Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister Erna Solberg has reportedly been too busy preparing for this week’s state budget conference to answer questions about a highly controversial and promotional video prepared by her justice minister, Anders Anundsen from the Progress Party. Top politicians in parliament claim, however, that she’ll have to respond.
At issue is whether Anundsen should have used state funds, his own time and that of several top civil servants to brag about the accomplishments the justice ministry has made under his leadership. He created and starred in a 32-minute video, in which he poses as a reporter interviewing police, prison and other bureaucrats about their various successes. In the video, Anundsen also takes some jabs at the critical press, and openly claims that he wanted to offer information about ministry operations on his own terms. The video was published on the government’s state-funded website, right in the midst of the municipal election campaign, and newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Wednesday that Anundsen’s own party is using it in its political campaign.
Solberg to be held accountable
The video has been blasted as “propaganda” and met a torrent of criticism in Parliament, from other political parties and, not surprisingly, media experts and commentators. Anundsen has expressed “surprise” over the furious reaction to his project but claims he has no regrets. “I think it’s important that folks get information about what they’re getting in return for their tax money,” he told news bureau NTB late Tuesday, after the video had also stirred a storm of controversy on social media.
Now Solberg is being called on the carpet to account for her minister’s project. “There are two things the prime minister must clarify,” Martin Kolberg of the opposition Labour Party, who leads the parliament’s disciplinary and investigatory committee, told newspaper VG. “The first is whether she supports the use of the state apparatus for this video. The second is if she shares the views the justice minister has about the Norwegian press.”
No support from Solberg’s support parties
Leaders of the government’s own support parties have railed against Anundsen’s video and the views he expressed in it. Liberal Party leader Trine Skei Grande told website dn.no that she had already sent a letter to Solberg demanding answer to several questions about Anundsen’s “propaganda” project. Her deputy leader Ola Elvestuen has demanded that the video be removed from the government’s website, regjeringen.no (external link) while Knut Arild Hareide of the Christian Democrats and other Members of Parliament suggested that Anundsen needs to learn to accept criticism and support a critical press as a fundamental part of democracy, not bash it.
Anundsen said he does not want to remove the video from his ministry’s website and was also suprised that the video was seen as so critical of the press. He said he saw no difference between making an “information video” and putting out written information on the government’s website. He also said he thought it was “sad” that reaction was directed at the video itself, and not its content, and that it was seen as an “attack on the free press.”