News media

Jens Beck Nielsen (left), Lars Nørgaard Pedersen and Jens Anton Bjørnager (right) broke the story.

The intelligence chief who was tapped himself

The digital subscriber base of Danish daily Berlingske continued to grow in 2023. The paper distinguished itself by breaking the story of a historic spying scandal. “I kept looking over my shoulder. It does make you a bit paranoid.”

In January 2022, Denmark was rocked by the news that Lars Findsen, the head of the country’s military intelligence service, had been arrested. A former defence minister had also been detained. The exact nature of the charges against them remained unclear, as much of the information about the case was classified. Thanks to the work of Jens Beck Nielsen, Jens Anton Bjørnager and Lars Nørgaard Pedersen, that changed. Despite difficult circumstances, the three Berlingske investigative reporters managed to uncover crucial information.

The spying scandal stirred up a hornet’s nest of politicians and government officials, as the story’s main subject, Lars Findsen, was an important figure in the Danish security services. Between 2002 and 2007, he was head of the homeland security branch PET, and after 2015 he had been in charge of the military intelligence agency FE. It soon became clear that his former PET colleagues were behind the investigation – they had been tapping his home and phone for months, and listening to conversations with his children.

Remarkably, the case against Findsen turned out to revolve around facts that were already known, about allegations that the Danish intelligence community was working with the US intelligence agency NSA. Another curious detail was that the prosecutors were invoking an anti-espionage law that had last been used in 1979.

Danish journalists piled onto the story, looking for more details: What was going on here? This was not without risk, as the Danish security services were also monitoring reporters. Several chief editors, including Tom Jensen of Berlingske, were warned that journalists could face criminal charges if they revealed state secrets.

“When we published our articles, I figured they would search our homes and put us under surveillance,” says Lars Nørgaard Pedersen, who heads Berlingske’s investigative team.

“I kept looking over my shoulder. It does make you a bit paranoid.” Pedersen and his two colleagues were advised not to use mobile phones or laptops for the story. They met with their sources in remote places, such as forests and car parks. “All our sources were scared. Even under normal circumstances it’s difficult to get people from the intelligence community to talk – now it was almost impossible.”

Nearly 58,000 digital sub­scribers

Berlingske’s digital subscriber base has grown in recent years, from 34,000 in 2020 to nearly 58,000 by the end of 2023. Digital readers are also becoming increasingly important for Weekendavisen, another DPG Media brand. The newspaper had over 12,000 digital subscribers by the end of 2023, almost three times as many as in 2020.

Find out more about Weekendavisen’s podcast Avistid, which was streamed between 40,000 and 50,000 times a week in 2023.

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Avistid med Hans og Arne

The grumpy Muppets of Danish politics

They’re sometimes compared to Statler and Waldorf, the two grumpy old men from The Muppet Show, but listeners love them. Thanks to their experience, humour and insightful analyses, Weekendavisen journalists Hans Mortensen and Arne Hardis’ political podcast shot to the top of the Danish charts last year. In October 2023, Avistid med Hans og Arne was awarded the national Prix Audio for best news and current affairs programme.

It started as an experiment in the run-up to the Danish general election in October 2022: a short daily podcast featuring veteran political reporters Mortensen and Hardis, hosted by editor-in-chief Martin Krasnik. Every morning after dropping his children off at school, Krasnik would record a brief audio clip about something he had noticed in the campaign, which he’d later use in the studio as a jumping-off point for his conversation with Mortensen and Hardis.

It turned out to be a winning formula. After just one week, Avistid med Hans og Arne was already one of the top three political podcasts in Denmark. “We combined the news with personal, authentic commentary from two experienced journalists,” says Krasnik. “That gave us an edge. They were able to put events and comments made by politicians into perspective right away. They’d go, ‘We saw the same thing 25 years ago.’ That’s not something a lot of reporters can do.”

Due to its success, Weekendavisen continued the podcast after the election. Mortensen and Hardis now record an episode every Friday, supervised by long-time producer Birgit Nissen Pedersen. Each episode is streamed around 20,000 times, which is a huge success for Weekendavisen. Avistid also offers weekly interviews and read-aloud articles by other reporters.

“A digital success like this was just what we needed,” says Krasnik. Weekendavisen is a weekly newspaper with an emphasis on well-written articles. With the podcast, the newspaper can offer something extra. “Readers know Mortensen and Hardis from decades of shared bylines in our paper. Now you can hear them too, and experience the chemistry between them – there’s a fair bit of banter going back and forth.”

In 2024, the newspaper will launch a daily podcast. “The podcast has introduced us to a lot people,” Krasnik explains. It’s a great promotional tool for us.”

Listen to the podcast here

On a large sheet of paper in the newsroom,
the reporters listed the names of everyone who might know something about the case.
“A lot of what we did seemed to be a waste of effort, because people didn’t want to talk. But we still got there in the end.”

The Berlingske team managed to reveal that Findsen was being accused of disclosing state secrets during nine conversations with family members and journalists. The former defence minister, Claus Hjort Frederiksen, was sued over five public statements he had made.

The three journalists also revealed that the head of PET had divulged details about Findsen’s sex life during a briefing of party leaders in parliament, including insinuations that the spymaster had a proclivity for S&M. This was an attempt by PET to portray Findsen as an untrustworthy man who could be compromised, Pedersen argues. “Our articles caused a shift in public perception. Many now felt that officials had abused their power to attack Findsen.”

In November 2023, the authorities withdrew the charges, leading to accusations that their treatment of Findsen had been far too harsh. The Berlingske reporters continue to follow the case. “There are still a lot of unanswered questions.”