Monday, March 12, 2007

Political blog catches Swedish media on the hop

The Swedish Foreign Minister is currently copping severe criticism for posting “too much information” in his blog. Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has been getting large audiences with his Swedish language blog in which he diarises his days and offers his thoughts on a wide range of issues. But now Bildt’s opponents are saying this activity is incompatible with his high office.

Most of the criticism has come from Sweden’s mainstream media not from Bildt’s political opponents. A former newspaper editor, Bertil Torekull, wrote an opinion piece published in Sweden's largest morning daily, Dagens Nyheter which said "Members of the Government have a political mandate and everything they do therefore takes on a political dimension” he said, “a member of the Government is not just any 'chatter'." Expressen's Per Svensson wrote an article comparing Bildt to Nixon and saying he "uses his blog as a weapon against one of the institutions of the liberal democracy - investigative journalism".

The focus of all this hysterical hyperbole is a blog called “alla dessa daga” which means “All These Days” in Swedish. The latest entry on 11 March talks about his newfound world fame as the Middle East Times, Deutsche Welle and the Sydney Morning Herald which all syndicate the AFP same story about his blogging issues. Since the end of January, Bildt has been posting several messages a day and the site has had 400,000 visitors in that time and hundreds of user comments.

Gothenburg University journalism professor Kent Asp believes Bildt has a problem saying "he can't be just a private person when he talks about questions related to his field of work." But Peter Wolodarski, an editorialist at Dagens Nyheter, defended Bildt’s blog as "a welcome complement to the interviews and official commissions, not a substitute". Bildt himself denies there is a problem, "It's me writing. I'm a person who is also minister for foreign affairs," he said. Bildt is no newcomer to blogdom. He started an English language blog in September 2005 but it has been defunct since January with Bildt concentrating on his Swedish version.

Bildt, 57 is a senior member of the conservative Moderate Party. He was Prime Minister during Sweden’s last experiment of a centre-right Government between 1991 and 1994. During his tenure, his most important task was the negotiation of Sweden’s accession to the EU, which he successfully completed in June 1994. He was also behind the liberalisation and structural reforms which improved Sweden’s competitiveness of Sweden and to modernize its old-style welfare system. He served as the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Balkans between May 1999 and July 2001. He was surprisingly appointed foreign minister when his party rival Fredrik Reinfeldt won power for a liberal/left-conservative coalition in October last year.

While Bildt may be a political moderate, he has long been a technical radical. Bildt’s reputation as an electronic pioneer dates back to 4 February 1994 when he sent an email to Bill Clinton in which he praised the US president’s decision to end the trade embargo on Vietnam. While the content was unremarkable, the missive from Bildt to Bill was historic as it was the first ever email sent between heads of government. Bildt opened the email by saying he wanted test the connection on what he called, with a sense of novelty, “the global Internet system”. In the same year Bildt also started a weekly electronic newsletter, which he kept going for over ten years. He also launched and chaired the country’s IT Commission and now sits on the board of several Swedish IT companies.

Bildt has a long established reputation as a good communicator. However in the mainstream media's eyes he has committed the cardinal sin of communicating directly to the public and bypassing the mediation of the fourth estate. Bildt's frankness and desire to discuss the mechanics of politics with his audience have upset senior Swedish journalists who are used to having this field to themselves.

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