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Sweden Democrats to boycott public broadcaster following debate controversy

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Sweden Democrats to boycott public broadcaster following debate controversy
The controversy flared up at the conclusion of SVT's broadcast of the final party leaders' debate. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist / TT
16:57 CEST+02:00
The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats (SD), which is likely to pick up major gains in Sunday’s election, has announced that it will boycott broadcaster SVT for the station’s controversial decision to weigh in on opinions aired in a Friday night debate.
During the televised debate, SD party leader Jimmie Åkesson said that the reason many immigrants can’t find a job is because “they are not Swedes” and they “don’t fit in in Sweden”. Åkesson’s comments sparked ire among the other party leaders involved in the debate and also led to the rare step of a public broadcaster rebuking a politician's standpoint.  
 
“We must begin by saying that Jimmie Åkesson’s comments were blatantly generalising and SVT does not stand by them,” SVT host Martina Nord said after the debate. 
 
SD said on Saturday that it would boycott the broadcaster unless it receives an apology. A spokesman for Åkesson said that no SD member would speak with the broadcaster ahead of Sunday’s election and that party leaders may decide to continue the boycott through election day and beyond. 
 
“In the final party leaders’ debate before the election, SVT chose to take a stand against the Sweden Democrats. It is an act that is unprecedented in modern Swedish history,” the party tweeted on Friday night. 
 
Åkesson himself said that the broadcaster unfairly injected itself into the election.
 
“With less than two days to go until the voting locations close, state-run television chose to get involved in the debate by ‘distancing itself’ from a party leader’s opinion. It is a scandal,” he told Expressen. 
 
Although SVT’s apology to viewers caused an immediate ripple throughout the rest of the Swedish press, the broadcaster said on Saturday that it stood by its decision. 
 
SVT spokeswoman Anne Lagercrantz said that host Nord’s on-air comments were guided by the so-called ‘democracy clause’ in the Radio and Television Act. The clause states that programmes aired by the public broadcaster must heed “the democratic system’s basic ideas and principles that all people are equal.”
 
“We have a radio and TV law in Sweden and our evaluation [of Åkesson’s remarks] was that there was a need to distance ourselves,” Lagencratz said on Saturday. 
 
SD said it plans to file a formal complaint against SVT. 
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