Minor riot tears down political party SD's posters in Stockholm Subway

The ad campaign in a single subway station in Stockholm that we wrote about here yesterday, continues to stir controversy. Yesterday evening at 6pm a demonstration was held on Norrmalmstorg in Stockholm, we did go there to see it, there were thousands of people and a heavy police presence. Anti-racist speeches were held by various speakers, and chants of "no racists in our streets" were heard long after the demonstration was supposed to disseminate. Ironically, Romani beggars in the crowd were mainly ignored.

Part of the group of people demonstrating then entered the Östermalmstorg Subway station and tore down all the posters. The police could not stop the crowds, they arrested two people for vandalism of these posters Monday night and took "several people" into custody Tuesday night. This is what the scene looked like.

The debate regarding these posters continues in all of the Swedish media today. Mårten Schultz, Professor of Civil Law, makes it clear that the campaign is "not criminal", in an unusually frank statement for a lawyer, considering the campaign is now reported to the Chancellor of Justice, and thus under investigation. He elaborates, when he explains that this is not hate speech.

It is important to keep this in mind that this is about freedom of expression. In the freedom of speech area, a legislator treads carefully. There are obvious limitations: You must not threaten or defame individuals. You may not manipulate the markets or to lie in court. Sometimes there are more controversial restrictions. One should not, for example, speak to incite to racial hatred (Hate speech). Apart from these legal enactments, the main principle is simple. You are allowed to speak also in a way that annoys or bothers other people, as long as the statement is not harmful or there is a clear risk that will be harmful.

On Monday, several reporters and photographers documented the banners and found there was a spelling error on the word "Government", something that was reported as far and wide away as The Scotsman. Sweden Democrats Chief of PR, Joakim Wallerstein, admits that the spelling error existed on Monday. "It was not a plan to get more media attention" he says, but notes that the campaign has gotten a record level of earned media, some due to the spelling error. Joakim Wallerstein is very pleased with the media penetration of the campaign and explains that the banner with the spelling error was changed during the night between Monday and Tuesday.

Rumours, some true some not, spread like wildfire on social media last night. There were suggestions, for example, that SL (Stockholm Public Transport) would end their contract with Clear Channel over the media space, something which Clear Channels Press Secretary Sofie Brange denies.

We categorically deny That SL would end their dealings with us. We have a very good cooperation with SL. It is worth noting that SL and ourselves have made the same assessment in question, in other words, it is not we who alone make decisions about the advertising that goes up in the subway.

Meanwhile this morning on the Swedish morning news, SL's communications director Suss Forsman Tullberg discussed the campaign with the show hosts and PR-consultant Paul Ronge. Suss Forsman Tullberg considered the demonstration against the posters an "expression of the same rights to speech as the billboards we've chosen to allow on the Subway". She added that it was "sad" that around 200 people stormed the subway station and tore down posters, but according to reports she's received the crowd calmed down and dispersed in a calm manner.
To a direct question about "allowing" this type of speech in the public transportation system, Forsman Tullberg explained: "We have a decision made in 1988 that SL should allow political posters in the transportation system and we are government owned, and as a government run entity we have a responsibility to follow our fundamental law, which also includes the right to equal treatment. We can not choose to have one political party run ads, but not another one."
Paul Ronge admitted he's impressed by how Forsman Tullberg handled the media storm, and how her statements make SL like "the defenders of democracy", but he disagrees that this is a question of democracy. "It is you who decide who can run ads, if the ads are offensive, if many people like for example immigrants, and many people who against racism, will react against this. It's not as if SL's constitutional description says you should throw judgement out, you can make a good judgement call. I don't think that you did, in this case."

Ronge adds that he objects to the copy of the ads, where "We apologise" can be "interpreted as if SD are speaking for the entire Swedish population, they're speaking for me" instead of for themselves as the sender and signee of the copy. It is this authors opinion that Mr Ronge has misread the copy, as the sender is clearly Sweden Democrats, not "the Swedish People".

Forsman Tullberg shot back: "We are not a private company, that can pick and choose, and precisely because were are a government operated entity we need to look at this as a question of democracy. We have a responsibility to uphold the democratic system that we are a part of."

The ad campaign has been reported to the Advertising Ombudsman (RO) 37 times at last count, the Social Democrats in Stockholm County Council are demanding new guidelines for which messages SL will allow, and it's still unclear whether the vandalized ad campaign will be put back up. SD expects it to be, as they have paid for two weeks ad placement, not two days. Meanwhile, SD politician Ted Ekeroth has reported Hanna Gunnarsson, a politician from the communist party, for incitement, after she spread messages on social media encouraging people to tear down and vandalize these posters.

I'll have Morten Shultz tie this up, as hundreds of complaints about this campaign are still rolling into the Chancellor of Justice's office: "Instead complaints (to the Chancellor of Justice) are made, to make a political point. Which brings me to my point. And it is that it's a bad habit to use the law to make political points of legally irrelevant events."

As of the time of press, there are no new posters in Östermalms subway station to replace the ones town down during the riot last night. There are many social media videos out there taken both by professional press and participants, with plenty of these videos found on Twitter under the hashtag #SLspriderrasim.


Related articles:
* Sweden Democrats apologise to tourists for beggars
article #3: an interview with the man behind the campaign.