader had been on sick leave since October 2014 and is still on anti-depressants.

“There's obviously a reason why others don't choose to talk about this. It's because you're scared, as a political leader, to be perceived as weak. 'How are you supposed to return to your party leader job now, you who are taking antidepressants? You, who are so weak, how are you going to manage?',” Åkesson told Skavlan.

“But I think that for the sake of both the voters and myself, I have to be open about this,” he added.

Other viewers praised the broadcaster for this approach, arguing that Jimmie Åkesson needed to be grilled for his far-right views.

Speaking at the time, SVT argued that it had a role to “comment on and question the world”.

Defending its decision on Monday, the broadcasting authority said: “A host must have a critical perspective and ask questions of provocative character in order to clarify the position of the person being interviewed.” 

The Sweden Democrats are the third largest party in Sweden, after scoring 12.9 percent of the vote in the country's last general election in September 2014.

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What’s the Swedish Christian Democrats’ abortion contract all about?

Ebba Busch, leader of Sweden's Christian Democrats on Monday presented an "abortion contract", which she wants all of Sweden's party leaders to sign. What's going on?

What's the Swedish Christian Democrats' abortion contract all about?

What’s happened? 

Ebba Busch, leader of Sweden’s Christian Democrat party, called a press conference on Monday in which she presented a document that she called “an abortion contract”, which was essentially a pledge to safeguard the right of women in Sweden to have an abortion.  

“There is room for signatures from all eight party leaders,” she said. “I have already signed on behalf of the Christian Democrats.” 

What does the so-called “abortion contract” say? 

The document itself is fairly uncontroversial.

It states simply that Sweden’s law on abortion dates back to 1974, and that it grants women the right to an abortion up until the 18th week of pregnancy, with women seeking abortions later in their pregnancy required to get permission from the National Board of Health and Welfare. 

“Those of us who have signed this document support Sweden’s abortion legislation and promise to defend it if it comes under attack from forces both within our country and from outside,” the document reads.  

Why have the Christian Democrats produced it? 

The decision of the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade, and so allow US states to ban abortion has aroused strong feelings in Sweden, as elsewhere, and Busch is seeking to send a strong signal to distance her own Christian party from the US religious right. 

Abortion has been a recurring issue within the Christian Democrats with several politicians and party members critical of abortion. 

Lars Adaktusson, a Christian Democrat MP, was found by the Dagens Nyheter newspaper to have voted against abortion 22 times when he was a member of the European parliament. 

The party has also in the past campaigned for the right of midwives and other medical professionals who are ethically opposed to abortion not to have to take part in the procedure. 

So why aren’t all the other party leaders signing the document? 

Sweden’s governing Social Democrats, and their Green Party allies, dismissed the contract as a political gimmick designed to help the Christian Democrats distance themselves from elements of their own party critical of abortion. 

“It would perhaps be good if Ebba Busch did some homework within her own party to check that there’s 100 percent support for Sweden’s abortion legislation,” Magdalena Andersson, Sweden’s prime minister, said. “That feels like a more important measure than writing contracts between party leaders and trying to solve it that way.”  

In a debate on Swedish television, Green Party leader Märta Stenevi argued that it would be much more significant if Busch’s own MPs and MEPs all signed the document. 

It wasn’t other party leaders who needed to show commitment to abortion legislation, but “her own MPs, MEPs, and not least her proposed government partners in the Sweden Democrats and even some within the Moderate Party”. 

She said it made her “very very worried” to see that the Christian Democrats needed such a contract. “That’s why I see all this more as a clear sign that we need to move forward with protecting the right to abortion in the constitution,” she said. 

How have the other right-wing parties reacted? 

The other right-wing parties have largely backed Busch, although it’s unclear if any other party leaders are willing to actually sign the document. 

Tobias Billström, the Moderates’ group parliamentary leader, retweeted a tweet from Johan Paccamonti, a Stockholm regional politician with the Moderate Party, which criticised the Social Democrats for not signing it, however. 

“It seems to be more important to blow up a pretend conflict than to sign the Christian Democrats’ contract or look at the issue of [including abortion rights in] the constitution, like the Moderates, Liberals and Centre Party want to,” Paccamonti wrote. 

The Liberal Party on Sunday proposed protecting abortion rights in the Swedish constitution, a proposal which has since been backed by the Moderate party and the Centre Party