- 22 February 2012: Expressen tabloid attacks Assange (analysis to appear shortly)
- Other media follow the exraordinary allegations
- Carl Bildt blogs about Expressen’s story.
- 29 December 2011: Press Ethics is out of Control and English: Carin Stenström, Laholmstidning
- 1 December 2011: The “Duck Pond” Theses. Explaining Swedish journalism and the anti-Assange smear campaign Professor Marcello Ferrada Noli, witness at the Magistrate’s court.
- 29 November 2011: Further devious reports on Julian Assange in the Swedish National Television Marcello Ferrada-Noli
- 24 November 2011: Covert anti-Assange #talkaboutit media campaign, which has polarised the public debate about the Assange case on Swedish media, has won Bonnier’s national journalism prize.
- 3 November 2011: Corren.se editorial: Journalism prize for a lobby campaign? #Talkaboutit should not have won the National Journalism Prize, it should have won a PR Prize (in Swedish)
The #Talkaboutit Campaign #Prataomdet
#Talkaboutit was a campaign that was initiated by journalist friends of complainant AA’s, Johanna Koljonen and Sofia Mirjamsdotter. On the night before Julian Assange arrived in Sweden, AA was socialising with Koljonen and fellow Social Democrat politician Kajsa Borgnäs, who was arrested for shoplifting on 19 November 2011 (see this account in English) and who is witness ’C’ in the investigation against Assange (her name is not anonymised in the Swedish police report pp. 21-22). The campaign was initially started on Twitter, and was going to use the hashtag #tackanna (#ThankYouAnna) referring to complainant AA. Those who started the campaign then decided not to use the hashtag because it appeared to assign guilt to Assange. However, the tweets show that the content of the ’grey zone’ campaign should stick to the ’Assange situation’. In a coordinated effort, the campaign was swept up by the mainstream press to polarise the debate around the investigation against Assange. An example of how, is the SVT ’Debatt’ programme (see below).
In response to criticism that the campaign was engineered to pit public opinion against Assange, campaigners argued that #talkaboutit was not a smear campaign against Julian Assange, even though it could be interpreted as such. However, Flashback forum opened a thread on 20 January 2011 that challenged the ’revolutionary’ characterisation of the campaign and the myth that was spreading to the media and the world spontaneously and organically. Johan Lundberg wrote a critical article twelve hours later in SvD and later published a famous blog post that tracked the genesis of the campaign online in which he wrote: “Various Twitter trails and screen dumps show that the #talkaboutit campaign was started with the purpose of shaping opinion in favour of the two women who had accused Julian Assange of rape (sic). Initially the campaign was going to have the tag #tackanna [#ThankYouAnna].” The twitter trail shows that AA’s friend and journalist Johanna Koljonen was instrumental in designing the coordinated campaign:
Johanna Koljonen @jocxy: “What do you think the effects would be if I wrote about this for example in the Culture section in DN – or on the debate page in an evening paper? I can if I want to” (one of Sweden’s two largest newspapers, owned by Bonnier) 14 December 2010.
Johanna Koljonen @jocxy: Culture section editors and interested writers can get in touch with me. Just a thought.
Isobel Hadley-Kamptz @Isobelsverkstad: @jocxy You are saying that many different people should write about the same thing at the same time?
“Yes @Isobelsverkstad I think that 12 mainly women writers should write each in their own newspaper. And then the blogosphere will join.” 14 December 2010
Johanna Koljonen @jocxy: “I think #ThankYouAnna is a nice tag but it sounds like taking a stand on the guilt issue. I like I am Anna Ardin but same problem?” 14 December 2010 22:41:34
Johanna Koljonen @jocxy: “We each write an article with a common tag. Publish more or less simultaneously. We stand our ground when shit hits the fan”
Johanna Koljonen @jocxy: “I don’t have time for admin. Everyone should work their own editorial boards and we help those that don’t have their own”
Koljonen and Mirjamsdotter, who started the Twitter campaign, won the Bonnier journalism award for best newcomers, specifically for ’Making what’s private relevant to the public sphere and getting a whole world talk about it’. Guy Rundle’s analysis of #talkaboutit goes into further depth in the origins of the campaign.
A ’people’s tribunal’ against Julian Assange on Prime Time Television – SVT Debatt, 22 December 2010
One of the creators of the #talkaboutit campaign, Isobel Hadley-Kamptz, wrote a critical letter to the national television channel SVT’s ’Debatt’ programme in which she participated- the video is no longer available, but pictures are available here.
Hadley-Kampz lamented SVT’s use of the #talkaboutit campaign as a pretext to start a debate on prime time television under the title “Is Assange innocent?”. Whether or not the creators saw it that way, the Swedish media effectively conflated the campaign with allegations against Julian Assange. Hadley-Kampz wrote “SVT has failed the TV licence payers with its people’s tribunal against Assange” (“Med folktribunalen mot Assange har SVT svikit licensbetalarna”). As happens with many contentious issues that reach public debate – particularly about Julian Assange – this letter is no longer available on the SVT website or elsewhere (please contact us if you can access the original entry). The video of the debate is not available either.
Another participant in the debate, Ivar Arpi, describes the ’debate’ in a blog post:
“Belinda Olsson [the programme’s moderator] asked whether Assange was innocent or guilty and the participants were expected to play the role of spectators in the Collosseum, showing thumbs up or thumbs down. A popular tribunal, as Isobel Hadley-Kemptz aptly describes it.”
A third participant, Anders Johansson, also describes his frustration at SVT’s hijacking of the broader issues in the campaign to make a popular tribunal against Julian Assange:
“Before yesterday I participated in SVT Debatt to discuss talk about it. That was at least what I thought when I accepted to take part in the programme. The pictures above colourfully illustrate the parody of the main discussion that was held: to create the conditions to have conversations about sex that is characterised with respect, not discomfort or insecurity. Instead the discussion was focused on Julian Assange’s possible guilt in the sexcrimes allegations against him. Isobel Hadley-Kamptz already said it yesterday, but it should be repeated: it is utterly deplorable and also unworthy of a democratic society to, on prime time television, on a public television channel, speculate about a case that has not yet been put to trial… Assange should not be put on trial in a television tribunal, he should be put on trial. And before the judgement has been handed down, the media should close shop for speculations in this issue. Why? – Because it is the media’s role to show respect – both for the democratic legal process and for the individuals involved. Speculations on whether a person is guilty in a criminal investigation is not doing inquisitive journalism, it belongs to the nasty yellow press.”
Analysis of Media Reporting: August 2010-February 2011
|Factual, non-objectable reporting||44%|
|Erroneous information or disinformation||20%|
|Omission of relevant information||36%|
|Personality descriptions ad-hominem|
|Hostile, detrimental or aggressive terms||72%|
|Positive terms||28 %|
Source: Witness statement at the February Hearing by Professor Ferrada-Noli.
“Manhunt for WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange – suspected of rape in Sweden” – Expressen’s original headline 21 August 2010, hours before the rape investigation was dropped
The Guardian features Expressen Culture Editor in hit-piece: “From Zero to Hero”
An opinion piece called From Zero to Hero (3 November 2011) featured in The Guardian’s Comment Is Free section, which is moderated by the daughter of The Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger. The article was sindicated to the Canberra Times under a less hostile title (-Assange’s view of Sweden cost fans). The article was commissioned by The Guardian according to the author, Karin Olsson, the culture editor of the Swedish tabloid Expressen. This is the Bonnier-owned tabloid that was tipped off and broke the story of Julian Assange’s arrest hours after the two complainants entered the police station. Olsson’s article is hostile and argues that Sweden’s view of Assange is basically uniform: “The Swedish view of Julian Assange, who lost his appeal against extradition to face sex allegations on Wednesday, has changed in a year from the James Bond of the internet to a paranoid chauvinist pig.” Other quotes featured are:
- “[Julian Assange’s] attempts to depict Sweden as a banana republic that would ship him on to the US is another sign of how desperate Assange has become.”
- “Sweden’s relatively high measure of sexual equality and consciousness in gender questions is a matter of national pride. That a dodgy hacker from Australia started knocking it was not popular.”
The article also makes an interesting admission about the ’talk about it’ (prataomdet) campaign, a campaign that started online after the story of his arrest broke and quickly got wind in the media. The campaign was ostensibly about ’grey areas’ in sex – but according to Olsson herself, the campaign was deliberately against Julian Assange (the campaign organisers vehemently denied this):
- “Last Tuesday two women journalists who started a Twitter campaign against Assange’s contemptuous remarks about Swedish women were nominated for the most prestigious prize in Swedish journalism.” Olsson does not specify which “contemptuous remarks” she is referring to. The only remark which has often been cited about Sweden, feminism, and Saudi Arabia was reported on 27th December 2010 – the campaign started four months earlier (read more about talkaboutit (#prataomdet) below. It was started by, among others, two friends of complainant AA’s. One of them spent time with AA and her friend, a witness for the complainant in the investigation against Julian Assange, before the complaint.
Witness Ferrada Noli: Does Sweden inflict trial by media against Assange?
A late witness statement that was submitted to the District Court in the February Hearing was an analysis of media reporting of the investigation against Julian Assange. 804 articles had been published in the four main newspapers and tabloids between 20 August 2010 and mid-February 2011 (see table above).
Examples of hostile reporting:
If the text in the original becomes redacted, please contact us, and we will post the original:
* Aftonbladet (http://www.aftonbladet.se/nyheter/a…) reports on the day before the appeal hearing in the High Court (11 July 2011) “Julian Assange is suspected for raping two women. Tomorrow he will find himself in court – last night he was having a party all night long with the celebrity elite. It remains to be seen how bad his hangover will be” etc.
Journalism ethics aside, the information is false: the allegation of rape concerns only one of the two women. Reports of the party reveal that it took place on a Sunday afternoon, not ’all night long’.
* Expressen (13 February 2011) “What’s important for Mr. Assange is not what is leaked but the fact that there is a leak. Sperm contains just as much unknown information – DNA, chromosomes – as classified diplomatic cables or secret bank accounts. Mr Assange has dedicated his life to leaks. He is suspected of ripping condoms… The prosecutor has not realised what this is all about. Mr Assange is not after sexual gratification, this is just an inescapable episode in his severe compulsive need – to leak without any restrictions… [Assange] gladly sees to it that the two women that are suspected to be behind the complaints of sexual offences are smeared all over the world.”
* Aftonbladet (13 February 2011) – columnist describes Julian Assange as “a paranoid idiot who refuses to come to Sweden to face trial”.
The sample for Ferrada-Noli’s study of media reports of the Assange case consisted of articles published over one month in January-February 2011 (90 articles in total).
With the backdrop of the Duckpond Ferrada Noli has also analysed the exposure of views that did not fit with reporting in the mainstream – most of these were written in blogs, online forums (Flashback), or social media sites like Newsmill – writers are not paid for their contributions (Expert witness Brita Sundberg-Weitman, for example is a contributor, as well as Billy Butt and others). Flashback Forum has crowd sourced the analysis of the investigation and the prosecutor’s handling of the case in a thread from the moment the news broke of the arrest order for Assange. Many in the #talkaboutit campaign have been very critical of it, and Irmeli Krans, interrogating officer of SW and friend of AA, called for Thomas Bodström (partner in the law firm representing AA and SW against Assange, he is also former Minister of Justice) to fly back from the United States to ’shut Flashback down’ Facebook & Twitter Trails. Olle Andersson’s article on Newsmill (English) about Flashback Forum explains its significance in shedding new light in the Assange case. Flashback’s thread has more than 36,000 entries on this case alone.
Ferrada-Noli also argues that a Swedish campaign launched through Twitter became an instant character assassination campaign against Julian Assange in social media circles. The #letstalkaboutit campaign started after the news broke of Assange’s arrest. It encouraged women to talk about ’grey zones’ in their sexual encounters. Julian Assange became the embodiment of all men who women had had bad experiences with, sometimes bordering on rape.
Ferrada Noli writes: “The analysis suggests a manifested (sic) hostility by the Swedish media against Assange and objectivity deficits in the news reports related to the case, raising questions about the journalists’ professional culture and ethics, their disregard for the critical and investigative function of journalism, and their passivity or condescendence (sic) towards press-information provided by authority. The results of the investigation raise also the question why Swedish journalists employed by traditional media act so uniformly.”
Documentary on SVT (April 2011)
SVT (Swedish national television), the Swedish equivalent of the UK’s BBC, produced and aired Oskar Lindell and Marie Nordstrand’s documentary “Julian Assange: the world’s love affair” (7 April 2011). Lindell is connected to the #talkaboutit campaign. The documentary asks “How could WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange get the world to question Sweden’s credibility?”
Flashback Forum has analysed the errors of fact, contestable statements and omissions in the documentary. They include:
− Voiceover: “Soon after the accusation, [Julian Assange] left Sweden” (in fact, he left Sweden on 27 September 2010, five weeks after)
− Voiceover: “Julian Assange steals information from the powerful and gives it to the people”
− Images of the preparations of the Afghan War Diaries in the Guardian bunker in London are accompanied by the voiceover: “In London Assange meets a group of selected media for an exclusive collaboration for the [Afghan War Diaries]: SVT [Swedish National Television, which has produced the documentary ’Julian Assange: the World’s Love Affair’] is one of the chosen together with The Guardian, Der Spiegel, NYT and Le Monde. [This misrepresents SVT as a media partner in the Afghan War Diaries and incorrectly includes Le Monde.]
− Marie Nordstrand interviews Tariq Ali regarding his support for Assange. Ali talks about his impressions of Sweden’s underbelly after having read novels by Swedish authors (Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson) about Sweden’s dark side: “Don’t you think a woman should have the chance to say no?”. “So a woman has only one chance to say no”? [Nordstrand is implying that there was lack of consent by the two complainants, which was never alleged in the complaint. On the contrary, AA’s statement to Expressen was that both she and SW had consensual sex with Julian Assange.]
− When the allegations are explained, the reversal of the decision to lay down the arrest order and terminate the investigation by Eva Finné, senior prosecutor, are not mentioned, nor the interrogating officer’s friendship with AA which led to a complaint for conflict of interest at the Office of the Ombudsman for Justice, nor AA’s deleted tweets, the fact that a broken condom was submitted 10 days after the alleged assault with no DNA traces on it, and so on.
− The documentary implies that Bradley Manning is in jail because WikiLeaks fails to protect its sources. Peter Sunde says that Julian Assange does not help Bradley Manning and does not mention him in interviews.
− Jan Guillou says in the documentary: “He will come back to Sweden kicking and screaming, he will be interrogated and then released, I guess, or maybe sentenced to a fine. But all the conspiracies, that the CIA has put pressure on the Swedish government to extradite him to the US… it’s ridiculous. It’s very discouraging to see these eminent social critics like John Pilger and Michael Moore describe Sweden as if it were some kind of medieval or religious dictatorship, these were impressive people who I gave credence to and they are ranting to the rest of the whole universe.”
Read Brita Sundberg-Weitman’s comments on the documentary in her article “State-owned SVT’s documentary ’Julian Assange’ (only available in Swedish).
Swedish journalism and rape cases
Jan Guillou, a journalist, writer and social commentator has been very critical of Swedish journalism ethics in the face of sex crimes allegations.
The wrongful conviction of Billy Butt is, together with the conviction of ’serial killer’ Thomas Quick and the da Costa murder case, one of the most infamous cases of miscarriage of justice in Sweden in recent decades.
In Butt’s case the tabloid Expressen (which ran the ’double rapist’ headline about Julian Assange) actively started a campaign for his conviction, calling for other ’victims’ to step forward. 24 women did, nine of those cases went to trial. Butt, a music producer, had promised to advance the women’s careers in exchange for sexual favours. When he failed to deliver, many of his ’victims’ felt cheated. Butt was sentenced to four years’ prison. He appealed the case and was acquitted on all counts.
The case also revealed the racist in the judgement: Butt is a visible minority. The judgement included, as part of the reasoning of his guilt, ’a peculiar physique’ – this is also the title of the book Butt wrote about his own case. Guillou’s take on the judgement of the lower court was that “the court considered it implausible that young women would freely choose to get in bed with a 40-year-old man with a ’peculiar physique’, a darkie so to speak. Therefore all women must have been raped.”
Theresa Juel’s book, Sexcrimes Convictions in Sweden, was a case study about ten men who succeeded in getting their trials reviewed and their convictions reversed. Guillou writes that the book was “doomed to slide into oblivion from the beginning”:
“The problem has to do with politics and journalism [in Sweden]. When it comes to these types of miscarriages of justice, Sweden’s journalists are split in two camps. The minority, which I belong to, are more concerned that innocent people are behind bars than that some guilty people walk free. The majority are more concerned that not all suspects are convicted than that some innocent people go to jail. Today’s journalistic spirit will rather have reporting of reversed convictions that upset the general public than of miscarriages of justice.
(Contd.) “That’s why the ten men that feature in the book of freelance journalist Thérèse Juel were not only wrongfully convicted, they were also doomed to neglect. It’s a bleak picture, I know. It is also ’antidemocracy’. The free press should not stand on the side of the power of the state/the side of the prosecutor, but on the side of the individual when the power of the state commits assault. That’s an idea that was born in the French Revolution. The idea that now prevails that journalists should get people convicted comes from the Russian Revolution, and to a lesser degree from feminism.”
See the media reaction in Sweden to the disclosure of Assange’s identity to the press by the prosecutor, in Controversies – Prosecution
Translation of Twitter traffic for the launch of #prataomdet Rixstep, 20 January 2011
Further devious reports on Julian Assange in the Swedish National Television Marcello Ferrada-Noli, 29 November 2011
Rigged documentary on Julian Assange in the Swedish National Television Marcello Ferrada-Noli, 14 April 2011
Karin Olsson (The Guardian/Expressen) Julian Assange: From Hero to Zero
Guy Rundle, Grey areas reshape the Assange debate – Crikey