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Danish ombudsman criticises ministers' refusal to grant interviews re Iraq war

category international | anti-war / imperialism | news report author Wednesday June 06, 2007 18:27author by Coilín ÓhAiseadhaauthor address Co. Cill Dara, Éire.author phone 086 060 3818 Report this post to the editors

Prime minister Fogh again refuses to grant interview to award-winning reporter

In a statement published on his website on Friday 1 June, the Danish parliamentary ombudsman has criticised both prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and foreign minister Per Stig Møller for refusing to grant an interview to award-winning journalist Bo Elkjær regarding their reasons for invading Iraq.

Despite the ombudsman's criticism, the prime minister has again refused to grant Elkjær an interview.

Bo Elkjær shared Denmark's most prestigious journalism award, the Cavling Prize, for his coverage in 2003 of the Danish government's decision to participate in the invasion of Iraq. In his acceptance speech at the awards ceremony in Copenhagen in January 2004, Elkjær denounced Fogh and Møller's decision to go to war and subsequently engaged in a heated face-to-face discussion with the prime minister, where he emphasised evidence that the prime minister had lied about the grounds on which he had decided to invade Iraq.

Elkjær has written to his prime minister and foreign minister by e-mail almost every day since August 2005 to ask pointed questions about Denmark's participation in the invasion and to request an interview, but the two ministers have refused to grant such interview.

(See Bo Elkjær's blog (in Danish) here: http://www.ebblog.dk/430/ )

And, in fact, despite the ombudsman's criticism, Fogh has now again refused to grant Elkjær an interview.

In a statement published on the website of the prime minister's office on Friday, an official at the ministry states that the ministry does not consider itself obliged to grant an interview, that the prime "has nothing further to add in relation to the replies he has given in parliament and to the public about the topic". In response to the ombudsman's request for a specific explanation for why the ministry refuses to grant Elkjær an interview, the official repeats the view that "it is up to the prime minister to decide whether the prime minister wishes to grant an interview or not".

See the ombudsman's criticism (in Danish) here:
http://www.ombudsmanden.dk/nyt_og_presse/alle/interview...irak/

See the prime minister's office's most recent refusal (in Danish) here:
http://www.statsministeriet.dk/Index/dokumenter.asp?o=3...8&s=1

Please see also previous coverage of this story, here on Indymedia:
Danish PM uses "powers of discretion" to blacklist prize-winning journalist
http://www.indymedia.ie/article/76023

author by Coilínpublication date Mon Jun 11, 2007 00:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

In an interview with the Danish centre-left daily, Politiken, Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has declared that it is a matter of his own "personal freedom" whether or not to grant an interview to any given journalist - including Ekstra Bladet's award-winning reporter, Bo Elkjær.

”It is an infringement of my personal freedom if I myself may not decide who I will speak to on a day-to-day basis,” Mr Fogh says.

Furthermore, he has "not blacklisted any media". Specifically, it seems, Mr Fogh has not “blacklisted” the award-winning journalist, Bo Elkjær; he is just exercising his "personal freedom" to refuse to speak to him.

In the Danish ombudsman’s press statement of Friday 1 June, when he recommended that Mr Fogh either grant Elkjær an interview or explain his refusal, the ombudsman made NO MENTION AT ALL of the prime minister's personal freedoms. The ombudsman completely overlooked the fact that his recommendation to grant Elkjær an interview might constitute an infringement of the prime minister's personal freedom.

Politiken's report provides no information as to whether Mr Fogh thinks that his position as prime minister involves any obligations that might in any way limit his personal freedom.

Would it be a matter of "personal freedom" if the prime minister refused to turn up for a meeting in the parliament's political-economic committee, for example? Would it be an infringement of the prime minister’s personal freedom to be subjected to unpleasant questions from the opposition?

Would it be a matter of "personal freedom" if Mr Fogh decided not to turn up for work on Wednesdays? Does he have the "personal freedom" to refuse to turn up at his office at all?

If so, is he still entitled to receive his salary?

In his interview with Politiken, Mr Fogh offers no answers to any of these questions. Perhaps the journalists asked Mr Fogh all of these questions, but he refused to answer?

Please read my translation of the free prime minister's interview, below.

Best,
Coilín.

.

5 June 2007 at 16:07
Fogh: I speak to whoever I want to

Despite a recommendation from the Danish ombudsman and criticism from the opposition, the Prime Minister still refuses to grant an interview to [Danish evening paper] Ekstra Bladet about the Iraq war.

By Nilas Nordberg Heinskou and Mikael Børsting

...

I decide for myself
But Anders Fogh Rasmussen insists that he will not meet the journalist.

“I completely reject this criticism. This case is fundamentally a matter of whether I myself may decide where, how and to whom I grant interviews, and of course I have a right to decide that myself,” says Anders Fogh Rasmussen to politiken.dk.

The prime minister rejects the thought that he is undermining the authority of the ombudsman. He refers to the fact that a report some years ago gave ministers broad discretion to decide to whom and when they grant interviews.

”It is an infringement of my personal freedom if I myself may not decide who I will speak to on a day-to-day basis,” he says.

Nobody has been blacklisted
Anders Fogh Rasmussen emphasises that he “in principle” acts according to the ombudsman’s decisions, and he has indeed reconsidered the ombudsman’s recommendation, but he has actually reached the conclusion that he will still not speak to Bo Elkjær.

“I have not blacklisted any media. But it’s a bit much to say that I shouldn’t decide like other people who I will speak to,” he said.

Read the full article in Danish here:
http://politiken.dk/indland/article319428.ece

author by Coilínpublication date Fri Jun 08, 2007 00:36author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The report below was released by the Danish news service, Ritzau's Bureau, and published by the "liberal" broadsheet Jyllands-Posten on 3 June.

Best,
Coilín.

****

Jyllands-Posten East | 03.06.2007 | JP | Page 7 (Domestic) | 136 words

Søvndal demands answers from Fogh in interview case

Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen (Liberal) will now have to explain to the Danish parliament why he and foreign minister Per Stig Møller (Conservative) are defying a recommendation from the Ombudsman to grant an interview about the Iraq war to (Danish evening newspaper) Ekstra Bladet’s Bo Elkjær.

The chairman of the Socialist People’s Party, Villy Søvndal, is calling Anders Fogh Rasmussen to consultation in the parliament’s political-economic committee, after Ombudsman Hans Gammeltoft-Hansen has not been able to find any objective reason why the two ministers for four years have denied the award-winning journalist such an interview.

“This is an extremely important case and a matter of fundamental principles, becausee it is not an inferior journalist on an insignificant medium, but a highly respected journalist on a national medium, who is attempting to uncover the truth about the most far-reaching foreign policy decision in recent Danish history,” says Villy Søvndal.

...

/ritzau/

*****

Ritzau's Bureau:
http://www.ritzau.dk/english/

author by Coilínpublication date Fri Jun 08, 2007 00:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors


As it is an extremely unusual, and indeed historic development in Danish politics - not to say a blow to the fundamental principles of Danish democracy - that the Prime Minister should choose to defy the Ombudsman, I have translated the key paragraphs in Mr. Fogh's response to the Ombudsman's criticism below. (NB: The Ombudsman is referred to by his full title of "Parliamentary Commissioner for Civil and Military Administration in Denmark".)

Please note how bluntly the Prime Minister insists on taking his own interpretation of the rules, despite recommendations to the contrary by an official who has been appointed to make recommendations in such matters.

This act of defiance by the Prime Minister brings the very institution of the Ombudsman into question. The conflict amounts to a constitutional crisis, where the Prime Minister refuses to be bound by the rules of the Parliament (represented by the Ombudsman).

Best,
Coilín.

****

1 June 2007

Renewed decision re interview

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Civil and Military Administration in Denmark (i.e. the Danish Ombudsman) has recommended that the Prime Minister’s Office reopen its processing of Bo Elkjær’s requests for interviews with the Prime Minister.

In light of this, this office has reopened the case and has today sent the attached decision to Bo Elkjær with a copy to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Civil and Military Administration in Denmark.

***

PRIME MINISTER’S OFFICE
CHRISTIANSBORG
Prins Jørgens Gård 11, 1218 Copenhagen K
Telephone 33 92 33 00 - Telefax 33 11 16 65
REG. NO. 10-10-39-40
EAN location number 5798000000032

Date: 1 June 2007
J.no. 230-0178
Case proc.: Legal section

Bo Elkjær
Ekstra Bladet
Frederiksgade 33
8000 Aarhus C

With reference to your repeated requests for interviews in the period from August 2006 to yesterday’s date, as well as correspondence of 31 May 2007 from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Civil and Military Administration in Denmark to you and to the Prime Minister’s Office ... the Prime Minister’s Office shall state as follows:

...

The Prime Minister’s Office has most recently by means of correspondence of 31 May 2007 informed you that, following a specific assessment, it has been decided that your requests for interviews cannot be met, as this office can still refer to the fact that the Prime Minister has nothing further to add in relation to the responses he has provided in the parliament and to the public on the subject, and with which you are already familiar. However, in his statement of 31 May 2007, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Civil and Military Administration in Denmark has, as mentioned, asked the Prime Minister’s Office in the event of continued refusal to account for the reasons on which this office has placed weight.

On this basis, it may be stated that there lies in the very broad judgement to which reference is made in among other things the Prime Minister’s Office’s statement of 24 January 2007, cf. report 1443/2004 re officials’ advice and assistance, p. 246, that it rests with the Prime Minister to decide whether the Prime Minister wishes to grant an interview or not. This very broad judgement is limited among other things by the condition that in the judgement weight may not be placed on subjective considerations.

Consequently, the Prime Minister’s Office has, after renewed submission to the Prime Minister, decided not to accommodate your request for interviews.

Yours sincerely,
Karsten Dybvad

Copy to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Civil and Military Administration in Denmark with reference to journal number. 2006-3446-450

****

Please see Danish original on the website of the Danish Prime Minister's Office here:
http://www.stm.dk/Index/dokumenter.asp?o=3&n=0&h=3&t=13...8&s=1

author by Edward Horgan - Irish Peace and Neutrality Alliance publication date Thu Jun 07, 2007 23:45author address author phone Report this post to the editors

What has been happening in Denmark has important implications for Irish politicians who have been complicit in Ireland's participation in the Iraq war. So far there has been a virtual conspiracy of silence by the media and even by opposition politicians during the election campaign, to avoid any mention of US military use of Shannon airport, in case such an issues might endanger the politician's chances of joining the power gravy-train.
Ireland bears a proportionate responsibilty for the deaths and destruction in Iraq due to the unlawful war for which Shannon airport was used as one of the key military logistic hubs.
In time actuarial experts will be needed to calculate the exact proportion of liability that falls on all the participating states in the Iraq war, including Ireland.
Even if we place Ireland's role in the Iraq war at as little as 1% (my estimate on Ireland's degree of responsibility would be in the region of 5%), then at 1% Ireland has been responsible for the deaths, proportionally, of at least 6,550 Iraqi people, and several billion dollars in collateral property and infrastructure damage.
Reparations alone can never bring back to life all those we have helped to kill in Iraq, but accountablity, and the need to challange impunity is essential, in terms of upholding international law, and even upholding Irish criminal law. It is crime in Ireland to assist in or conspire with others to cause the unlawful deaths of people of people outside the jurisdiction of the Irish state, especially when Irish territory, particularly Shannon airport has been used as a vital link in the chain of criminality that caused the deaths of well over 655,000 people in Iraq.
While many the issues involved in Ireland's complicity in the Iraq war are complex, behind Ireland's participation has been the single issue of old fashioned greed and cold blooded murder, and most the senior politicians that we are now about to put back into Government in Ireland have been guilty of complicity in crimes against humanity, and murder.

author by Coilínpublication date Thu Jun 07, 2007 22:56author address author phone Report this post to the editors


As the Prime Minister's Office is clearly defying the Danish ombudsman by again refusing point-blank to grant Bo Elkjær an interview, and as the same office has given no explanation as to why this particular journalist has been denied an interview, but has only repeated its view that the Prime Minister is free to deny any request for an interview, Bo Elkjær has asked the ombudsman to reopen his case. Please see my translation below.

Best,
Coilín.

Aarhus, 5 June 2007

Parliamentary Commissioner for Civil and Military Administration in Denmark
Ombudsman Hans Gammeltoft-Hansen
Gammeltorv 22, 1457 Copenhagen K

J.no.: 2006-3446-450

Re complaint about Prime Minister's blacklisting

With reference to the decision of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Civil and Military Administration in Denmark in the case cf. letter of 31 May 2007 and with reference to the Prime Minister’s Office’s clear refusal to follow the Commissioner’s recommendation, cf. Prime Minister’s Office’s letter of 1 June 2007, I hereby request the Commissioner to reopen the case concerning the Prime Minister’s Office’s blacklisting of the undersigned,

Yours sincerely,
Bo Elkjær, journalist
Ekstra Bladet
Frederiksgade 33
8000 Aarhus C

author by Coilínpublication date Wed Jun 06, 2007 18:34author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Ask the Danish prime minister why he invaded Iraq,
and ask him to grant Bo Elkjær an interview:

Anders Fogh Rasmussen
The Prime Minister's Office
Christiansborg
Prins Jørgens Gård 11
1218 Copenhagen K
Denmark.

Phone +45 33 92 33 00
Fax +45 33 11 16 65
E-mail stm@stm.dk

*****

Ask the Danish foreign minister why he invaded Iraq,
and ask him to grant Bo Elkjær an interview:

Per Stig Moeller
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark
2, Asiatisk Plads
DK-1448 Copenhagen K
Denmark.

Tel. +45 33 92 00 00
Fax +45 32 54 05 33
E-mail um@um.dk

author by Coilínpublication date Wed Jun 06, 2007 18:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Ombudsman's criticism for not being willing to grant interview about the Iraq war

The Danish prime minister and foreign minister have repeatedly refused to grant interviews about the Iraq war to Bo Elkjær from Ekstra Bladet. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Civil and Military Administration in Denmark (i.e. Danish parliamentary ombudsman) expresses criticism of this to both ministries. However, criticism of the foreign ministry is provisional.

The Prime Minister's Office

On 26 September 2006, the Parliamentary Commissioner concluded the processing of a complaint from Bo Elkjær that the prime minister had refused to grant him an interview about the Iraq war. The Parliamentary Commissioner did not criticise the prime minister's office at that time, and among other things gave weight to information that the prime minister had not granted an interview about the Iraq war since March 2004. The fact that Bo Elkjær was not granted an interview could thus not be considered as discrimination.
Bo Elkjær subsequently applied to the Parliamentary Commissioner again with information that the prime minister's had granted an interview about the Iraq war in August 2006. This made the Parliamentary Commissioner reopen the case.
The Parliamentary Commissioner today states that the prime minister's office has in reality changed practice, as an interview about the Iraq war was granted in August 2006. After this change in practice, the prime minister's office should have provided specific factual grounds on which Bo Elkjær in particular could not have an interview.
The Parliamentary Commissioner requests the ministry to reopen the case with a view to offering Bo Elkjær an interview, or that the ministry in the event of a refusal specifically explain its reasons.

The Foreign Ministry

On 31 October 2006, the Parliamentary Commissioner asked the foreign ministry to provide a more detailed explanation for its reference to "lack of trust" as basis on which to reject Bo Elkjær's requests for an interview.
The foreign ministry gave two reasons to reject Bo Elkjær:
1) that it was considered that the foreign minister could not have confidence that his statements in connection with an interview would be reproduced faithfully in a subsequent article, and
2) fear that Bo Elkjær would use an interview with the minister as an occasion for further negative and critical coverage of the government's and the minister's handling of the case.

The Parliamentary Commissioner states in a provisional report that there is – in the material the foreign ministry has referred to – no basis for the foreign ministry's fear that Bo Elkjær will not cite the foreign minister faithfully. It is therefore the Parliamentary Commissioner's view that the ministry cannot give weight to such a risk in connection with the decision as to whether the foreign minister should participate in an interview with Bo Elkjær.
Nor does the Parliamentary Commissioner think that the foreign ministry can give weight to the assertion that Bo Elkjær will use an interview with the minister as an occasion for further critical coverage of the government and the minister's handling of the case. The fact that Bo Elkjær has a critical attitude to the authority cannot in itself constitute a lawful consideration.
The Parliamentary Commissioner is therefore inclined to ask the foreign ministry to reconsider Bo Elkjær's request for an interview with the foreign minister about the Iraq war. And this time consider the matter without involving the supposition of a risk that the minister's views will not be represented faithfully, or the risk that Bo Elkjær may use an interview with the minister for further negative and critical coverage of the government's and the minister's handling of the case.
However, before the Parliamentary Commissioner concludes processing of the case, the foreign ministry shall have an opportunity to present its remarks.

-

Rules for interviews

There exist no written legal rules about the authorities' obligations to grant interviews. The question is discussed in report 1443/2004 (Officials' advice and assistance) page 246, which states as follows:
"In the view of the committee, it must be supposed that the minister and the ministry are entitled to exercise broad judgement with regard to which interviews are granted. That is to say, there may be significant liberty with respect to whether a request to participate in an interview should be met.
When deciding whether a minister will participate in an interview with a particular journalist, the minister may also be entitled to give weight to, among other things, whether the minister through his/her personal familiarity has a special relationship of trust and confidentiality to the journalist."
However, in assessing whether the minister or the ministry shall participate in an interview, ministers and officials are subject to the ordinary administrative requirements for equality and factuality.
...
Contact parliamentary ombudsman Hans Gammeltoft-Hansen for further information:
Mobile: 40 43 45 43

See the ombudsman's original statement in Danish here:
http://www.ombudsmanden.dk/nyt_og_presse/alle/interview...irak/

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