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Rural citizen journalism and fake news in the spotlight

Published torsdag 1 december 2016 kl 14.15
Lisa Bjurwald: Sometimes it's just based on rumours
(5:33 min)
Vägskylt Backe
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A local news site reported that school girls had been assaulted by young refugees in the village of Backe in northern Jämtland, but the story turned out to be false. Credit: Fredrik Vestberg/Sveriges Radio
Fredrik Vestberg
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Fredrik Vestberg at Swedish Radio's P4 Jämtland investigated the story about the alleged assault by young refugees. Credit: Karin Nilsson/Radio Sweden
Karin Jonsson
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Karin Jonsson, culture editor at Östersunds-Posten, has created a Facebook group for women living in rural parts of Sweden. Credit: Karin Nilsson/Radio Sweden
Lisa Bjurwald
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Lisa Bjurwald, journalist and author, has spent the past autumn investigating the state of local journalism in Sweden. Credit: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Who takes over when local reporters are no longer able to cover certain areas? Radio Sweden visited the northern county of Jämtland, where citizen initiatives as well as right-wing extremist propaganda websites have sprung up in the absence of journalists.

In Sweden, as many as one in eight local councils lack continuous media coverage. And these blank spots for journalism risk increasing, according to the government's recently-presented media inquiry. 

Earlier this year an article about a small village in the northern county of Jämtland started spreading in social media. It claimed that village schoolgirls had been assaulted by a group of young refugees. 

Fredrik Vestberg, a reporter at Swedish Radio's local news channel in Jämtland, and his colleagues decided to look into the story, but no-one in the village was able to confirm the story as true. The reporters found instead that the website that had reported on the alleged assault was linked to a right-wing extremist organisation called the Nordic Resistance Movement. Reporting on local news is part of the movement's strategy for spreading propaganda.

But propaganda websites are not the only alternative that has cropped up when local journalists disappear. Many of the villages in the Jämtland county have their own Facebook groups – and these groups make up a valuable news source for Karin Jonsson, culture editor at the regional newspaper Östersunds-Posten.  

This type of citizen journalism could help nuance the sometimes stereotypical image of rural areas as portrayed in traditional media, according to journalist Lisa Bjurwald. She has spent the past autumn scrutinising the state of Swedish local news on behalf of the Blank Spot Project, a platform for journalists investigating overlooked corners of the world.

Click on the Play button above to hear the full story.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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