In February 2017, after U.S. President Donald Trump's statements about events in Sweden, the journalist Tim Pool travelled to Sweden to report on their accuracy. What Tim Pool concluded is now available for everyone to watch on YouTube, but what is really interesting is how the Swedish public broadcasting media described him.
Why is Pool "a threat to democracy" in Sweden? He reported negatively about an urban area in Stockholm, Rinkeby, where more than 90% of the population has a foreign background. When Pool visited Rinkeby, he had to be escorted out by police. Journalists are often threatened in Rinkeby. Before this incident, in an interview with Radio Sweden, Pool had described Rosengård, an area in the Swedish city of Malmö heavily populated by immigrants, as "nice, beautiful, safe". After Pool's negative but accurate report about Rinkeby, however, he began to be described as an unserious journalist by many in the Swedish media, and finally was labeled the "threat to democracy."
One might think that this was a one-time event in a country whose journalists were defensive. But the fact is that Swedish journalists are deeply politicized.
In most democratic countries, media are, or should be, critical of those who hold power. In Sweden, the media criticize those who criticizes those who hold power.
In March 2017, the public broadcasting company Sveriges Television revealed the name of a person who runs the Facebook page Rädda vården ("Save Healthcare"). The person turned out to be an assistant nurse, and was posting anonymously only because he had been critical of the hospital where he worked. Swedish hospitals are run by the local county councils, and thus when someone criticizes the healthcare system in Sweden, it is primarily politicians who are criticized. Sveriges Television explained on its website why it revealed the identity of the private individuals behind Facebook:
"These hidden powers of influence abandon and break the open public debate and free conversation. Who are they? What do they want and why? As their impact increases, the need to examine them also grows."
It is strange that Sveriges Television believes that an assistant nurse who wants to tell how politicians neglect public hospitals, is breaking "the open public debate and free conversation". This was not the only time that the mainstream Swedish media exposed private citizens who were criticizing those who hold power. In December 2013, one of Sweden's largest and most established newspapers, Expressen, announced that it intended to disclose the names of people who commented on various Swedish blogs:
"Expressen has partnered with Researchgruppen. The group has found a way, according to their own description, without any kind of unlawful intrusion, to associate the usernames that the anonymous commentators on the hate websites are using to the email addresses from which comments were sent. After that, the email addresses have been cross-checked with registries and authorities to identify the persons behind them."
The term "hate websites" (hatsajterna) is what that the mainstream media uses to describe some of the blogs that are critical of Islam or migration.
It is one thing to be critical of bloggers who you may consider have racist opinions. But exposing the people who have written in comments sections of various blogs in one of Sweden's biggest newspapers is strange and terrifying.
Researchgruppen has clear links to Antifascistisk Aktion (Antifascist Action), a group which, according to the Swedish government, consists of violent left-wing extremists. For their efforts to expose private individuals in the comments section, Researchgruppen received the Guldspaden, a prestigious journalistic award in Sweden.
Jim Olsson was one individual exposed in Expressen simply because he wrote something in a blog's comments section. A 67-year-old docent in physical chemistry, Olsson received a home-visit from Expressen with a camera and microphone present. A private citizen with no connection to any political party or organization, he exposed by Sweden's media because he had written the following in the comments section:
"The Swedish asylum system rewards swindlers with a permanent residence permit. There are, of course, swindlers flooding Sweden."
Another private individual, Patrik Gillsvik, with no political links, was exposed and fired from his job because, in a blog's comments section, he wrote:
"I would like to join the structural prejudices of the majority in society and state that gypsies are inventive and witty entrepreneurs who can enrich our culture -- yes, and then they steal like ravens, of course!"
Although the statement can be criticized for being unacceptably racist, what is unique is that the mainstream media in a Western democracy can expose private individuals because they wrote something in a blog's comments section. Criticism is not aimed at the people who hold power, but against private citizens who according to the journalists have the "wrong" ideas.
Moreover, each of these private citizens, who have had their lives ruined because they wrote something distasteful in a comments section, serves as a warning, so that others will not dare to make the mistake of posting something politically incorrect on a blog.
It is shocking that in a democracy, the media acts this way, but that is how Swedish -- and, increasingly, other Western media -- operate these days.
In addition to punishing private individuals who, according to the them, communicate "wrong" ideas, the media celebrate and support people who have the "right" ideas. On May 1, 2017, Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven was interrupted by a number of hijab-wearing activists who were protesting a verdict of the Court of Justice of the European Union that employers are entitled to prohibit staff from wearing a hijab. Given that Sweden's prime minister cannot directly influence the Court, and that one should not interrupt the country's prime minister when he speaks, one would think that these "hijab activists" might be criticized in the media.
TV4, a national TV-channel and one of the first media outlets to report this incident, refused to say that those who interrupted the prime minister were wearing the Islamic veil. The title of TV4's clip was "Demonstrators Interrupted Löfven speech". The sub-headline read as follows: "Female protesters screamed out their anger against the prime minister and wondered where the feminist government was."
From the text, it is not clear that these activists demonstrated against the verdict of the Court of Justice of the European Union; that all activists wore a hijab, or that they screamed, "Stand up for Muslim women's rights!" However, information that these activists were wearing hijabs and protesting the verdict of the Court of Justice of the European Union was on their Facebook page and YouTube. Nevertheless, TV4 and all other media refused to report that those who interrupted the prime minister were Muslims who were interrupting the prime minister because they seemingly wanted to force Islamic values on the Swedish workplace.
The day after their protest, in an interview with Radio Sweden, these activists had the opportunity to explain why they protested -- but were not asked any critical questions. The next day, an Expressen columnist, Maria Rydhagen, compared one of the hijab-activists glowingly with one of the founders of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, Axel Danielsson. Rydhagen wrote the following about Jasmin Nur Ismail:
"Then, on Monday, the protest of the girls was perceived as only an incident. But imagine if it was the start of something big? Perhaps history was being written, there and then? Imagine if Jasmin Nur is the Axel Danielsson of 2017. Hero and rebel. In that case: Was it not a pity to remove her with the help of the police?"
As the media refused to write anything negative about the protest against the prime minister, this author began to investigate the matter. It took half an hour to find out several important things which were never mentioned by the Swedish mainstream media. Jasmin Nur Ismail had written about the incident on her Facebook page shortly after the protest. Who was behind the protest was not a secret.
The demonstration had been organized by the Hayat Women's Movement and a network called, "The Right to Our Bodies". The Hayat Women's Movement was founded by Aftab Soltani, who in March 2017 was one of the speakers at a much-criticized annual Islamic event in Sweden, Muslimska Familjedagarna (Muslim Family Days). The event was blamed by both the left and the right for inviting hate preachers, anti-Semites and Muslim radicals as speakers. Another speaker at this Islamic event in March 2017 was Jasmin Nur Ismail, a heroine of the Swedish media. Muslimska Familjedagarna was organized by the Islamist Ibn Rushd Educational Association, the Islamic Association of Sweden (Islamiska Förbundet i Sverige) and Sweden's Young Muslims (Sveriges Unga Muslimer).
Jasmin Nur Ismail, hailed as a heroine in Expressen, is a public figure. Southern Sweden's largest newspaper, Sydsvenskan, described her in an October 2016 article as an "activist, anti-racist and writer". According to Sydsvenskan, Jasmin Nur Ismail's political role-model is Malcolm X. During the Swedish Forum for Human Rights in 2016, Jasmin Nur Ismail was, in a panel discussion, the representative for Malmö's Young Muslims -- in turn, a subdivision of an Islamist organization, Sweden's Young Muslims.
Swedish newspapers did not write a single word that the person and organizations behind the protest against Sweden's prime minister had links with Islamist organizations. When the Swedish media reported about the event, the public were told that these hijab-activists were completely unknown Muslim girls who only wanted to wear their veils.
Mainstream Swedish media outlets simply do not report some things. When the largest mosque in Scandinavia was opened in Sweden's third largest city, Malmö, the news about this was first published in the Qatar News Agency and The Peninsula on May 3, 2017. The reason that Qatar's media wrote about it was because Qatar financed a large part of the mosque. On May 5, an article about this mosque was published in Breitbart. On May 6, one day after Breitbart reported the news and three days after the Qatari media reported the news, the Swedish terrorist expert Magnus Ranstorp sent a tweet about this mosque, but he linked it to the Qatari media. At this time, there are still no Swedish media outlets that have reported anything about the largest mosque in Scandinavia.
On May 8, the Swedish blog Jihad i Malmö wrote about the mosque and its Qatari financing. On May 9, the Swedish blog Pettersson gör skillnad wrote about the mosque. At the same time, the Norwegian author and activist Hege Storhaug, who is critical of Islam, wrote about the mosque and noted that the Swedish media had not yet written about it:
"I had expected that the Swedish media at the very least would mention the opening of Scandinavia's largest mosque with positive words. But no, not a word in Swedish mainstream media, as far as I have noticed. You have to go to the English version of Arabic media to get some limited information, like Qatar News Agency."
By the time I tweeted about it on May 10, the mainstream Swedish media still had not widely reported it. On May 15, I wrote an article on it for the news website Situation Malmö, run by the Sweden Democrats party branch in Malmö. With one hour's research, I managed, through what the mosque had published on Facebook, to discover that one of the leading Social Democrat politicians in Malmö, Frida Trollmyr, a municipal commissioner with responsibility for culture, recreation and health, had been at the mosque's opening. Representatives of the Qatari government also attended, but the mainstream Swedish media still had not reported anything about it.
On May 17, two weeks after the Qatari media had written about the opening of Scandinavia's largest mosque in Malmö, 12 days after Breitbart had written about the event, and two days after my article, the Sydsvenskan newspaper wrote about the mosque opening. You could not read the article, however, if you had not paid for "premium membership" to this newspaper.
One can see this omission as an unfortunate coincidence, but it is strange when Breitbart succeeds in communicating more information about Malmö than southern Sweden's largest newspaper, which is headquartered in Malmö. Why would the Swedish media not write about the mosque? It was certainly not a secret. There was no explanation from the Swedish media or anyone else. Yet, these same media outlets did not hesitate to expose the names of private citizens who wrote inappropriate opinions on a public comments page.
There are journalists in Sweden who change their views as soon as the government changes its opinion. Göran Greider, a journalist and editor, active in the public debate in Sweden for more than 30 years, wrote the following in August 2015, about migration policy:
"The European governments who say no to increasing the number of refugees received not only show a shameful lack of solidarity. They are also silent when they decline to rejuvenate their populations."
In November 2015, only three months later, when the Swedish government was forced to change its migration policy because of the migration crisis, Göran Greider wrote:
"But even the left, including many Social Democrats and members of the Green Party, have sometimes been characterized by an unwillingness to discuss the great challenges that receiving refugees, in the quantity we have seen lately, implies for a society. No one wants to be a nationalist. No one wants to be accused of running the errands of Sweden Democrats, or racism. But in this way, people on the left, who are so broadly for bringing in refugees, have often locked themselves out of a realistic discussion."
There is nothing wrong in reconsidering one's opinion. But it has become common for Swedish journalists frequently to have opinions that favor certain political parties -- often the Social Democrats, the Left Party and the Green Party. The issue is not even about values. People who work for the mainstream Swedish media are ready to reconsider their values so long as it helps certain parties to stay in power. This is far from what is presumably the media's main task in a democracy.
How is it that no newspaper is rebelling against this order? It would be a good business proposition; such a media outlet could gain financial benefits. Sweden's political establishment is, after all, not popular. Well, we can look at the example of someone who tried. In February 2017, a financier, Mats Qviberg, bought a free daily newspaper, Metro, usually distributed in subways and buses in Sweden. In May, he gave an interview to the newspaper Nyheter Idag, considered by the Swedish establishment to be "right-wing" or "populist". In his interview, Qviberg gave a slight playful hint that Metro might in some way cooperate with Nyheter Idag.
The consequence of the playful statement was that the Green Party in Stockholm County Council threatened that Stockholm County would stop handing out Metro in Stockholm's subways. A columnist stopped writing for the paper. Other media outlets started to wonder out loud if Metro were becoming a racist platform. Before the month of May was over, Qviberg had sold his shares in Metro. That politicians would punish a newspaper owner who had "wrong" views did not surprise anyone in Sweden; the situation was not worth mentioning. In Sweden, even owners of newspapers are supposed to follow the political order.
In June 2017, the leader of the Sweden Democrats (SD), Jimmie Åkesson, spoke in Järva, a district in Stockholm dominated by immigrants. The Sweden Democrats is a social-conservative party in the Swedish parliament; it supports, among other matters, a restrictive migration policy. While Åkesson was speaking, there were protests against him; and among the protesters were various placards. A photograph of Radio Sweden's van showed an anti-SD placard inside it. On it, one could read "Jimmie = Racist". The explanation from Radio Sweden was:
"Someone put a sign on Ekot's (a Radio Sweden news program) car in Järva on Sunday evening. It was taken down and put into the car and then thrown away on the way from there."
You can have a discussion about why Radio Sweden spends its time discarding placards that left-wing protesters use. Is that what journalist are supposed to do when they are covering a story? In the end, however, it does not matter. The people's confidence in the mainstream media in Sweden is being eroded as we write.
A new study from Institutet för Mediestudier shows that 54% agree, or partly agree, that the Swedish media are not telling the whole truth about problems in society linked to migration. Instead of the media accepting that they are biased and starting to change their ways, the media continue to attack citizens who appear critical.
In June 2017, the editorial writer of the daily Aftonbladet, Anders Lindberg, wrote an editorial titled, "Hitler Did Not Trust the Media Either," in which he equated the critics of the Swedish media with Nazis. Anders Lindberg, after working 10 years for the Social Democrats, resigned as the Communications Ombudsman for the Social Democrats in 2010, to start working as an editorial writer for Aftonbladet. He is so well-known for what his critics view as unusual versions of the truth that he has the privilege of writing for Sweden's largest newspaper. In 2015, he described the issue of organized begging, a visible problem in northern Europe, as "legends and folklore". Today there is no party that denies that organized begging is a real problem.
I often have difficulty explaining to many of my American friends and colleagues how the Swedish media work. Often, there may be clear examples of anti-Semitism and other unsavory behavior. The first question I always get is: Why is the media not writing about this? The answer is simple. The Swedish media are politicized to the extent that they act as a propaganda machine. It is not a propaganda machine in the traditional sense of the word, with an official Ministry of Propaganda. But in Sweden, many journalists and editors are either old established political party employees, as Anders Lindberg, or simply ideologically indoctrinated and therefore extremely biased. The Swedish propaganda machine punishes those who have the "wrong" opinions and celebrates those who have the "right" opinions.
What happened to Tim Pool was a part of how media works in Sweden. As long as he said the "right" things, the Swedish media gave a positive picture of him. When he started to have the "wrong" opinion, the propaganda machine started doing its work and Pool became "a threat to democracy".
There are, of course, more examples that show how sick the Swedish debate- and media-climate has become. In such a negative environment, there are many casualties. The first casualty is, obviously, the truth. When people start to understand that the mainstream media are lying, they turn to alternative media. Alternative media outlets, however, also usually have political agendas. A democracy cannot survive well only on biased media. A democracy desperately needs mainstream media outlets that inform its citizens and criticize people who hold power. That is something Sweden does not have today.
A large portion of the Swedish population are apparently aware of this and do not trust the media. Through its lies, the Swedish media have created possibilities for "post-truth politics" in Sweden. Instead of being a neutral party, the mainstream Swedish media have lied to uphold certain "politically correct" values. The result is an atmosphere where many people believe that everything that the media says has a political agenda. When the mainstream media in Sweden lie shamelessly, where can one go to find the truth? One wonders what lifestyle and political stability Sweden will have when no one can know the truth about what is really going on.
Nima Gholam Ali Pour is a member of the board of education in the Swedish city of Malmö and is engaged in several Swedish think tanks concerned with the Middle East. He is also editor for the social conservative website Situation Malmö, and is the author of the Swedish book "Därför är mångkultur förtryck"("Why Multiculturalism is Oppression").