When Swedish journalist Daniel Öhman heard the words “I got something for you” he knew he was onto something big.
Öhman, a Swedish Radio journalist who helped uncover his country’s secret arms deal with Saudi Arabia, was on a train when he got a phone call from an unknown person and simply given a meeting date and time. When he showed up, he was given an envelope, with a brief introduction to the story.
Öhman gave the opening address on the second day of the investigative journalism conference, Power Reporting, earlier today.
The most important thing, said Öhman, is that his team never gave up. “If you have a person who is crucial to your story, don’t give up after your first phone call, or your second. Don’t give up after the first time you’ve seen them, try and try again”, he said.
The Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) had plans to help Saudi Arabia build an advanced arms factory in the desert. Known as Project Simoom, it began in 2007 and was exposed by a group of journalists five years later.
Two years before the operation officially began, Sweden signed a “military cooperation treaty” with the Saudi regime. The agreement was to assist the Saudi government in the building of its own weapons industry, but everything was “top secret”, according to Öhman.
In the two months that followed the initial story, which exposed the Swedish government, 5 400 articles were published in local media while the international media continuously reported on developments in the story while plans to build the weapons factory were stopped and the Swedish defence minister was forced to resign.
One of the biggest challenges they faced was gaining the public’s trust. They knew right from the start that the government was lying and “we needed to make sure people believed in us and not in government agencies”, Ohman said.
Öhman said the situation for journalists in Sweden as very different to that of other countries. While the team were undermined and threatened by government officials, at no point did they fear for their lives. “It is not like in other countries, where you can be killed,” he said.