The Norwegian broadcasting council that handles press complaints decided against issuing any formal criticism of talk show host Fredrik Skavlan on Thursday, despite being faced with a record number of complaints against him.
The council (Kringkastingsrådet) had received more than 3,600 complaints over an interview Skavlan conducted just before Easter with Jimmie Åkesson, the controversial leader of Sweden’s anti-immigration party Sverigedemokraterna. The interview on Skavlan’s popular Friday night talk show was the first with Åkesson since he went on sick leave, claiming he was exhausted after his party did well in last autumn’s elections.
Many viewers complained that Skavlan had been too aggressive in his questioning of Åkesson, who was, among other things, confronted with several racist remarks made by party members. While some praised Skavlan over the interview, others claimed he was disrespectful and even hostile towards the Swedish politician on a show that has a large audience in both Sweden and Norway and is a cooperation between the two countries’ state broadcasters.
Council leader Per Edgar Kokkvold, who earlier said he hadn’t seen much reason to criticize Skavlan, seemed to change his position on Thursday, critizing both Skavlan’s “body language” and accusing him of glefsing (snapping) at Åkesson. He suggested Skavlan, who is Norwegian, became part of the Swedish debate over Åkesson instead of the Norwegian debate.
Skavlan responded by claiming that the council’s hearing had begun to resemble a trial for treason, and he was glad to get a chance to defend himself. He has earlier said he had no idea what he should apologize for, or to whom, but added that he had no intention of “snapping” at Åkesson.
‘Fit for fight’
Skavlan stressed that he and his colleagues on the show had made efforts to ensure that Åkesson was fit for the interview, and that both he and his party declared he was. Åkesson himself said he had spoken with his psychologist, who also had cleared him for the appearance on the talk show. Skavland claimed Åkesson, who viewed the interview as part of his “comeback” after being on sick leave, had also been fully informed about how the interview would proceed.
After several hours of debate, Kokkvold presented two proposals to council members. One declared that Skavlan’s interview came across as “unfair,” but it received only three votes. The second proposal, that the council refrain from drawing any conclusions over the interview, received 11 votes. It thus prevailed, and Skavlan avoided any official criticism although several council members voiced individual criticism, saying Åkesson had been subjected to an “unprecedented grilling” and that Åkesson was treated differently than other party leaders who have been on Skavlan’s show. Others praised Skavlan, with journalist and author Frank Rossavik saying the council couldn’t criticize Skavlan for asking critical questions.