Calls for action as Swedish TV rejects anti-immigration ad

A dispute over freedom of speech is raging in Sweden after an anti-immigration campaign advert for a political party was rejected by broadcasters there.

Last Friday, Swedish TV channel TV4 said it would not broadcast an advert by the far-right Sweden Democrats because it considered the ad would incite racial hatred.

This prompted calls from politicians in neighboring Denmark, including MP Michael Aastrup Yensen, to send election observers to Sweden.

Yensen thinks that a true democracy requires open debate on any issues, including the sensitive ones.

“I am a firm believer in a true democracy, and in a true democracy you have an open free debate, especially in the time you have an election campaign… Even in sensitive issues like, for example, immigration policy – it is a lot better to debate it in the open than to hide it under the carpet and try to imagine it’s not there,” Yensen said.

The transmission in question shows a race between an elderly lady and several burqa-clad women with a slogan promising to safeguard pension funding at the expense of immigration.

“What the television station in Sweden has done is say ‘We don’t agree with the political issue.’ And that is, you know, very unhappy from a political standpoint… if a television station says no to a party because it does not believe in that party’s politics,” Yensen points out.

According to the politician, only a court can draw the fine line between what constitutes freedom of speech and what is inciting ethnical hatred. In his opinion, this is not a racial issue, but an immigration debate.

Moreover, such an incident would definitely be labeled inadmissible if it took place somewhere in Eastern Europe, Yensen added. So, for the sake of democracy, Sweden should receive similar treatment.

If Sweden refuses to have observers at the election, Jensen concluded, he will raise the issue at the next meeting of the Council of Europe, an organization founded to defend democracy and freedom of speech.

As reported by AFP on Wednesday, the channel finally agreed to air the revised version of the advert. Spokesman for the station has explained that the new version of the ad, unlike the old one, breaches neither the channel’s guidelines nor the constitutional freedom of speech law banning incitement of racial hatred.