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Swedish Right + Bonniers = TRUE
Two sides of the same coin. The political power of the Swedish media giant. From 12 November 2010.
'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!'
- Julian Assange's reply to Expressen's reporter, WikiLeaks press conference 2012-02-27
What difference does it make who or what the 'Bonniers' own? Who are the Bonniers anyway?
They're both a family - based in Sweden - and a media group. The Bonnier corporations are not publicly held - they're all owned by the family. Together these corporations constitute one of the most influential media groups in the world. And today they wield unparalleled political power.
Their power stretches even to the United States. They're known there as BONNIER CORPORATION.
Bonnier Corp. was formed in March 2007 when Sweden's Bonnier Group purchased 18 magazines from Time and combined those assets with its US magazine partner World Publications, creating a new company. Bonnier Corp's parent company is a 200 year old media company based in Stockholm with operations in more than 20 countries, including magazine divisions in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Spain.
Bonnier Corporation is one of the largest consumer publishing groups in the US. With over 1,000 employees and more than $350 million in annual revenue, Bonnier Corporation ranks in the top 10 nationally among publishing companies.
But it's in Sweden their influence is felt most painfully. The following is an article researched and written by Johannes Wahlström and Dan Josefsson and published by Aftonbladet on 12 November 2010 as one of a series on the political power of the Bonniers in Sweden. The explanation of how this article series came about is found in the so called Aftonbladet-Israel Controversy of 2009.
Freelancer Donald Boström was given a scoop by UN forces in the Middle East; he researched the story and submitted it to the Swedish morning daily DN.se; it was rejected. Next he turned to Aftonbladet who gladly accepted it.
A diplomatic crisis between Sweden and Israel ensued. Israel demanded the Swedish government order Aftonbladet to remove Boström's article from their website. Aftonbladet refused - and instead sent their own reporters to the Middle East to check out Boström's story. The story checked out.
This led to Aftonbladet poking into the affairs of the Bonnier family and publishing a series of articles, the last of which you find below.
The Israeli protest was namely backed up by Sweden's own ambassador to Israel - Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier.
Further links and information follow the article.
Swedish Right + Bonniers = TRUE
By Johannes Wahlström and Dan Josefsson for Aftonbladet. Published 12 November 2010.
The Bonnier grip on the media in Sweden is unparalleled, with the possible exception of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy. But media researchers usually comment that the Bonniers, as opposed to Berlusconi, are lacking in political ambition.
That's no longer true. In the final part of our series on the Bonniers, Johannes Wahlström and Dan Josefsson sketch a new political landscape where the right wing government and the Bonnier corporations live in symbiosis.
A few months after the right wing victory in the Swedish national elections of 2006, a phone rings in the offices of the department of culture. Carl Johan Swanson, who then was the media and political expert for the minister for culture, accepts the call. At the other end of the line, the Bonniers' chief of communications Erik Månsson tells of the Bonniers' plans to acquire all of the television company TV4. Månsson wants to discuss this delicate issue with the cabinet, as the acquisition is actually in violation of Swedish law.
Swedish radio and television law states that the ownership of TV4, the country's sole privately owned public service channel, 'may not in its entirety be changed so that the concentration of ownership in the media increases'. In addition, no owner may 'vote for one's own and others' shares for more than all told one fifth of the shares represented' - which means TV4 may not be owned by fewer than five separate interests.
But the law was crafted in such a way that even if the state radio and television agency was formally in charge, violations could not be investigated unless the cabinet themselves filed a complaint. So Erik Månsson from the Bonniers was looking for an informal guarantee from the government that they wouldn't file a complaint. Månsson got what he wanted.
'I got a call a few days before the acquisition was announced', Swanson explained a few days after the acquisition. 'And we decided that the acquisition didn't violate any laws.'
This would never have been allowed to happen if the social democrats had still been in power.
The social democrats' former minister of culture Marita Ulvskog said: 'I made sure TV4 didn't violate the law'.
But Sweden's new minister for media and culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth [married into the elite of the conservative party] gave the go-ahead to the Bonniers. The new cabinet would not file a complaint. The Bonniers got carte blanche to defy the law.
The purchase of TV4 was estimated to have cost the Bonniers over $125 million and was financed by loans from the Proventus corporation. Proventus were swimming in money since they'd plundered the Swedish bank Götabanken in the 1990s. And thanks to the promise from the new minister for media and culture Adelsohn Liljeroth, the political obstacles were eliminated. But that was still not enough for the Bonniers: TV4 was bleeding money at the time. So the financial risks were too great. But of course there was a way around that too.
The week before the call to the office of the minister of culture, TV4 CEO Jan Scherman asked for a meeting with the same office. As part of this request, he sent along a document he insisted remain sealed. The document, which we have seen, has Scherman explaining that TV4 is an 'extremely destructive situation' and that their only hope is to increase the advertising by 50%. We don't know what happened at the meeting, but a week later the Bonniers bought TV4 and right away the government put forth a proposition which follows Scherman's proposal almost to the letter. So thanks to the new law, which gives TV4 the right to send 50% more advertising, the purchase by the Bonniers of TV4 becomes one of the most lucrative insider deals in Sweden's media world - the purchase price was way below the market value.
According to the Bonniers' own calculations, the new rules would give them an annual profit of $70 million, a very low estimate as things turned out. The Bonniers recouped their investment within two years and start to run the station at a profit. A source within the Bonnier concern says that they were forced to pay over 12% interest to Proventus. But thanks to the cooperation of the new right wing government, the deal was a resounding success.
As the years go by, the right wing government continued to show support for the Bonniers. The department for culture put forth a number of law proposals and reforms which make the Bonniers' historic expansion possible - everything from new rules for advertising to supervision of support for the media, to reform of financial support for 'culture', to new laws regulating competition.
According to people at the department of culture, representatives of the Bonniers are discussing all their business deals with undersecretary Ingrid Eiken. What's remarkable about her managing these matters is that she possesses absolutely no merits from the world of media and culture whatsoever.
But she has a network. Or rather her husband does. Odd Eiken, former speech writer for former conservative leader Ulf Adelsohn who in turn was married to the new minister of media and culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, was previously the 'director of information' for Bengt Braun, chairman of the mighty holding company Skandia. But Bengt Braun was at the same time CEO for the Bonniers. So when Ingrid Eiken negotiates with the Bonniers on the part of the Swedish government, she's actually negotiating with her husband's former colleague. The gap between the Bonniers and the elected Swedish government is nearly nonexistent.
The opposition parties in the parliament weren't merciful in their criticism. Repeated official parliamentary questions were levied at the cabinet by the social democrats who criticised the cabinet's media politics and how the right wing government didn't stop the expansion of the Bonniers. At the same time, the financial crisis put the corporation in dire straits. With too many loans out and suddenly bleeding money themselves in nearly all their enterprises, the Bonniers' only lifeline was TV4, which thanks to the generous new rules for advertising could still pull home a profit. TV4, together with a handful of real estate holdings, were the only collateral the Bonniers had to guarantee their enormous loans. But if a left wing government should come to power and force TV4 to abide by the law by forcing in at least five separate owners, the Bonniers would lose their most important cash cow and might be bankrupted.
So the future of the Bonnier empire hung in the balance of the right wing government that again won the national elections in 2010 [with the help of Karl Rove].
Three months before the elections, when it looked as if the social democrats would win, the sitting right wing government carried out something that appeared to be an act of desperation: TV4 got a new licence. But according to the new law, TV4 now must be owned by the Bonniers!
'Ownership and interests in TV4 may not be changed more than in a limited fashion. It is noted that TV4 currently, as of 17 June 2010, is owned by the Bonnier concern.'
And the new licence cutely enough is valid until the new national elections in 2014.
There is no evidence that the Bonniers gave the right wing government anything in return. But in any case, several branches of the concern have supported the government editorially and in a way not seen before in Sweden in modern times.
Professor of media Kent Asp has been analysing news media bias in national elections since 1979. The Bonniers' DN.se traditionally takes a neutral stance in such matters, but there was a tangible shift in 2002 to the political right, and this shift became even more noticeable in the 2006 elections when right wing PM candidate Fredrick Reinfeldt was given wholehearted support.
The analysis for the elections of 2010 was not complete at time of writing, but many readers of DN.se reacted strongly to what they considered right wing propaganda. When the media stand accused of conducting an advertising campaign for a specific political position that's thinly disguised as journalism, their pat answer is often that accusations of that nature are found on both the political left and the political right and are therefore without basis. But the elections of 2010 represented yet another major shift - a shift so obvious that even the people working for DN.se reacted. One of them was the journalist Lars Linder who wrote in the cultural section on 14 September 2010:
'Truth be told, I've wondered about this journalism for the elections, even at this company. Something has happened. Now more than ever we can sense where the sympathies of the media lie. And it's seldom with Mona [Sahlin, leader of the social democrats].'
The political campaign of the Bonniers' Expressen against Mona Sahlin was too extreme to be dismissed as an illusion.
'Expressen's always held with right wing parties', says Kent Asp. 'But not much up to now. 2010 was exceptional.'
When Expressen's former editor in chief Olle Wästberg took part in a seminar on freedom of speech two days after the 2010 elections, he said the following.
'Expressen conducted a propaganda campaign for the sitting right wing government for the national elections. And what's wrong with that? It's self-evident that a private liberal news corporation can take a political position. There's some kind of illusion that media corporations are to be impartial and objective. Things don't work that way. Private media companies can and should show off their identity and disposition.'
When we contact him by phone, he points out that Expressen pushed a strong agenda in support of the EU for the EU elections when he was still in charge, and that it's not any more out of line to push an agenda for the right wing in the national elections of 2010. To force political reporters to mouth the political views of the corporate owners isn't difficult, according to Wästberg.
'News corporations are very authoritarian institutions', he says. 'Political reporters are told what to do. The most common criticism I received during my time at Expressen was that I didn't state our corporate views clearly enough.'
The old idea that media are supposed to limit opinion pieces to their editorial and debate sections and try to remain impartial in the news sections is an idea Wästberg doesn't believe in.
And he's right in a way. A private media company can push for the agenda the owners dictate. But what's interesting in this context is that Expressen's former editor in chief doesn't distinguish between lesser publications with an open connection to political parties and the ostensibly neutral Expressen.
'Of course there are different ways of running news companies', Wästberg admits. 'But no, there's no significant difference.'
So the Bonniers' political campaign for the right wing government in both DN.se and Expressen even has the support of their own employees.
How well TV4 were able to safeguard their journalistic integrity in September's national elections is something we'll know when Kent Asp completes his analysis. But even if they were to have behaved well, Kent Asp points out that as of 2008, TV4 cannot be legally bound to be impartial anymore. This demand holds only for public service corporations such as Swedish state radio and television. One cannot file charges against TV4 for lack of impartiality any longer - something that didn't raise an eyebrow when the rule changed.
'It's unbelievable that no one reacted to that', says Kent Asp. 'The big question is what happens now when TV4 can exercise complete freedom.'
So if the Bonniers so choose, they can attack left wing parties in the next national elections, with propaganda for the sitting government which they disguise as 'journalism' - and pump it out through DN.se, Expressen, and TV4. Is it at all possible to achieve an election victory against them?
It's been impossible in Britain for quite some time to win an election without the support of Rupert Murdoch. Sweden is now in a similar situation. The social democrats and the Swedish employers association began an extensive joint venture in 1938 they called Saltsjöbadsavtalet - a major agreement that became the model for all coming agreements. The agreement ratified the norms of the Swedish labour market - the parties could reach agreements without interference from the government.
But with what seems to be a new such agreement for the information age, the right wing and the Bonniers have a mutually beneficial arrangement of their own. The right wing provide the laws necessary to maximise the Bonnier profits. And the debt ridden media giant's outlets provide the propaganda necessary to keep the right wing in power.
The new Swedish reality of political power and media power: but two sides of the same coin.
Our reporters are not to concentrate on impartial investigations in the future. They are instead to fill our pages with material dictated by our major sponsors.
- Gunnar Lindstedt, Veckans Affärer, 12 June 2009
We like to think of Sweden as the world's most democratic country, something that encumbers each and every conversation about the power exerted de facto outside our duly elected governments. And paradoxically, those who investigate the situation with our media are accused of attempting to stifle freedom of speech - when of course it's precisely the other way around. I still remember how [social democrat] minister for culture Marita Ulvskog had to chase the Bonniers' media companies all those years. The European Commission's recent report indicates such a concentration of power is in violation of EU statutes. But that doesn't seem to bother the current right wing minister for media and culture.
- Åsa Linderborg, Aftonbladet, 8 November 2010
Again: what's interesting is to note the background for the above article and the others in the series linked below. Swedish correspondent Donald Boström was in the Middle East when UN forces approached him with a story he could really write home about: renegade groups of Israelis who were kidnapping Palestinians, murdering them, and then selling their internal organs to the highest bidders.
Boström completed the research for an article on the subject and then without thinking submitted it to DN.se, under full control of the Bonniers. The Bonniers of course refused Boström's article. Boström then took the article to Aftonbladet who gladly published it.
This caused a diplomatic crisis between Israel and Sweden with Israel demanding Sweden order Aftonbladet to remove the article from their website. The Swedish ambassador to Israel sided with the Israelis - she's a Bonnier too.
Aftonbladet not only refused to remove the article - they sent Åsa Linderborg and a team to the Middle East to check out Boström's story. Which they did. They then began their investigation into the shadow empire of the Bonniers with Johannes Wahlström at the helm. Wahlström was later sent on assignment by Swedish state television to London to meet with Julian Assange for the coming 'WikiRebels' documentary.
Wahlström became persona non grata with the Bonniers - and through 'guilt by association', so did his father the anti-zionist Israel Shamir and Julian Assange, who was also on their hate list by virtue of his web server agreement with Rick Falkvinge and the Swedish Pirate Party.
Things start to fit together quite nicely.
And it was the Bonniers' TV4 who cautioned the Swedish people back in August 2010 to 'not think about' the bizarre Assange case and the international scorn it had attracted.
TV4: What do you think about this case?
LAS: I'm trying to think as little as possible. I think everyone should do that. But we can already see the smear campaigns against these two girls, people try to attack their believability, and of course this is in a big global perspective. But we actually know nothing at all and we must therefore try to avoid speculating and let the judicial process take its course.
TV4: Some people are worried about how this looks internationally. Do you think they have cause to be worried?
LAS: I must say this is a remarkable discussion. That this should in some way be embarrassing for Sweden, that the system keeps changing its mind all the time, that this would be reason for apprehension. But I think the opposite - this is not about a question of culpability, this is about our knowing too little, we have to research the matter more, it's not embarrassing to admit it, it's actually something we should be proud of. I think.
And it is the Bonniers who continue to attack Julian Assange and WikiLeaks through their DN.se and above all their Expressen.
The Shadow Empire
The Bonniers are active in over 20 countries. Theirs is not a publicly held conglomerate - it's privately owned. They control book publishers, cinema chains, magazines and newspapers and websites, online electronic media outlets, and more. And now they've started to flex their political muscles for the first time.
They own Popular Mechanics. They own National Geographic. They have 278 cinemas in little Sweden and more in Norway. If the Bonniers don't want you to see a movie, you don't see it.
They own Sweden's major moviemaking company.
The conglomerate is owned to 45% by Pontus Bonnier, Eva Bonnier, Karl-Otto Bonnier, and Åke Bonnier. Jeanette Bonnier och Charlotte Bonnier share a 20% control. The remaining 35% is shared amongst the other Bonniers and various foundations. The business is run by Jonas Bonnier.
There are currently 175 companies in the conglomerate divided into the following spheres.
- Bonnier Solutions. These are the bean counters. They do the accounting and bookkeeping for the five other siblings.
- Bonnier Business Press. Huge division. Control Dagens Industri och DiEgo in Sweden, Dagbladet Børsen in Denmark, Business.hr in Croatia, DP.ru (Delovoi Peterburg) in Russia, Dienas Bizness in Latvia, Finance in Slovenia, Pari in Bulgaria, Puls Biznesu in Poland, Verslo Zinios in Lithuania, Äripäev in Estonia, and the website Rynok.biz in the Ukraine.
- Bonnier Magazine Group. Save for publishers Atlantic Förlag, all are based in Denmark today.
- Bonnier Books. Sweden: Bonnierförlagen, Bokförlaget Semic, Semic Jultidningsförlaget, AdLibris. Germany: arsEdition, BuchVertrieb Blank, Carlsen Verlag, Piper Verlag, Thienemann Verlag, and subsidiary Gabriel Verlag Ullstein Buchverlage comprising Allegria, Claassen, Econ, List and List Taschenbuch, Marion von Schröder, Propyläen, and Ullstein/Ullstein Taschenbuch. Norway: 50% of Cappelen Damm, the country's largest publisher. Finland: Tammi, Lasten Parhaat Kirjat, AdLibris Suomi. Elsewhere: Five Mile Press in Australia, Autumn and Brimax Publishing in Great Britain, Byeway Books in the US, Piccolia in France, Parasol in Belgium and the Netherlands, and Weldon Owen Publishing in the US, comprising Weldon Owen Proprietary of Australia, Weldon Owen Education of the US, and Weldon Owen Education in New Zealand.
- Bonnier Newspapers. Sweden: DN.se, Expressen, Göteborgs-Tidningen, Kvällsposten, Sydsvenskan, Kristianstadsbladet, Trelleborgs Allehanda, Ystads Allehanda, Österlenmagasinet. Latvia: AS Diena. Additional Swedish holdings: Bold Printing Group/DNEX Tryckeriet, Borås Tidning Tryckeri, and Sydsvenskan Tryck; Koll.se, 50% of media distribution service Premo, 30% of stock photography agency Scanpix.
- Bonnier Entertainment. Svensk Filmindustri, SF Bio, Bonnier Gaming, Homeenter with Discshop.se, Expericard, and the TV4 Group which isn't just a TV station TV4 but includes TV11, TV7 also called 'Sjuan', TV4 Sport, and the Scandinavian Canal+ 'pay per view' companies.
The Bonniers also have a media research centre in Silicon Valley.
Wikipedia: The Bonnier Group
Wikipedia: Bonnier Publications (Swedish)
Wikipedia: Bonnier Tidskrifter (Swedish)
Wikipedia: Bonnier Magazine Group (Swedish)
Wikipedia: The Bonnier Concern (Swedish)
Wikipedia: Bonnierkoncernen (Swedish)
Aftonbladet: Bonniers: Journalism for Sale
Aftonbladet: Bonniers' Objective: Crush the Small Fry
Aftonbladet: Bonniers: 246 Cinemas, One Owner
Aftonbladet: Åsa Linderborg: The Threat of the Bonniers