Investigating powerful institutions and public figures plays an important part in the professional ideology of journalism. Exposing circumstances that create scandals help news organisations strengthen their legitimacy, and sometimes result in journalistic awards. In certain contexts journalistic investigations provide us with new knowledge about goings on in the hidden corridors of power, insights that can strengthen open, democratic debates. A society without any revelations that voters interpret as scandalous may be symptomatic of authoritarian control and a lack of press freedom. According to the sociologist Jeffrey Alexander (1988), journalists are taking in the responsibility of restoring the moral order of society.
It would, however, be naïve to interpret any mediated scandal as strengthening democratic processes. Sometimes scandal reports reveal transgressions of norms that from a political point of view are quite trivial and after some time are easily forgotten by the public. The distinction between the important and the irrelevant may then be blurred. Democratic values are not necessarily enhanced when elected leaders, after days or weeks of media hunts, are pressed to resign before those who have elected them have a chance to influence the outcome. Neither do unilateral media campaigns that include tendencies of demonization create an ideal climate for reasoning and public debate.
For a long time the Nordic region was regarded a scandal-free zone compared with other parts of Western Europe and the US. Commenting well-known political corruption cases in Western Germany in the 1980s, John Logue (1988: 261), for example, added that the Scandinavian labour movements and governments “are virtually free of such embarrassments”. Nobody would award such a political and moral certificate today.
An analysis of national, political scandals in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland covering the period 1980 – 2009, confirms that political scandals have gradually become a more regular feature in news media coverage, but with a low increase throughout the first two decades. The significant increase comes in 2000-2009, with a level nearly three times higher than in the first two decades (Allern, Kantola, Pollack & Blach-Ørsten, 2012). In this article we will present some of the results from this Nordic study and compare them with a new analysis of national political scandals in two of the countries, Sweden and Norway, in the following five years (2010-2014). Three questions will be addressed: Is there still an increased incidence of mediated scandals over time? In a societal context, how important are the norm violations? What have been the consequences for scandalized politicians?
Köln: Herbert von Halem Verlag, 2016. 146-164 p.
Nordic political scandals, Sweden and Norway 2010-2014, increased frequency, differents types of scandals, personal behaviour, consequences