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category international | anti-war / imperialism | news report author Sunday May 14, 2006 04:02author by Coilín Oscar ÓhAiseadhaauthor email aat2004 at mail dot dkauthor address Máigh Nuad, Co. Cill Dara Report this post to the editors

Journalist Bo Elkjær persists in complaints to Ombudsman

In a letter to the Ombudsman of the Danish Parliament, staff at the Danish Prime Minister's Office have invoked "very wide powers of discretion" under the legislation, to defend Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen's persistent refusal to be interviewed by prize-winning journalist Bo Elkjær.

In response, Elkjær points out that Fogh promised to give him an interview when they met at the offices of the Danish Union of Journalists in Copenhagen in January 2004. On that occasion, Elkjær had just been awarded the prestigious Cavling Prize for his work in exposing the lies by which Fogh and his cabinet persuaded the parliament to support Denmark's invasion of Iraq.

By Elkjær's account, staff at the Prime Minister's Office have made the excuse that Mr Fogh "did not have space in his calendar," even though Elkjær has given the Prime Minister's Office complete freedom to set the time and place for an interview. Fogh's staff have repeatedly failed to keep promises that they "would call back".

One of Elkjær's intentions for an interview is to ask why, at a press conference on 21 March 2003, Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen "emphasised a nuclear threat [from Iraq] that the government several days before, in an internal paper, had clearly and unequivocally rejected."

"It is clear from the records of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the government had several days previously arrived at the definitive conclusion that Iraq did not have a nuclear weapons programme, or indeed any nuclear programme at all," says Elkjær.

Please read Billy O'Shea's translation of the latest exchange below.

Subject: ... Letter from the Ombudsman re complaint about blacklisting by the Prime Minister's Office
Date: Sun, 16 Apr 2006

Parliamentary Commissioner for Civil and Military Administration in Denmark
[Ombudsman of the Danish Parliament]
Gammeltorv 22, 1457 Copenhagen K
Tel +45 33 13 25 12. Fax +45 33 13 07 17

Date 7 Apr. 2006
J.no.: 2006-0446-450
...

Ekstra Bladet
Bo Elkjær
Frederiksgade 33
DK-8000 Aarhus C

Regarding your complaint concerning the rejection by the Prime Minister's Office of your request for an interview on the war in Iraq

I enclose a copy of a letter of 4 April 2006 from the Prime Minister's Office.

If you should have any comments on this statement, please send them to me within four weeks.

If I do not hear from you, I will seek to handle the matter on the basis of the available data.

Yours sincerely,
on behalf of the Ombudsman

Henrik Vædele Elmquist

../. Appendices:

Seven appendices brought by courier

Prime Minister's Office
Christiansborg
Prins Jørgens Gård 11, DK-1218 Copenhagen K
Tel. +45 33 92 33 00 – Fax +45 33 11 16 65
...

Date: 4 APR. 2006
J.no. 230-0178
Case handler: CHK/Legal Affairs

Parliamentary Commissioner for Civil and Military Administration in Denmark
Gammel Torv 22
DK-1457 Copenhagen K

In a letter of 13 February 2006 - j.no. 2006-446-998/HVE - the Ombudsman directed a request to the Prime Minister's Office for a statement in connection with a complaint from Ekstra Bladet/Bo Elkjær of 5 February 2006 regarding the reply of the Prime Minister's Office to Bo Elkjær's complaint to the Ombudsman of 28 November 2005 regarding inquiries from Bo Elkjær for an interview with the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister's Office was moreover requested to: "comment on Bo Elkjær's remark that the Prime Minister has repeatedly participated in interviews on the war in Iraq in other media, but that the Prime Minister's Office, according to Bo Elkjær, had "blacklisted" Ekstra Bladet."

In this respect, the Prime Minister's Office wishes to state the following:

1. The Prime Minister's Office remarks to begin with that the Office continually receives a large number of enquiries, both verbal and written, for interviews with the Prime Minister, including requests for interviews on the war in Iraq. The Prime Minister's Office assesses these requests on an ongoing basis, including the enquiries from Bo Elkjær and the specific question which Elkjær in this connection forwarded to the Prime Minister regarding the war in Iraq. It is not possible to accommodate all the enquiries for interviews received by the Prime Minister's Office.

2. The Prime Minister's Office remarks that in accordance with white paper no. 1443 on the guidance and assistance provided by civil servants to the government and its ministers, it must be assumed that the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister's Office possess very wide powers of discretion concerning the interviews in which they desire to participate. It is thus the view of the Prime Minister's Office that there is no obligation on the Prime Minister to accommodate Bo Elkjær's request for an interview.

3. The Prime Minister's Office cannot confirm that the Prime Minister has "repeatedly participated in interviews on the war in Iraq with a wide range of media". The Prime Minister's Office notes that the Prime Minister has given extremely few interviews on the war in Iraq, and that all of these have taken place prior to March 2004.

The Prime Minister's contact with the press, however, is not limited to actual interviews. The Prime Minister answers questions from many media on various occasions - for example in connection with the weekly press conference at the Prime Minister's Office, or at other public events - which are subsequently quoted in the relevant media. Thus, the fact that statements by the Prime Minister have been quoted in connection with the war in Iraq, for example, cannot be taken to mean that the Prime Minister has participated in actual interviews about the war in Iraq.

4. The Prime Minister's Office emphasises that the Office is in no way denying Bo Elkjær information on the war in Iraq. The Prime Minister's Office has received requests under the freedom of information act, relating to the war in Iraq from Bo Elkjær on an ongoing basis. The Prime Minister's Office has answered all of these requests, and has in this connection provided a very large amount of material for Elkjær's use.

The case documentation is enclosed, and the Prime Minister's Office remarks that the Office has enclosed only that part of the material pertaining to the Prime Minister's Office and concerning Bo Elkjær's requests for an interview. In the event that the Ombudsman is also interested in receiving material concerning Bo Elkjær's requests for freedom of information relating to the war in Iraq, including the delivered material, the Prime Minister's Office awaits notification of this.

Yours sincerely,

Karsten Dybvad

author by Coilínpublication date Sun May 14, 2006 04:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Subject: Remarks to Prime Minister’s Office’s letter re blacklisting
Date: Tue, 18 Apr 2006
From: Bo Elkjær
To: um@um.dk,
permol@um.dk,
ombudsmanden@ombudsmanden.dk,
"Statsministeriet" stm@stm.dk

18 Apr. 2006
J.no.: 2006-0446-450

Parliamentary Commissioner for Civil and Military Administration in Denmark
[Ombudsman of the Danish Parliament]
Gammeltorv 22, DK-1457 Copenhagen K

Dear Ombudsman Hans Gammeltoft-Hansen,

I would like to append the following remarks to the letter of the Prime Minister's Office of 4 April 2006 regarding the blacklisting of this Ekstra Bladet journalist.

Re 1: Since 2003, I have continually requested interviews with the Prime Minister regarding the war in Iraq. In the process I have been repeatedly rejected in various ways, amongst other things with the justification that the Prime Minister "did not have space in his calendar" - an answer that is revealed by the fact that the Prime Minister's Office was free to set the time and place for the interview. I have repeatedly been promised that the Prime Minister's Office "would call back", without this having occurred. I notice that telephone enquiries for interviews have not been included in the document lists forwarded by the Prime Minister's Office in connection with requests under the freedom of information act for these. I have been asked to enquire again at a later date; most recently I was told in June 2005 that I "could ask again after the summer holidays". All in all, the reactions of the Prime Minister's Office until the autumn of 2005 give the impression of pure delaying tactics towards the enquiries and an attempt to wear down the enquirer. Since the autumn of 2005, the reactions have consisted of plain, open rejection.

Re 2, 3: The Prime Minister has personally promised to participate in an interview on the war in Iraq. The fact that the Prime Minister's Office now refers to white paper no. 1443 and the possibility of "very wide powers of discretion" concerning the interviews in which the Prime Minister does not wish to participate merely shows the embarrassing nature of the blacklisting by the Prime Minister's Office. The Prime Minister's Office remarks that the Prime Minister has not participated in interviews on the war in Iraq since March 2004. I have been enquiring about an interview since the summer of 2003, and the Prime Minister's personal promise of an interview was given at the award of the Cavling Prize by the Danish Union of Journalists at the union’s offices in Copenhagen in January 2004.

It is also completely absurd of the Prime Minister's Office to state that the Prime Minister has not participated in interviews on the war since March 2004. The relevance of questions about the war is hardly in doubt, since Danish soldiers remain posted in Iraq, negotiations are taking place concerning the mandate for their mission, Danish soldiers have been killed in action since March 2004, and last but not least, a comprehensive investigation is taking place into the claims that formed the original basis for the decision to participate in the military action to disarm Iraq, namely that the country was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. The conclusions of this comprehensive investigation have largely received their first publication after March 2004. The fact that the Prime Minister's Office now states that the nation's Prime Minister has had his head buried in the sand like an ostrich since March 2004 is a poor argument for not participating in a interview regarding these matters.

Re 4: This entire farce regarding the promised but then shelved interview reveals a failure in democracy. The fact is that the Prime Minister's Office is denying information to the public by systematic sabotage, delaying tactics and other means which have obstructed attempts by the public to gain an insight into the government's rationale for going to war.

A specific example: On 21 March 2003, during a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office, Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen laid weight on the risk of Iraq gaining nuclear weapons within a short period of time as an important reason for the government's decision to join the coalition behind the military action to disarm Iraq. It is clear from the records of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the government had several days previously arrived at the definitive conclusion that Iraq did not have a nuclear weapons programme, or indeed any nuclear programme at all.

As stated in the questions I forwarded to the Prime Minister's Office in connection with the interview requests, my hope with the interview is amongst many other things to clarify why Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen lied at the press conference and emphasised a nuclear threat that the government several days before, in an internal paper, had clearly and unequivocally rejected.

The only reaction of the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister's Office to these questions to date has been that they have "nothing further to add" - a claim which is in clear contradiction with the statement of the Prime Minister's Office in a letter of 4 April 2006 that the Prime Minister's Office "is in no way denying Bo Elkjær information on the war in Iraq".

Should the Ombudsman be interested in examining detailed material regarding my requests for an interview, I will be happy to provide tape recordings as well as written documentation.

Yours sincerely,

Bo Elkjær,
journalist, Ekstra Bladet

 
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