Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s highly publicized stunt posing as a taxi driver in a video that’s been viewed around the world turns out to have been part of a paid commercial for his Labour Party. Some of those who were his passengers were even paid, although Stoltenberg insists they still didn’t know he’d be their taxi driver on “candid camera.”
All they knew, Stoltenberg told VG Nett on Tuesday, was that they’d be picked up in a taxi for the ad job. “Nobody knew that the taxi driver would be me, and that was the whole point,” Stoltenberg said when confronted with criticism that his taxi stunt wasn’t quite as spontaneous as it was billed as on Labour’s own website.
Labour and all of Norway’s other political parties are in the midst of a tough campaign to win the next parliamentary elections on September 9. Labour won worldwide publicity when it published a video showing Stoltenberg dressed up as a driver for Oslo Taxi, who picked up unknowing passengers in the hopes of hearing their honest opinions on political issues. Stoltenberg claimed that people often speak most honestly to a taxi driver, and he wanted to hear what they had to say.
VG reported on Tuesday, however, that five of the 14 passengers whom Stoltenberg drove around in Oslo knew that they were going to take part in a political ad for Labour and would be paid for their efforts.
Bård Hoksrud of the rival Progress Party said he feels cheated by the taxi stunt, suggesting it wasn’t nearly as spontaneous as first thought. Stoltenberg called such criticism “meaningless” even though he admits some of his passengers knew they’d be picked up in a taxi. “Others were picked up at random on the street,” Stoltenberg said.
Asked how “honest” he thought his passengers really were if they’d agreed to take part in an ad for Labour, and even were paid for it, Stoltenberg stressed that “I spoke with many different people and they said many different things. And those who knew they’d be picked up in a taxi had never dreamed the taxi driver would be me.” All of those appearing in the video that Labour published later gave their permission that their clips could be used.
Stoltenberg said he didn’t know that some of his passengers were being paid while the video was being produced, but that he learned they were paid afterwards. He said that had been arranged by the video’s production company, not Labour.