Sunday, 30 January 2011

At the road’s end: Tøger Seidenfaden (1957-2011), editor-in-chief of Politiken

Since 2006 the leading Danish newspaper Politiken has chosen to give its editorial added prominence by printing it on its front page. And its editor-in-chief Tøger Seidenfaden has never been afraid of making his opinions known. But on Friday the editorial column was left empty on the front page, reflecting Seidenfaden’s death from cancer on Thursday at the age of 53.
Tøger Seidenfaden had been editor-in-chief of Politiken, arguably the best newspaper in Scandinavia, since 1993 and played a far more visual role than most contemporary newspaper editors. Such was his prominence on the public stage that he was occasionally referred to as the real leader of the opposition during the extraordinary political regime Denmark has experienced during the past ten years.
But he was never a spokesman for any single party and could be hard to pin down politically. In his obituary Bjørn Bredal, author of an interesting book on Politiken’s history, defines Tøger Seidenfaden as an American liberal or French socialist. Many often disagreed with him, but he enjoyed widespread respect as one of Denmark’s great minds and most prominent debaters.
He was born on 28 April 1957 and educated in Paris, Aarhus and at Yale and became editor-in-chief of Weekendavisen at the age of 29. Following a brief spell as CEO of TV2 he moved on to Politiken in 1993, thus fulfilling a family ambition – his father had been expected to become editor-in-chief in 1945.
As editor Seidenfaden never shied away from controversies and often challenged the balance between newspaper and viewspaper – in itself a central question in the history of Politiken. When the former EU Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard withdrew her critical memoir in 1995, Seidenfaden had it published as a supplement to the newspaper. Fourteen years later he did something similar when the army tried to stop a revelatory book by a soldier serving in Afghanistan. In 2009 Politiken also founded a so-called Iraq Centre, employing refugees from Iraq whose requests for asylum had been denied, thus giving them job opportunities and work permits.
Seidenfaden was deeply critical of Jyllands-Posten’s controversial Mohamed caricatures in 2005, but even more critical of the way Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s government handled the crisis which Denmark soon found itself at the centre of. In 2006 and 2008 Politiken was nevertheless among several newspapers which republished the caricatures when three Islamist fanatics were arrested on suspicion of planning to murder the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard.
In February last year Seidenfaden printed an apology to “the Prophet Mohamed’s successors” for the offense caused by the publication of the caricatures, an unexpected move which caused a large number of the newspaper’s journalists to distance themselves from his decision in a letter to the editor, which Seidenfaden did not hesitate to publish in the newspaper. He always insisted that he had not apologised for actually printing the cartoons, but only for the offense it has caused.
He was diagnosed with birthmark cancer several years ago, and illness which he was at one stage thought to have overcome. But the illness returned and he died in the ambulance as he was taken to hospital on Thursday afternoon.

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