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Growing challenges to Danish press freedom

Press manager at SAS in Denmark Mariam Skovfoged talks with media as SAS pilots go on strike at Copenhagen Airport in Kastrup, DenmarkPhilip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix via REUTERS

In a new Journalist Fellow paper, James Miles, from Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet, outlines how Denmark, widely regarded as one the best places in the world for press freedom, has seen a steady erosion in the freedom of the journalists to scrutinise the actions of their government.

Miles writes: "Certain democratic freedoms of the press are under pressure, and politicians are beginning to flesh out what some experts see as baby steps on a path towards undoing the power of the fourth estate."

Measures cited in the paper, titled Pushback: Democracies delegitimising a free presswhich he believes are troubling include a rolling back of Freedom of Information laws which has made certain official documents off limits to the media. Miles points to several cases, including a major story from the 2011 general election regarding the tax returns of prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s husband, Stephen Kinnock (a UK Member of Parliament), that would not have come to light under the revised FOI laws.

The paper suggests that such measures are having a fundamental impact on the ability for journalists to report in an accurate and timely manner: "Instead, editors and journalists are forced to make use of the more laborious and arbitrary process of dealing with whistleblowers or relying on help from anonymous government sources. Whilst all well and entirely within the toolbox of traditional investigative journalism, this process relies on the cooperation and risk taking by a third party."

As well as transparency restrictions, journalism is struggling in Denmark to cope with the massive changes to the industry. One estimate cited in the paper shows the number of journalists shrunk by 13% in just five years to 2012. Public broadcaster Danish Radio has plans to shrink its workforce by 20%. This has coincided with a rise in communications professionals across government not only for legitimate reasons but "also frequently to de-legitimise the actions and structures of the free press."

Though Miles recognises that Denmark offers a far more welcoming media environment than in many countries - something that became more apparent to him during his time at the Reuters Institute, with other Journalist Fellows hailing from countries with extremely challenging circumstances for the press - he believes "things are gradually but noticeably beginning to slide backwards in the otherwise benign settings of the Danish democracy".

Read full paper >>