How Swedish press covered the change of president in Honduras

The political crisis in Honduras started developing in 2008. By March 2009 the president issued a decree for a referendum. It got challenged in court, and an injunction against it was issued and upheld all the way up in the Supreme Court. In spite of this the president persisted on June 25th, why an arrest order was requested by the Attorney General on that date. It was issued by the Supreme Court on June 26th, and executed by the military on June 28th. However, instead of arresting him they exiled him to Costa Rica. In a TV broadcast from San José he denounced to the world that a military coup had taken place in Honduras. That is when Swedish media started paying attention to the political crisis.

I have just reviewed two newspapers, the “liberal” (i.e., right of center, as in the original and not the American meaning of the word) Dagens Nyheter, DN, and the rather more conservative Svenska Dagbladet, SvD.

The background level in SvD from 2004 to 2008 was to mention Honduras about twice a year, about half the time in relation to sports, half in relation to politics, and occasionally some natural disaster. The first mentioning of this political crisis came the evening of June 28th, 2008, and consisted of only photos. Late that evening came the first article, written by a journalist at the newspaper, Håkan Forsberg. It cites several people critical of the removal from office of the president, but nobody who represents the other branches of government in Honduras.

On the morning of the 29th, they report in a WebTV clip (that appears to be from Reuters) that Hugo Chavez was threatening to use military force against Honduras to bring down its new government. (They erroneously translated Zelaya’s uttering “gorilla” to ‘guerrilla’.)

On the morning of June 29, the paper reported for the first time that Micheletti according to himself and the Supreme Court became president through a legal process and not through a coup. The article was from TT-Reuters (TT is the Swedish news agency Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå). In the evening they published another article, by Forsberg, about the meeting in Nicaragua where Honduras was discussed.

On June 30 there is first an article by TT-Reuters about riots, later a WebTV piece about the riots, and finally an article by Forsberg mentioning Zelaya’s plan to return.

On July 1st the only mentioning of Honduras was in relation to football (soccer); that Sweden is ranked lower than the Central American country.

On July 2nd, an article from TT-Reuters reported that the new government in Honduras is categorically refusing to negotiate the country’s sovereignty of presidency.

After a day with new mentioning, July 4th brought two articles. First an article that goes a little bit more at depth by Sara Bergfors, and mentions how demonstrators were arrested in San Pedro Sula (where criminal elements had taken to breaking windows in downtown businesses, and my wife saw how a photographer started a tire fire himself (!) and then took a photo of it). Later there was an article by TT-Reuters about the breech with OAS, the Organization of American States.

The next article, again by TT-Reuters, came on July 6th, and mentioned how allegedly 2 persons had been killed at clashes between police and military with Zelaya demonstrators at the Toncontin airport in Tegucigalpa, when the deposed president was circling above in a Venezuelan airplane provided by Hugo Chávez (who meanwhile was watching it on TV). The figure 2 for killed on this day has been widely disseminated, but as far as I am aware there is only 1 identified victim, a teenage boy.

Also on the 6th, SvD had this article with WebTV video of the event (no author given). The article claims that “at least two” persons were killed at the event, quoting a police spokesperson called Mendoza, who allegedly told AFP, “We have killed two and two are injured. The police has not shot. It was the military since the demonstrators tried to enter the runway.”

Also the 6th they published an opinion piece by Gabriel Heller Sahlgren, student of political science in Cambridge, who argued that the “coup” is not a threat to democracy, due to Zelaya’s violations of the constitution. Finally there was an article by Bergfors about the worry that there might be more violence.

On July 8th the first mentioning came of negotiations, or talks as it was called, in this article from TT-AFP. Most articles after that date have dealt with the efforts to find a political solution. It is noteworthy that in all the articles I have only found one mentioning, in one sentence, of the many big demonstrations for the new government (July 2, 22, 24). That information was almost completely withheld and marginalized for the readers of the newspaper.

Unfortunately the DN server is down now, so until further notice the review will only cover SvD. The overall impression is that of a biased reporting. Token efforts have been made type CYA, by mentioning that there had been demonstrations also for the new government, but by not mentioning that they typically were an order of magnitude larger, and by NEVER showing any photos or videos from them, and only mentioning them once in spite of there being at least dozens, the newspaper was clearly biased. Furthermore, allowing one opinion piece with a partly opposite POV (but only partly, since also that author called it a coup), is just barely enough for the CYA level of coverage.

The fact is that there was no serious reporting of the legal background in the way that I did on this blog (just scroll back on the calendar). Also, there seems to have been no mentioning whatsoever of the significant property damage and destruction caused by people who rioted against the police and military, nor of the fact that the demonstrators were left alone as long as they were peaceful and only arrested once they broke the criminal law (as witnessed also by me via Skype from San Pedro Sula).

In my judgment, the newspaper – which is typical of Swedish newspapers – has not provided an unbiased and fair news reporting to the public.

PS. The latest news, just now from Honduras, is that Manuel Zelaya will be going to Mexico for asylum within minutes to hours. His “salvoconducto” has already been signed by the Department of State.

Word from Honduras via Facebook is that the “whites” are going to Boulevard Morazan at this very moment to celebrate that Manuel Zelaya Rosalez will be leaving the country tonight, so that they can have a peaceful Christmas.

PS. PS. Things are moving quickly now. Just an hour later, Honduras realized that Mexico did not intend to give Zelaya asylum, but was receiving him as a distinguished guest (i.e., president) so that he could continue from there to a high level meeting of the ALBA group of “Bolivarian Revolutionary” countries under Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. Since Mexico was not giving Zelaya asylum, Honduras immediately revoked the “salvoconducto” (free passage out of the Embassy).

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