3 Swedish Journalists Charged with Crime after Buying Gun for Undercover Story

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Expressen's editor-in-chief Thomas Mattsson recently addressed charges filed against him and two others at the newspaper. (Credit: Expressen.se)

The Swedish police have filed charges against Swedish newspaper editor Thomas Mattsson after he had a reporter illegally buy a gun for a story, Swedish news site the Local reported.  The reporter, Diamant Salihu, and the news desk chief Andrew Johansson were also charged.

According to Dagens Media, Mattsson is charged with “incitement to commit weapons offenses.”  Mattsson told iMediaEthics by e-mail that Johansson is charged with the same crime as he was, and Salihu is charged with “weapons offence.”  Mattsson explained to iMediaEthics that they have “absolutely no idea” concerning what timeline this case will follow, but perhaps not until late next year.  He added that lawyers are appealing the charges.

The reporter bought the gun “to show how easy it was to obtain a firearm in Sweden,” according to the Local.  Mattsson, Expressen‘s editor, defended the buy in an  interview with Dagens Nyheter, according to the Local.  He said:

“If journalists can’t work under cover, investigative journalism is robbed of one of its most important opportunities for unveiling wrongdoings.”  While Mattsson claimed that “there was absolultely no intent” and the buy was to see how well police are upholding laws, Swedish prosecutor Jörgen Larsson said that ‘there’s a public interest in clarifying whether this is criminal or not.'”

Expressen published a Dec. 27 article about the charges.  According to that article, Mattsson argued that the undercover purchasing of the gun was “a good example of investigative journalism” and the gun was bought “to submit it to the police as evidence of how easy it is to buy illegal weapons.” Mattson explained the gun would “immediately be handed over to the authorities.”

This is the article in question. It was published Oct. 25, 2010.  The article notes that Mattson OK’ed the gun buy and details the five hours that it took to find and buy a gun.  According to the article, after buying the gun, the newspaper’s reporter got in touch with the police.

Mattsson a pointed to Journalisten‘s editor-in-chief Helena Giertta’s article on the charges.  Journalisten is the Sweden’s journalists union’s magazine.  Giertta  argued that Expressen was acting in the public interest.  See her article here.    Mattsson also directed us to the case of Icelandic journalist Jóhannes Kr. Kristjánsson, who conducted a similar undercover buy, turn in to police and article.  Expressen wrote  Dec. 29 about the way Swedish police are reacting to Expressen’s undercover buy compared with the way Icelandic police reacted to Kristjánsson’s 2007 buy.  According to Kristjánsson, he was “thanked” by police for his work.  He added that “to prosecute for something like this is just to shoot the messenger.”

Mattsson also sent us a statement concerning the incident and charges, published in full below:

“What Expressen did was classic investigative journalism: during the Autumn of 2010 a gun man was firing at innocent people, and killing some,, day after day in the third largest city in Sweden. Cabinet ministers and party leaders headed to Malmoe, as did the world media organizations, and police chiefs and politicians claimed that illegal guns was ‘all over Malmoe’. They demanded tougher laws, and what we did was to check their statements: could an illegal gun be as easy bought as claimed? It was. Our reporter got hold of a gun within 24 hours and handed it over to the police. Our two-day story, with quotes from customs and police officers as well as from criminals, was well received.”

“And then, out of the blue, an police investigation was launched – againts the paper. I have to admit we were pretty surprised, since many Swedish newspapers including Expressen has been buying weapons and narcotics and giving it to the police before. Many critics here says that the prosecutor has “attacked journalism” and I agree, but I suppose this still offers me and the newspaper some great oppurtunities to talk about our investigative journalism.”

“Mind you, during 2011 Expressen won the first prize in the INMA Awards, along with New York Times and Times of India, for our political coverage and some time ago the Swedish Newspapers Association gave us the “Newspaper Staff of the Year”-award. So given that we have some 1.7 million readers per day we still look back at 2011 as a good year.”

Hat Tip: The Guardian

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3 Swedish Journalists Charged with Crime after Buying Gun for Undercover Story

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