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'Pig Farm Expressen'

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DUCKPOND (Rixstep) — 'Pig Farm Expressen' - that's what Swedish actor (and now international star, having signed with Peter Jackson for both Hobbit movies) Mikael Persbrandt called the sleaze tabloid that's been attacking Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

A brief recap from Monday's press conference at Frontline in London. They've opened the floor for Q&A and Expressen's British football reporter Robert Börjesson is on hand.

Robert - er, Robert Börjesson, Expressen. This is a question to Mr Assange. There is some information in this release regarding Sweden's foreign secretary Carl Bildt. Do you have any more information about Mr Bildt and when will you release any alleged information that he was an informer for the USA?

Assange: Well you're from the Expressen newspaper which fabricated an entire story, made it front page in four additional papers last week, and as a result, the foreign minister of Sweden has been on some defensive rampage against this organisation. Completely absurd!

Sweden in relation to Carl Bildt is acting like a political kindergarten. It is totally absurd. And as a result, we simply do not answer questions to your organisation. As you know, your organisation works hand in hand with the Moderate Party, it is owned by the Bonniers - come on!

Expressen's editor in chief Thomas Mattsson was on the radio over the weekend to talk about the Frontline incident, about the blowout over his latest scandal claim to have 'secret documents' from inside WikiLeaks ('what type of documents' - 'I don't want to get into that') and about WikiLeaks in general. And he said the most remarkable thing: he called Julian Assange's claim about ownership of Expressen a fabrication.

It's one thing to carry on as he and his crew have done - see here - but it's quite another to blankly deny something everyone knows is true and can corroborate with a single visit to Wikipedia.

'AB Kvällstidningen Expressen ingår i affärsområdet Bonnier Newspapers inom Bonnierkoncernen.'

Or in the English version:

'Ownership of Expressen... is controlled by the Bonnier family...'

But Julian Assange's objection to Expressen is more than an assertion that the Bonniers control the rag: the objection, shared by many both inside and outside the duckpond, is about the type of 'journalism' practiced at the Pig Farm Expressen.

This article series deals with what is a remarkable affair in Expressen's sordid history - even by their standards. And it's rather ironic that Thomas Mattsson, going hysteric with claims he and others are being 'stalked' by WikiLeaks, is actually the 'Colonel' running the biggest stalking machine in the country.

As Mikael Persbrandt's former casting agent put it:

'There were times when Mikael couldn't leave his home without being stalked by photographers and journalists sniffing for a story. Just approaching the theatre stage entrance meant he could be hounded by 30-40 of them. The pressure on Mikael was enormous.'

Whatever Thomas Mattsson and Karin Olsson say about others goes many times over for themselves.

How Expressen Ran off the Road

Martin Vårdstedt published his one and only article at Swedish Fokus in January 2006. He says he knows what really went on and how Expressen and Thomas Mattsson's predecessor at the helm of Expressen ended up convicted of libel.

Expressen ran into financial difficulties in the 1990s and even more so in the New Millennium. The Bonniers pulled in an exec from their lucrative television group to put the tabloid back on track.

The decision was made - to increase web traffic and advertising revenue by stalking celebrities to within an inch of their lives. Their first and best victim? Mikael Persbrandt.

Expressen reporter Niclas Rislund started things off on 20 March 2005 with a piece about Persbrandt's new relationship with Amanda Renberg, the 17yo overnight star of Hip Hip Hora aka The Ketchup Effect. Expressen boss Otto Sjöberg was ready to approve another article which also dealt with Persbrandt being unfaithful to partner Maria Bonnevie, even though the two were known to have separated - something the old gossip media would never have dared.

Rislund's piece cause a storm. Persbrandt and Renberg went through the roof and threatened to sue if a retraction wasn't forthcoming. Expressen backed down. And Persbrandt seemed to wake up to what Expressen was.

Persbrandt was also in court for drink driving. Expressen followed the trial closely, reportedly wasting more resources than they did on the trial of the murderer of Anna Lindh.

Persbrandt writes an op-ed for Expressen's rival Aftonbladet which gets published 8 May 2005. Persbrandt calls Expressen the 'Pig Farm Expressen' and calls their editor in chief Otto Sjöberg 'Pig Colonel Otto'.

Then it was discovered that Expressen reporter Rislund had been arrested and was going to court for having impersonated a police officer on three occasions, this in an attempt to get information on a famous kidnapping story. So the Bonniers moved Rislund to their television group as they often do (eg Niklas Svensson) with their sleaze reporters who get in trouble.

And then on 16 August Expressen had their annual sendoff party for the summer temps. They took a boat ride in the Stockholm archipelago. And when they returned to town to disembark, who do they run into at the pier? Mikael Persbrandt of course! They somehow learn he's been booted out of one fashionable restaurant and not allowed in another. And they can now see him walking at water's edge with a girl. And someone recognises the girl: Sanna Lundell, daughter of the bard Ulf Lundell.

Expressen's celeb stalkers immediately ring a photographer and tell him to bring a telephoto lens. And the photographer is able to get tasty pics of Persbrandt and Lundell going at it in the lobby of the Grand Hôtel. The Expressen crew wait meanwhile at a nearby bar (the one Persbrandt couldn't get into) and come up with a great idea when they see the photos. Isn't Sanna's brother the DJ there tonight?

So one of the temps takes a picture of the loving couple and folds it in two so the girl is on one half and Persbrandt is on the other. She then takes the pic to the DJ (who really was her brother Kalle) and shows him the picture of Sanna. She asks him if the girl in the photo is his sister.

DJ Kalle started talking before he realised what was happening. He'd admitted it was indeed his sister in the photo, but then panicked and tried to get the photo away from the temp. Who on her end of things was determined to not let it go. The photo ripped right down the middle in the ensuing struggle and DJ Kalle got stuck with the half with Persbrandt.

The temp rushed back excitedly to the others. This one was in like Flynn, the same Sanna Lundell, we can run the story!

Except character assassin Otto Sjöberg suddenly gets cold feet - he wants more evidence. So they contact Sanna herself and she denies it's her in the photos and threatens to sue if they publish.

The photos and the seamy story gather dust for two months. There are up to five people working on the story at any one time, all trying to get corroboration, none ever succeeding.

Enter Niclas Rislund again. He somehow finds out that Sanna Lundell is pregnant. So he's brought back from Siberia (the television group) to help out, despite the fact he's still under an indictment. Rislund rings up Persbrandt and congratulates him on the baby. And Persbrandt confirms.

But Persbrandt asks Rislund for 24 hours to prepare his family for the publication. Rislund agrees. Then Persbrandt takes the entire story to Aftonbladet instead. And on 1 November 2005 the bomb drops: Persbrandt is to be the father of Sanna Lundell's baby. And it's Aftonbladet publishing it - not Expressen.

Aftonbladet pull out all the stops. On 2 November they have page after page with the story, covering everything from A to Z. They have secret snapshots, advice from relationship experts, and their columnist Fredrik Virtanen who visits Persbrandt at an 'electrifying performance' at the Royal Theatre.

Expressen got the shaft and they're pissed. All they could do was 'follow up'. They want revenge. They try everything in the book to find their own scoop on Persbrandt. Niclas Rislund will write six articles on Persbrandt together with Lars Johansson, covering amongst other things how some 'expert' had been flown in from the US to help Persbrandt through the trying times. But the big scoop eluded them.

Persbrandt gets tossed out of another nightclub in November and it's Aftonbladet who get the interview afterwards. Things are getting tense between the tabloids.

Now Persbrandt declares a 'time out' in his career - he cancels his theatre and filmmaking engagements. What do Rislund and Johansson do? They get some scoop about Persbrandt moving to Brazil to get in the real estate business. The story's debunked at once, and everyone at Expressen's scratching their heads trying to figure out what Persbrandt's really up to.

And in the middle of December Rislund, Johansson, and Magnus Hellberg get a tip that Persbrandt has gone into detox with severe alcohol poisoning.

Now Expressen will pull out all the stops and make a splash that's bigger than what Aftonbladet did six weeks earlier. They get photos of the clinic, they cite a 'reliable source' who says 'he didn't have a choice - he had to go into detox', and they interview a representative of the clinic on the condition the chat be only about treatment in general and not about patients in particular.

They roll on 15 December. Notices at all the kiosks. Huge coverage. But something's wrong. Both Persbrandt and the clinic debunk the story. That always happens. But the categorical way it's debunked starts to make Sjöberg and the others uneasy.

The outcry in the media reaches fever pitch. Lord Chamberlain to Princess Victoria Elisabeth Tarras-Wahlberg makes a rare appearance in the media to condemn Expressen. Authors PO Enquist and Anders Ehnmark demand the resignation of Otto Sjöberg. Otto Sjöberg is forced to retract and issue a public apology. But Persbrandt doesn't let it end there.

Persbrandt puts together a complete dossier on Expressen and gives it to Chancellor for Justice Göran Lambertz. And the Chancellor for Justice comes down from on high for the first time in fifteen years to personally file criminal charges - against Otto Sjöberg and Expressen.

Sjöberg and Expressen are ultimately found guilty by a district court bench and a jury of nine laypersons - it's only cases of freedom of the press that get authentic juries in Sweden - and the verdict is unanimous.

Sjöberg gets off lightly - he could have been sent to prison for a year or two but instead pays a fine of approximately $10,000. And the charges were lowered from 'aggravated libel' to ordinary libel.

Yet the Bonniers kept Sjöberg on. It's only two years later, when Sjöberg is again brought to court and this time convicted of aggravated libel, that they move him on and send in his replacement.

Thomas Mattsson.

One: 'A lie that Mikael Persbrandt is an accident at work' | Two: 'Journo Pigs Suffering from Mass Psychosis' | Three: 'Pig Farm Expressen'

See Also
Assange Defence Fund
WikiLeaks: Support WikiLeaks
The Police Protocol (Translated)
Rixstep: JA/WL (Assange/WikiLeaks)
Rixstep: Assange/WikiLeaks RSS Feed
Radsoft: Assange/WikiLeaks RSS Feed

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