Anne-Marie Pålsson, a lecturer of economics and the Lund university and former centre conservative member of parliament, has published a book about the lack of independence of the Swedish parliament. This book was covered in the media on the 28th and 29th of November 2011.
Pålsson, Anne-Marie 2011. Knapptryckarkompaniet. Stockholm: Atlantis.
This coverage in the media by and large missed the point. Several media claimed that she primarily criticized the internal culture of the centre conservative party under the present party leader, even if her book is about the status of the Swedish parliament in general.
There has also been a complete lack of academic analysis and historical and international contextualization. If the media have acknowledged that this was a general criticism, they have pretended as if it was new information, even if the same thing was said already in the 1940s.
Per Albin Hansson, the social democratic party leader in the 1940s, has often been quoted when he described the Swedish parliament as a “transport company”. This is almost identical to Pålsson’s book, with has the title “The Button Pushing Company”. There was no mention of this.
National radio even attempted to defend the existing order, even if it is in violation of the constitution. They also criticised Pålsson for continuing in eight years as an MP despite her criticisms. (“Fredrik Reinfeldt får skarp kritik av fd partikollega”. SR P1, P1 Morgon, 29/11-2011).
However, Pålsson was not very good either at analysing the problem and describing it in a historical context.
This book and the media coverage illustrate several interesting points about Swedish political culture:
1. Death of history.
In 2010, Solveig Ternström, a member of parliament and well-known actress from the centre party, resigned as an MP. The reason was the same. She described Sweden as a “party state”, meaning that all power lies with the political parties, not with the parliament. She was also interviewed in national radio (SR P1 Studio Ett, 16/2-2010).
In other words, in the interview in 2011 in national radio the reporter acted as if this never had happened.
Judging from the evening TV news, no channel found Pålsson’s book to be of interest. This was despite the fact that both leading tabloids and the largest daily, Dagens Nyheter, had this as a top story.
3. National broadcasting is most politically corrupt.
National TV relegated the news to their website, while the private channel 4 at least discussed the topic in their morning television.
We also have the death of history and the personalized attack on a critic, as above.
4. Political corruption in academia through silence.
Political scientists, who are perfectly aware of the status of the Swedish parliament, but also state employed, seem to have clammed shut.
5. No real coverage or academic analysis.
The media failed to report that Pålsson had used the excellent research facilities of the parliament to compare the independence of parliament in several countries. She found that Sweden’s parliament is formally the most powerfull, but in reality the least powerfull among comparable countries. This more important and solid research was not mentioned at all in the media coverage.
6. The filtering function of foreign correspondents in Sweden.
This type of debate and internal criticism is not frequent, but when it occurs it seems that it never reaches an international audience. This makes it possible to continue to lie about Sweden in foreign media and in international surveys, such as The Economist’s Democracy Index. For this, foreign correspondents in Sweden are to blame.
This is not really a part of Swedish political culture, but it certainly contributes to it.
One of the question in The Economist’s democracy index is about the independence of parliament. They have given Sweden a full score on this question. Supposedly this is based on information from “independent experts”. However, they are not named, so we have no idea about who they have asked. There are also no references.
Apparently, the people they have asked are either not experts, or have been lying; or The Economist are lying about asking experts.
7. The political apathy of the general public in Sweden.
When there is public debate about the constitution, it does not really stir a public opinion. It is more like a brief and passing media event, even if the ramifications of what has been said arguably should lead to much stronger reactions. This confirms that the general public in Sweden has no relation to-, or view of-, or influence over-, or interest in the functioning of Swedish democracy.
Because of these strategies in the media, something can remain known but not really recognized. This makes it possible to both be hypocritical about political realities in Sweden among Swedes, and lie about them to foreigners.
Footnote: For a complete media survey archives and databases must be used. The information above is based on concurrent web research.
Here is one example of an article in the supposedly independent liberal tabloid Expressen:
“Förra riksdagsledamoten sågar Reinfeldt”. Marit Sundberg, Expressen, 2011-11-28.