Rail operator paid PR company to keep critical journalist busy

Politicians line up to chastise DSB for using state funding to attempt to silence a reporter

DSB paid a PR company to keep a journalist occupied with work so he wouldn’t have time to write critical stories about the state-owned train operator, DR reports.

The relationship was exposed in an email sent by PR firm Waterfront to DSB deputy head Peder Nedergaard Nielsen, which was obtained by the state broadcaster’s news programme ‘21 Søndag’.

“The bureau has been working together with [Lars] Abild for several years to ensure that he desists from placing pressure on DSB in the media,” the email stated.

According to DR, Abild was unaware that the work he had been given by Waterfront over the past two years was being paid for by DSB.

“It’s clear they used up time that I could have spent doing other things,” Abild told DR. “I think it’s crazy that DSB was willing to start such an agreement.”

Abild’s critical coverage of DSB included stories of its failed attempt to break into the Swedish market with DSBFirst, which cost the company hundreds of millions of kroner, as well as its disastrous attempt to buy the specially designed IC4 trains from Italian firm AnsaldoBreda, which had been delayed for almost a decade.

In an email to DR, Waterfront’s managing director, Lars Poulsen, denied ever entering into the agreement.

“I also have to deny that Waterfront ever received money in order to limit Lars Abild in his journalistic exploits,” Poulsen wrote.

Aalborg university legal expert Sten Bønsig, argued that DSB acted illegally by paying a PR firm to employ a journalist for work not connected to the state-owned business.

“It’s quite clear that they tried to tie up a journalist by paying for him to be employed by a media agency so he could no longer write about DSB,” Bønsig told DR. “I think that it is an illegal goal.”

According to DR, during the period when Abild was doing work for Waterfront, the number of freedom of information act requests DSB received fell significantly.

DSB has previously used similar methods to hinder Abild’s stories. In 2009, DSB was found to have told DR, just as it was about to air a critical report written by Abild, that he was being paid by Arriva, a DSB competitor. The allegation led to the report being delayed, but was later proven false.  

While DSB announced this morning that it was launching an independent enquiry into the allegations, politicians have been lining up to condemn DSB.

“It’s completely unacceptable,” Kristian Pihl Lorentzen (Venstre) told EPN.dk. “What makes it especially serious is the fact that it’s a state-owned company that has a special duty to have an open and honest communication with the country.”

The enquiry will be finished in a month’s time, at which point DSB will decide what action to take. According to the traffic spokesperson for coalition partner Radikale, Andreas Steenberg, some of the people involved in entering into the deal with Waterfront have already been fired, but more may face the axe when the enquiry is completed.

“I think it’s completely crazy and something I would associate more with the Soviet Union than something that occurs in a modern democracy like Denmark,” Steenberg told Berlingske newspaper.

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