Saturday, 13 March 2010

Swedish press hysteria getting out of hand

With the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling approaching (on Thursday there were 100 days left) and expected to be the biggest media event in Sweden for years, it seems the country’s media is about to go crazy.
Most major media outlets have attempted to strengthen their teams by recruiting all sorts of authors, historian (real and self-appointed ones), former courtiers, fashion bloggers and party girls. One may wonder if it is the desire to “beat” their rivals and be first with the news that has recently led some journalist to take journalistic standards very lightly and rush out stories which soon have had to be retracted.
On Thursday Åsa Bönnelyche of Svensk Damtidning, who is perhaps best known for her scoop in breaking the news of Princess Madeleine’s and Jonas Bergström’s engagement the day before it was to be announced, wrote in her blog that Queen Silvia is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
On Friday she deleted that blogpost and apologised for publishing “unconfirmed information”. She did however not actually say that her story was wrong, but only “unconfirmed”.
It seems very hypocritical that Jenny Alexandersson of Aftonbladet in her blog makes a big deal out of this and expresses her deep indignation that Svensk Damtidning (where she worked until last year) claims that the Queen is “terminally ill [sic]”. It is only a few weeks since Alexandersson herself made a very similar gaffe when she claimed that Daniel Westling had been taken acutely ill and rushed to hospital, when he had in fact only been to a routine check-up following his kidney transplant. This she does of course not mention now.
Alexandersson back then also wrote of the joy and satisfaction she felt when seeing her (false) story on the front pages all over town. Unlike Bönnelyche she did not even have the decency to apologise, but blamed the Royal Court instead.
Now she assures us that Svensk Damtidning’s story is “rejected!” by her colleague at Aftonbladet, the notoriously unreliable journalist Herman Lindqvist, who is apparently now not only an “author and historian [sic]”, but also a doctor.
The Royal Court’s only comment has been that Queen Silvia is doing fine.
For the Swedish media it appears to be time to take a deep breath and calm down before they end up like German weeklies.


  1. [...]recruiting all sorts of authors, historian (real and self-appointed ones), former courtiers, fashion bloggers and party girls.

    Don't forget close personal friends of the groom ;)

    The behavior you point out is indeed quite disappointing (seriously, Alzheimer's?). Is it just me, or are the royal family and court issuing more denials than usual lately? E.g., the stories you've mentioned, a story about a "love crisis" of Princess Madeleine, and today's denunciation from Elisabeth Tarras-Wahlberg on behalf of Crown Princess Victoria of Johan T Lindwall's new book about her. Perhaps the spotlight of the upcoming wedding has something to do with it?

    If you'll allow me a tangential rant, this kind of rumor-mongering, plus various other categories of shallow tabloid journalism, is often justified by saying that the royal family shouldn't be insulated from examination and criticism by the public. I'm no Swede and no monarchist, but I find this completely incomprehensible. Certainly, any country with a monarchy would be well served by in-depth reporting and rational critiques on the institution and the performance of the royal family. But it completely escapes me how misogynistic obsessions with female royals' clothes, attractiveness and aging (never those of the men, of course, even when they're the actual heads of state), or soap opera (i.e. dramatic, also fictional) characterizations of their private lives, are qualify as any kind of a substitute for reporting on the history and present social relevance of the monarchy, or for criticism of the workload, public relations skills, and personality traits of the royal family in their roles as representatives of the nation.

  2. How they qualify, I mean, not "are qualify."

  3. I left out the personal friend as he has later had the good sense to withdraw (or been pressured to withdraw). The Swedish Court is indeed busy issuing denials these days. This is a result of a policy begun when Elisabeth Tarras-Wahlberg was head of information - she denied stories quite frequently, which was the opposite policy to that of the Norwegian court, which went with the "no comment" line.

    The danger of issuing denials is of course that if there is no denial, the media takes that as confirmation, like Jenny Alexandersson of Aftonbladet did when she erroneously wrote that Daniel Westling had been taken acutely ill to hospital. In her own "defence" she insisted that the court had been given the chance to deny, but did not do so.

    Of course the royal court does not have the duty to deny or confirm every single story they are asked about, but they have contributed to putting themselves in a position where the absence of a denial is seen as confirmation.

    When it comes to Elisabeth Tarras-Wahlberg's rejection of Johan T Lindwall's book (which I have bought, but not yet read), it comes across as very odd that the former head of information at the Royal Court, now TV4's royal reporter, rejects her rivals' claims saying that she has spoken to the Crown Princess about it. She must really work harder to separate her current role as a journalist from her former role as the palace spokeswoman.

  4. I agree with you that too-frequent denials can contribute to a perception that a nondenial equates to confirmation. Nevertheless, the opposite approach has its own risks; many will still assume that the absence of denials implies a basis in fact, and, on those occasions when a false story gains enough traction in the mainstream press to threaten the royal family's integrity, and thus forces the court to speak out, their denials will then be less effective and seem less credible, belated as they are.

    In any case, given the flood of newfound media attention on the Swedish royal family, I hope you'll continue to blog about and critique the developments!


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