DR criticised for fudging reality

In the past week, public broadcaster ‘guessed’ the content of a speech they had already read and put ‘protesters’ in place outside of a courtroom

Public broadcaster DR is under fire for a pair of decisions that have cast doubt on the legitimacy of its television news coverage. 


In the first incident, DR hosts Ask Rostrup and Klaus Bundgård Povlsen spent time 'guessing' about the content of PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt's upcoming televised New Year's address, even though DR – like all media outlets – had access to the speech hours beforehand. 


The speech itself was recorded two days prior to its broadcast and journalists had their hands on the content at least eight hours before it was aired to the nation. Nevertheless, DR1's coverage in the run-up to the speech featured Rostrup and Povlsen acting as if they were giving their own professional analysis of what themes the speech might contain. 


Rostrup defended the move as "a bit of theatre" carried out in deference to the viewers and in order to honour the speech's embargo. 


"A few years ago we told viewers that we had read the speech beforehand," Rostrup told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. "But most people found it incomprehensible that we said we had read the speech but could not tell what it contained because of the embargo."


But political analyst Jens Ringberg, who was featured on DR Update 'guessing' the content of the speech, apologised outright for misleading viewers.


"I knew very well what she was going to say, so it was silly to use the term 'I think'," Ringberg told Jyllands-Posten. "It was a mistake on my part and I would like to apologise."


The editor of DR's TV Avisen, Johan Engbo, also admitted that the station made a mistake. 


"It of course isn't right that we pretended something was real that was not," Engbo told Ritzau. "It is a relevant criticism and we've had a subsequent internal discussion about it."


But while DR was still dealing with the blowback over the New Year's speech, the broadcaster then made a decision that was "reprehensible" and "far worse", according to DR's news director Ulrik Haagerup. 


On Wednesday evening's 6:30pm and 9:30pm broadcasts, TV Avisen aired footage of angry demonstrators outside of the Hjørring Courthouse, where former employees of EBH Bank and Sparekassen Himmerland face charges of stock manipulation. 


The demonstrators, however, were driven to the courthouse by a production company that is making a documentary for DR. The producers outfitted the protesters with signs and directed them in how to behave for the cameras. 


In an internal memo obtained by Jyllands-Posten, Haagerup said that TV Avisen owed its viewers an explanation. 


"We aired it as if it was reality," Haagerup's memo read. "Now we can see that it was a constructed reality. That is of course completely reprehensible. And now we need to air corrections and a segment in TV Avisen tonight about how it could have gone so wrong."


"I don't think I have ever experienced anything so embarrassing and reprehensible as this, when a private production company, that does indeed work for DR, staged a demonstration in front of a public courthouse," Haagerup said in a statement on Friday. "It goes against both DR's own ethics and common journalistic decency." 


DR is a public broadcasting corporation funded by direct licence fee payments whose amount is set each year by the parliament. The fees, which grant access to television, radio and the Internet, stood at 196 kroner per month for each household in 2012.

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