Publicity in new and old media: Kafka revisited

NEMO researcher Matthias Baier experienced the paradox of state secrecy versus new media publicity when investigating a migration case.

Sweden is famous for its publicity principle that holds that all official documents normally are public. There are of course many reasons for keeping official documents secret, but such decisions should be made case by case, and restrictively. Those communicating documents to the press enjoy special privileges. There is however an increasing amount of actors in the new media landscape that challenge these rules. This became apparent when digging into a migration case.

Matthias explains: “The case concerns an asylum seeker – let’s call him John Smith – who was about to be expelled. His tragic history became public, but mass media didn’t disclose his exact personal details. Later, at a blog, I came across the decisions from the migration board and the migration court concerning John Smith. This was not surprising, since court decisions normally are public. These decisions could easily be retrieved from a database at the blog and John Smith’s full identity was disclosed. I then needed a last decision about the case, but could not find it anywhere, so I turned to the migration board.

“Now the Kafka process started.

“First I used a web template for official documents at the migration board. After some days my request for the document was turned down as I didn’t have John Smith’s authorization. I thought this was a mistake by the automatic system and called the migration board. After some days trying to circumvent the switchboard (for X, press 1…), I finally reached a person at the registrar; they always know. Given obscure and negative answers, and a bit irritated, I was passed on to someone up in the hierarchy that could deal with my request. This person, legally competent, referred me still further up in the hierarchy to a central staff lawyer. Quite irritated, I was informed that all decisions of this kind were secret. After several formal requests and answers sent back and forth through mail (not e-mail) I got a copy of the decision after I had signed a commitment to keep the document secret and keep it safe.

“Now the document is kept in a safe at the department of Sociology of Law, while most of the information about the case is still public, accessible through a handy database on a blog.”

  • Matthias Baier is working with ISK researcher Marja Åkerström on a NEMO-funded project, Adjudication as Democratic Practice: Discourses on Court Decisions in a New Media Landscape 
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Write a Comment

* Required