Justice Minister Anders Anundsen is once again the target of harsh criticism, after spending NOK 50,000 of taxpayers’ money to produce a half-hour video that boasts of what he sees as the ministry’s many accomplishments under his leadership. Critics including opposition politicians, police union officials and the media accuse Anundsen of using public funds and state officials’ time to boost his conservative Progress Party and the government during the current municipal election campaign.
“The video is purely a commercial for his own interests,” Hadia Tajik, who served as justice minister in the former left-center government, told newspaper VG on Tuesday. She now heads the justice committe in Parliament and was highly criticial that civil servants were used and featured in the video to “legitimize” a political promotion.
“Making this video, in this manner, with the ministry’s money, is an expression of extremely poor ability to evaluate priorities,” Tajik fumed.
The secretary general of the professional association for Norwegian editors (Norsk redaktørforening), Arne Jensen, went so far as to compare Anundsen’s video and his performance in it to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un: “He moves around, looks at the fine cars for preparedness troops and the new police boat. It’s like Kim Jong-Un in North Korea traveling around and looking at all the fine things he has.”
The video, published on the ministry’s state-operated and funded website (external link, in Norwegian), begins with Anundsen noting that “one of the most frustrating things” about being a politician is that the media “very often is preoccupied” with airing the “negative angles” to issues. He decided to produce his own platform, “to portray what the government believes is most important” for ensuring public safety. He stressed that the video was made “from our standpoint,” and not what media like state broadcaster NRK, TV2 or newspapers VG, Dagbladet, Aftenposten or others want to highlight.
Anundsen, who was once filmed burning an issue of his hometown newspaper Tønsbergs Blad because he disagreed with its coverage, has thus been accused of suggesting that he’s sorry Norway has a critical free press. Jensen, leader of the country’s top editors, also called it “unwittingly comical” because Anundsen made it look like he was a reporter interviewing everyone from Oslo’s police chief to prison officials and others who in fact report to him. “Then of course you’re going to get the answers you want to hear,” Jensen said.
Making the rounds
In the video, which ironically intersperses clips of actual TV news stories that the minister apparently liked, Anundsen visits the “secret garage” of the new anti-terror preparedness troops and their leader, who displays and talks about their special equipment, vehicles, uniforms and operations of the unit. “So we can all feel a bit safer now?” Anundsens asks in a clearly leading question. He predictably receives an affirmative answer.
Anundsen also boasts of increased police presence on the streets, gets Oslo Police Chief Hans Sverre Sjøvold to talk about how the crime rate has declined and raves about an “incredible” improvement in crime statistics since he and the rest of the coalition government (led by the Conservatives) took office two years ago. Anundsen also visits Oslo ‘s main prison, shows how new jail cells were built within existing facilities and how a net was strung over the prison exercise yard, to end a decades-long problem of prisoners’ friends tossing drugs and other items over the fence. Anundsen then heads up to a holding center for foreigners illegally in Norway that’s about to be expanded, before proudly detailing how many illegal aliens have been forcibly deported in the past year.
While criticism was flung at him all day, even in the form of another quickly produced video aimed at satirizing Anundsen’s “propaganda,” Anundsen maintained that his “information video” was not problematic. He calmly defended it on NRK’s morning political debate program Politisk kvarter.
“I think its entirely non-problematic that the ministry of justice and preparedness puts forth what has been done during the past two years, and that I am the one to present it,” Anundsen said. He also contended that all the underlings he interviewed “would have answered exactly the same” if an NRK reporter has posed the same questions he did. He claimed the video was straightforward, purely informational in nature and that “portraying what is in fact the situation … is important.”
‘Doesn’t come close to the truth’
Union officials representing police and prison employees claimed the video was far from “non-problematic,” and strongly disagreed that Anundsen had actually portrayed the facts. “We lack several billion kroner for the police in Norway today,” thundered Sigve Bolstad, head of Politiets Fellesforbund, to NRK. “That doesn’t come forward in the justice minister’s boastful video.”
Bolstad, who heads police officers’ biggest union, claimed there was instead a “crisis” within the operating budgets of police districts in Norway. “It’s not illegal to make a promotional video,” he told NRK, “but what we want to get across is that the situation for the police is not the same as what was said about the preparedness troops. There is definitely too little money.”
The head of the union representing workers at Oslo Prison was also upset. “Anundsen says in the video’s introduction that it would be informative and based on facts, but it doesn’t come close to the truth,” Farukh Qureshi, leader of Oslo fengselsfunksjonærers forening told newspaper Dagbladet. “It’s upsetting that he would even dare to boast … when the prison workers have so many challenges with operating funds, staffing, and threats of violence every day.”