How the Swedish media bought into the myth-making of the far Right

March 27, 2014 — Comment

Written by Maria Tjader

The leader of the far-Right Sweden Democrats wants to portray himself as the victim of anti-white racism.

A televised interview on 23 February with Jimmie Åkesson, the leader of the far-Right Sweden Democrats (SD), has generated much controversy over the alleged claims made by Åkesson with regards to his childhood in Sölvesborg. The interview is part of a series called ’Nyfiken på partiledaren’ (’Curious about the party-leader’), which is broadcast on SVT (the Swedish equivalent of the BBC), and focuses on getting to know the leaders of the main political parties in Sweden ahead of the National elections in September this year. The idea of the format of the programme is to see a different side of the politicians, away from public opinion and political events. According to Åkesson, his experiences as a teenager of segregation and failed multiculturalism led him to become a member of the Sweden Democrats as a way of supporting Swedish nationalism. Åkesson describes his adolescence as a struggle between him and immigrant-gangs that beat up him and his friends. This picture paints Åkesson as a brave nationalist whose main goal has always been to protect Sweden, his beloved country, from the threat of the ’Other’.

However, these suggestions have subsequently been refuted by a large number of people who grew up with Åkesson and who worked at his old school. Major Swedish newspapers, television and radio have reported on the inaccuracies in Åkesson’s story and he has, consequently, been accused of distorting the reality of immigration in Sweden for political gain and legitimacy. Åkesson’s former head teacher has refuted the claims saying that there were no gangs made up of immigrants at all, nor were there any particular individuals who acted in a threatening way towards other children. Another of his former teachers suggests that Åkesson has a bizarre view on the history of immigration in Sölvesborg. This claim is supported by the statistics from SCB (Statistiska Centralbyrån/Statistics Sweden) that paint a very different picture than that of Åkesson. According to this statistic, there were 24 new immigrants in Sölvesborg in 1985 and although the number rose there were never more than 200 new immigrants  per year. Furthermore, this does not take into account migrants who left Sölvesborg. This is but another insight into the strange workings of SD, who has had its fair share of scandals since 2010, but it also tells us something important about the role of media in creating and sustaining the myths of the nationalist far-right.

Arguably, the flux of information has radically changed with the power of internet and social media. There have been previous reports on how Germany’s new extreme right have been using social media to attract, notably younger, supporters through parties, gigs and under-18 events. Similarly, any news-search on google, relating to the far-right or racism violence, generates nationalist websites that blame everything on left-wing multi-culturalists. It cannot, thus, be argued that the far-right lacks a platform for its freedom of speech. The issue is when national media lowers itself that same level, prioritising everyone’s right to be heard and seen rather than taking responsibility for whatever consequences their reporting might have.

The issue of using freedom of speech as an excuse for people to vent extremist opinions has been highlighted by the IRR before. It is undeniable that certain individuals and groups take advantage of the laws on freedom of press and speech, however there are other instances which show the complexity of these issues. There were those who criticised the laissez faire style used in Åkesson’s interview, arguing that it portrayed media as serving as an uncritical forum where anyone can say anything. But after the programme was broadcast, other authentic voices  were given space to refute Åkesson’s myth-making, and their statements were reported as facts. This gives hope for a return to reporting with a critical edge.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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