Liberal daily Dagbladet Information hands over reins to 12 refugees who are professional journalists, most of them recent arrivals in Denmark
Refugees facing hostile politicians and press in Denmark were given the run of a daily newspaper on Friday to present a radically different picture of the thousands of asylum seekers knocking on Europe’s door.
“For politicians, refugees are just a problem to be solved as quickly as possible, and most prefer to do it without looking them in the eye,” said an editorial in Dagbladet Information, an independent liberal daily, in a special issue written entirely by refugees who are also professional journalists. “Today it is the refugees who speak to us.”
The paper assembled a dozen refugees, most of whom are recent arrivals in the country, giving them full editorial control and help with research and translation.
“This is a chance to show the Danish people a different picture – we are giving them a new kind of story made by refugees,” said Dalam Alasaad, a Syrian journalist from Palmyra who came to Denmark via Turkey last year.
Denmark’s minority Liberal administration is propped up by the populist Danish People’s party, which has succeeded in shifting immigration policy well to the right. This week the government proposed a package of tight new restrictions on refugees.
Since the crisis exploded in Europe this year, several European newspapers have devoted special issues to refugee issues, but the Danish initiative stands out for allowing refugees themselves to write every word.
The paper’s front page on Friday, written by a journalist from Iraqi Kurdistan, leads on the consequences for war-torn countries of the fact that two-thirds of refugees coming to Europe are men, and the harsh consequences for women left behind.
The 48-page special issue also looks at the “lottery” facing new arrivals in Danish refuge camps, unpicks three myths that define the refugee crisis, and reports on the plunder of Syria’s history by Isis.
“Refugees are almost all we talk about in Denmark these days,” said Lotte Folke Kaarsholm, a features editor. “We thought we would shut up and let refugees set the agenda. What we got is radically different from what politicians are discussing.”
Some of the journalists assembled by the paper had paid a high price for their journalism, including prison and torture, Kaarsholm said. A son of Zeinab Uzbak, an Afghan journalist, was killed by the Taliban in retaliation for her work.
Dagbladet Information, a small publication with a circulation of around 20,000, began life as the paper of the illegal resistance in Denmark during the second world war, and sees itself as a newspaper for social movements. “So this feels very right for us,” Kaarsholm said.
Even Lars Hedegård, the paper’s former editor and now a notorious rightwing critic of Denmark’s “Islamic colonisation”, welcomed the publication.
“I expected a great deal of whining and complaining and sobbing, but … reluctantly I must admit that there seems to be somewhat higher standards than when I was editor,” Hedegård told Danish radio.
Danish journalists are ethnically quite homogenous, and the voices of refugees have been largely absent from the mainstream media, according to Orla Vigsø, a Danish professor at Gothenburg University’s department of journalism. “Dagbladet Information is helping to fill an important gap, but it is impossible to think of other papers doing the same,” he said.
Alasaad said: “Our main message to our readers is don’t be afraid, refugees can be good for Danish society.”