by Marcello Ferrada-Noli
The “Duck Pond”
Referring to a particular political debate, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, Mona Sahlin, suggested recently that Sweden, for being such a small country, could not have big political problems debated a long time.
However, the truth might be the opposite:
One of Sweden’s big problems in reference to political debate is posed by the small size of the country’s cultural elite. At the end, there is no real debate. This is possibly because in Sweden everybody within the political-cultural elite seems to know each other, or is related with each other for one reason or the other. All this produces a high “internal” mobility of journalists among publishing employers. Also, there are not many employers in Sweden. The consolidation of ownership in Sweden’s main newspapers reduces the number of owners basically to two: Bonnier (with the biggest share) and Schibsted. In its turn, this provides only one prevalent ideological perspective. These are the details:
The result is that a significant number of Swedish journalists, together with other important segments of the “cultural-elite” manpower, transfer from one point to the other within a reduced perimeter in job availability. Also, the consolidation of ownership in the media results in a quite monolithic ideological perspective under which employed journalists would produce news-articles and columns.
This is a phenomenon that Swedes sometimes refers as the “duck pond” (ankdammen). That term also is used extensively for other spheres of the Swedish political life. Being a little country, the relatively reduced cultural space in which Swedish journalist co-habit will naturally facilitate the coordination of the campaigns they are assigned to promote (See Prime-scandal below). However, the “Ankdammen” allegory refers also, and more concrete, to the particular feature in these campaigns in which one identical text will be repeated by different journalists in their published articles, allegorically “like ducks in a pond” (see down below the anti-Assange media campaign “Let’s talk about it”).
The above professional situation does not affect only low-ranking journalists. Unlike many other societies, the chief political-editor of a pro-government newspaper in Sweden can shift jobs and become chief-editor of the “opposition” newspaper. One day they may work in the state owned public-service media. The next day they work in private USA-owned PR corporations or agencies, or in so called think-tank organizations (e.g. Timbro). All of this is with no regard at all towards the political character of the assignment.
Here is a concrete illustration: The recent “Prime-scandal” exposed in December 2010 showed that a main PR firm (Prime) run in Sweden by influential members of the social-democratic party had an ongoing PR-assignment contracted in June by the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise “Svensk Näringsliv” (a business federation serving also as a national front organization of employers). The assignment, with a code name “Naturally grown,” was designed to last four years. The plan was to aim to secretly manipulate the Social Democratic party towards the support of advantageous legislation in Näringsliv’s interest. This meant bringing a profit to international corporations and big private companies, with clear detriment to the public interests of the nation.
Let us observe the main aspect from a cultural-anthropological perspective about these aggravating political scandals in Sweden. The problem is not the confirmation that that such scandals DO happen in Sweden (even though it is best known abroad as a corruption-free society). The main problem is that no one really cares in Sweden about holding these people liable. In the long run, everything in Sweden is social-consensus, and then forgiven and forgotten. No one gets a penalty for politically ethical misconduct in Sweden, not even a social reprimand. There is no Swedish law that would make politicians, or public servants, accountable to that extent.
This was clear in a spectacular and aggravating episode that concerned Assange and WikiLeaks last summer. Assange’s organization, WikiLeaks, disclosed the Swedish government’s involvement in secret agreements of strategic value with a foreign power (USA). This focused on systematic transfer of intelligence and sensitive data about the Swedish population. All this done by the government and hidden from the Swedish Parliament.
I have remarked elsewhere that, in any other country, this would have resulted in a media scandal, treason accusations regarding national interests, government failure, etc. In Sweden, however, nothing at all like that happened. Instead, the media turned voraciously against the messenger that portrayed reality apparently no-one wishes to confront. This sort of behaviour from the Swedish media could be described as “denial with projective identification”.
These events have not passed ignored, internationally. For instance, in the Washington Post article by Craig Whitlock “New Swedish Documents Illuminate CIA Action” of 21 May 2005, the Post stated, “Although the parliamentary investigator concluded that the Swedish security police deserved ‘extremely grave criticism’ for losing control of the operation and for being ‘remarkably submissive to the American officials,’ no Swedish officials have been charged or disciplined.”
In truth, one of the few exceptions in the Swedish media’s behaviour on the episode described above was Dagens Nyheter publication (7/12 2010) of a debate article by professor Wilhelm Agrell (commented here in Second-Opinion). That was nearly the only one.
Duck Pond and “consensus”
Would all that be because Swedes strive always to achieve “consensus” solutions, as colleague Agrell hypothesized? Or could it be instead because the ideological differences between Swedish journalists – mirroring the general panorama of Sweden in that regard – are not really that big? Being therefore, such differences not ethically determined? Could it be because that the strong feeling of national loyalty that Swedes share makes them see the establishment’s newspapers as national institutions rather than politically-minded private media networks? Or is that manifest national loyalty, in fact, social obedience brought about by alienation?
A similar phenomenon of uniform Swedish journalists’ reports was observed during the alarm-spread by the media in the beginning of 2000’s of a psychiatric pseudo-epidemic “caused” by a fake diagnosis given the name of “utbrändhet”. The effect was that Sweden health authorities ended in reporting the world highest incidence per capita of individuals on sick leave for psychiatric and mental problems – thanks to the pseudo diagnosis utbrändhet and the “epidemics” which ensued. Stress in Sweden has definitely not disappeared, at the contrary, but the “diagnosis” and the “epidemic” faded finally away.
In the end, Professors blog demonstrated that the economic interests of the corporative pharmaceutical industry in marketing the use of new SSRI anti-depressive among Swedish psychiatrists, added to the profitable “rehabilitation” enterprises set up by the pseudo diagnose inventors, were in fact the ultimately reasons behind both the never scientifically-based diagnosis and the media campaign. And the people convinced they were sick?
A lesson from that tragic illustration is to understand how possible and feasible a manipulated mass-psychosis, totally beyond common sense, can be actualized among the Swedish population.
It cannot be by accident that the very same journalists at the established media which distinguished their selves in the irrational campaign defending the cultural validity of a scientific inexistence Swedish diagnose (Sweden became the unique country in the world with such enormous spread “epidemic”), are those who – like the case of Aftonbladet’s Joahanna Hildebrandt – now again, with much aggression, attacks the person of Julian Assange with articles of extreme virulence (“a paranoid idiot who refuses come to Sweden to confront trial”). A new Swedish mass-psychosis seems to be ad portas, and it is undoubtedly a central piece in the designed Trial by Media against WikiLeaks.
Swedish media traditionally covers Swedish international disputes by plainly repeating the official line without further question it.
Secondly, the international media journalists that base their reports from Sweden on the case of Sweden against Assange – and largely quote Swedish media articles – might have not considered that in Sweden the main media has a tradition of not contesting the official line provided by government. And the same is seemingly the case of some Swedish journalists working as correspondents of international media in Sweden, as analysed in my article in Second-Opinion (7/2, 2011).
Whether this phenomenon would be an implementation of established designs related to the country’s Psychological Warfare strategy, or a matter of simply loyalty from Swedes – including the media and its journalist – to their country in moments of international distress, I could possibly only speculate.
The fact is that this peculiar journalist tradition – or absence of it – has several times in the past been focus of international reporting on Sweden. One occasion was the riots in Gothenburg during the publicized visit of George Bush to the EU summit hosted by Sweden 2001. International journalists who in vast numbers went to report on the event wrote thereafter about that astonishing professional phenomenon, namely Swedish journalists not questioning the authorities during official press conferences, or that the media basically either reported uncommented government press releases or along the day modified their analyses to make them compatible with both the government version and the respective “consensus” generated by the protesters’ actions among all Swedish political parties (these reactions nearly exactly as in the case around Assange, viewed – although not yet publicly recognized – as a internationally embarrassing crisis).
One illustration of the above described professional docility towards the authorities in the reporting of the case Assange/WikiLeaks is given by this article by journalist Oscar Joulander in Expressen on September 8th, 2010, suggestively headed “Assange: I am the only victim”. In the article, the journalist reports an interview with the press secretary of the Swedish Foreign Office Anders Jörle. Jörle states the following:
– “They (USA) have not been in contact with us (officials at the Foreign ministry) through the official channels”
The journalist concludes and writes in the article:
– “At the Swedish Foreign Office it is denied than they have been contacted by the USA”.
End of the story. The journalist does not infer the obvious, that the secretary of the Foreign Office is not denying that contacts have occurred, although through other channels. But the journalist does not care to ask, or does not think in asking, or perhaps he did but the newspaper would not print that. We would not know. What we know is that in either case the journalist is NOT doing his professional job, and that is what this article is also about.
For as in the main part of contacts led to the agreements of the Swedish government with the USA, they have been “not through the official channels”. Otherwise, if those contacts are labelled “official”, the government is obliged to inform the Parliament, with the ensuing risk of making the talks a public domain. Does not the journalist know that?
And here is where the rationale of WikiLeaks is best understood, as also the interest of the Swedish government to silence the organization. As noted above (Background B), WikiLeaks disclosed one of such unofficial talks between the CIA/FBI and the Swedish government, which in fact resulted in an agreement between the two governments for the implementation of intelligence operations in the form of transference of information from Sweden to the USA. And the Swedish government, far more that the USA government (USA government and policies are predictable, and strategically open) cannot afford that these leaks should continue. Assange has to be stopped, be put out of productive track. And some wish to even punish him, or simply kill him. However, to reach any feasible end in that regard, in the case of a political celebrity as Julian Assange it is first necessary to kill his character. And here is where the smearing operation enters the scene.