Journalists’ expulsion from parliament leads to rift between press and politicians

Two Ekstra Bladet employees receive a six-month ban for actions politicians characterise as harassment and journalists call just doing their job

Konservative leader Lars Barfoed has been finding himself in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. 

After reports that Barfoed is getting divorced because he cheated on his wife, the latest headlines revolve around a confrontation in Christiansborg on Monday that has now led to two employees of the tabloid Ekstra Bladet being banned from the parliament building for six months. 

Ekstra Bladet journalist Martin Olsen and photographer Anton Unger have been banned for using paparazzi-like methods in their attempt to get Barfoed to answer questions about the circumstances in which the politician was able to get his Frederiksberg flat. According to media reports, Barfoed obtained the flat from a local housing association despite not fulfilling its residency criteria, which state that potential residents must either live, work or study in Frederiksberg. Barfoed did none of these. The flat was also not listed publicly, and was given to Barfoed ahead of others on a waiting list. 

Barfoed told the Ekstra Bladet reporter that he didn't want to comment on the issue. The reporter and photographer followed Barfoed and continued asking him questions until the Konservative leader ducked into an office. 

According to an audio file put online by Ekstra Bladet, the entire incident took approximately 35 seconds. But that was apparently enough for two of Barfoed's fellow politicians – Venstre's Preben Bang Henriksen and Socialdemokraterne's Henrik Sass Larsen – to file complaints to parliament's executive committee. 

On Wednesday, the committee decided to hand down the six-month expulsion. 

"There is a clear agreement which states that journalistic assignments must not hinder MPs or employees from moving freely around the building," parliament's speaker, Mogens Lykketoft (Socialdemokraterne), told Politiken newspaper. 

According to Ekstra Bladet, Lykketoft also stressed that "the media are guests in Christiansborg". 

The ban has led to a rift between politicians and journalists, several of whom took to Twitter to express their disapproval of parliament's decision.

"If journalists can't ask politicians critical questions in the halls of Christiansborg, then we have no interest in being there," Ekstra Bladet editor-in-chief Poul Madsen tweeted. "Politicians can now say 'no' to critical questions with confidence, knowing that the journalist will be kicked out if she continues."

"Journalists ask politicians uncomfortable questions. The system's response: expel them. A known practice in some countries. Now also in Denmark. Disturbing," wrote Henrik Qvortrup, a political analyst for TV2. 

"I think all reporters should do as the committee preaches, and ignore the politicians for one week," wrote Berlingske journalist Line Holm.

Politicians, for their part, have called for the complete removal of journalists from Christiansborg, where they currently work side by side with lawmakers. 

Venstre's Karsten Lauritzen told TV2 News that there were two good reasons why the media shouldn't have permanent offices in parliament.

"Firstly, there are both journalists and politicians who cannot figure out how to hold a proper, critical distance [from one another]," he said. "And secondly, there are clearly many media outlets that don't understand that politicians should be allowed to have a private life and not be hounded throughout the halls if they don't wish to comment."

Lauritzen was supported by fellow party members Mads Rørvig and Preben Bang Henriksen. 

Ekstra Bladet's Madsen, however, said the entire incident was blown out of proportion and "grotesque". He insisted that Christiansborg also belonged to journalists.

"If this is the formula for how politicians think journalists should work in Christianbsorg, then I do not think we should have anything to do with Christiansborg," he told Jyllands-Posten.

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