Taking on Anti-ALBA Bias in European Public Media – The Swedish Case

al-unida-peqBy Tortilla Con Sal

Last week, a number of people in Sweden signed an open letter titled “We reject Swedish Radio’s (SR) Coverage on Latin America.”

Among the signatories were long standing activist in the solidarity movement with Cuba, Eva Björklund, journalist Dick Emanuelsson, film-maker Maj Wechselmann and editor Al Burke, as well as scores of other journalists, activists, and media consumers.

“SR’s coverage of the situation in Venezuela – as well as the rest of the region – is superficial, ignorant, biased and insidious,” the signatories wrote. They were reacting against a foreign affairs program which conveyed the message that many people in Venezuela are starving because of the Bolivarian government’s alleged incompetence.

Incredibly, that report was broadcast the same week that the Venezuelan government had been awarded by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization for its outstanding efforts and achievements in the field of food security.

Before last week’s pronouncement, a group of Latin American women headed by respected scholars and activists, wrote another statement criticizing Swedish Radio because it broadcast another report stating that “Latin American women have always used their wombs in order to make their voices heard.”

Criticizing Swedish Radio’s Latin America reporter Lotten Collin, the women wrote, “Besides attempting to minimize a whole continent’s struggle she [Collin] even invisibilizes the political consciousness and stances behind Latin American women’s five-centuries-old political commitment.”

These two recent pronouncements reflect a growing irritation among both Latin Americans and friends of Latin America in Sweden that no change seems to be in sight to the decades-long subservience of the Scandinavian country’s media to NATO’s psychological warfare agenda, whether against Latin America or the Russian Federation, or whoever may be NATO’s latest target.

But as more people travel and communicate globally, far beyond regional borders, it becomes ever more difficult for publicly funded media, like Swedish public radio, to cover up persistent betrayals of its original mission. Instead of serving tax payers’ interests through fairly objective and pluralist coverage, what these media actually do is varnish over very ugly, reactionary messages with often inept journalism and pseudo-progressive editorial policy.

Swedish Radio abandons its claims on listeners’ credibility with perplexing reporting on various countries. For example, on Argentina, it has aired an interview with the leader of the Grandmothers of the May Square in Argentina. But, the very next day, without even basic context, it might report as news the most absurd opposition lies about President Cristina Fernandez. Or, similarly, on Colombia, it will broadcast a report on Swedish pension funds financing corporate mining operations that kill or evict whole aborigine societies.

That scandal is something of an open secret in Sweden. Yet the very next day Swedish Radio will broadcast, as if it were an equally serious news report, Alvaro Uribe’s well-worn propaganda that the Colombian ELN guerrillas “forcibly recruit” young people and children. But the ELN have survived constant guerilla warfare against an army supported by U.S. military intelligence and the CIA since 1964. The chances are precisely zero of a semi-urban underground guerrilla army like the ELN, facing constant persecution, voluntarily exposing its members by forcibly recruiting anybody, let alone teenagers.

Turning to Central America, on Nicaragua, Swedish Radio’s reporter Lotten Collin has said extremely damaging things, among them that the country is under the unelected control of president Daniel Ortega’s wife, Sandinista leader Rosario Murillo. Collin has reported that Daniel Ortega is “sickly,” despite overwhelming evidence being readily available, for example on YouTube, of President Ortega’s public activities over recent years right up to the present, including his forceful intervention in the Summit of the Americas in Panama this year.

To be honest, it has to be acknowledged that Lotten Collin has not invented this insidious style of pseudo-journalism. She is simply following in the footsteps of Swedish Radio’s previous Latin America reporter, Lars Palmgren. Back in 2002, Palmgren revealed his ideological commitments when he cheered on the short-lived, abortive coup against President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

Today, irritation in Sweden about such biased coverage by publicly funded media is materializing into collective action. A number of the signatories of the open letter last week decided to start SRLatinamerikaWatch, a Facebook page dedicated to critically audit Swedish Radio’s coverage of Latin America. This is how the group itself describes it in is page:

Why just Swedish Radio’s coverage? Most media in Sweden convey a negative view of the region.

But Swedish Radio is the country’s largest public service media. One cannot expect that privately owned media such as [right-wing national newspapers] DN or SVD to have the common good as a priority, but media financed by the public should not spread any message they fancy –their activities are regulated, they have an explicit demand of neutrality and objectivity – demands that are routinely ignored by SR as well as other publicly owned media in Sweden.

Against this media abuse, we citizens must exert our power to demand information that is free from Corporate as well as State propaganda. The elites think they control us citizens because it is we who time after time vote for their representatives, but we will show them that they no longer represent us. It is we citizens who are watching them.”

What has happened in the case of Sweden’s publicly funded media is by no means an isolated example. Time after time in moments of controversy, European publicly funded media, most notoriously in English, the BBC, broadcast often egregious falsehoods. They do so against a broad editorial context of very clear bias against the progressive governments of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

That is just as true of Brazil and Argentina as it is of the ALBA bloc of countries, including Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela, and as it has been too of Cuba for over 50 years. The outspoken example of Sweden’s Latin America activists in tackling that self-evident ideological bias in their country’s news media is not just worth following, but worth emulating in other countries too.

The CELAC-EU Summit