Freedom of the Press
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Denmark enjoys a vibrant media environment in which journalists cover a wide range of viewpoints and are largely free from legal restrictions and threats from government or nonstate actors. However, journalists continue to work in the shadow of the 2005 controversy over cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, and in February 2015 an assailant shot and killed a participant at a free speech event in Copenhagen. The Danish press engaged in discussions regarding self-censorship during the year, with several publications openly citing fear of attacks as a daily concern.
- In February, Danish-Palestinian Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein killed two civilians in two related incidents, the first at a free speech event attended by a Swedish artist who had penned controversial drawings of the Prophet Muhammad. El-Hussein was subsequently killed by police.
- The attacks combined with the January shooting at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo led several Danish publications to openly cite concerns about violence against the press.
- In March, Denmark confirmed that it would keep its antiblasphemy law in place, which had been a subject of ongoing debate.
Legal Environment: 2 / 30
Freedom of speech is protected in Section 77 of the constitution, and the government generally respects this right in practice. However, legal restrictions exist for libel, blasphemy, and racism. Discussions about removing legal restrictions for blasphemy continued at the start of the year, but in March 2015 Denmark confirmed that it would keep its antiblasphemy law in place.
A new access to information law entered into force in 2014. The controversial law prevents access to documents that are shared between ministers and their advisers. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) expressed concern over provisions that could limit transparency in government and legislative proceedings. The new law sparked demonstrations by thousands of protesters.
In March 2015, a high court upheld a ruling against Nils Mulvad. Mulvad and fellow journalist Kjeld Hansen had been sentenced to fines of 2,500 kroner each ($460) in 2014 for violating the criminal code by disseminating private, health-related information about individuals when they published a story on MRSA infections in Danish pig farms. The journalists had requested further information on infected farms from the National Health Board, and in 2014 the Danish Ombudsman said that the information should be released. However, a farmers’ interest group prevented disclosure by initiating a court case against the state and demanding the names be kept secret. The high court doubled Mulvad’s fine (Hansen did not appeal); his case will be brought before the Supreme Court.
Print, online, and broadcast media are regulated by the Danish Press Council, whose eight members are jointly appointed by the president of the Supreme Court and journalists’ associations. Participation is mandatory for broadcast media and print outlets that publish at least twice a year. Online media that choose to register receive the legal protections afforded to traditional journalists. If an outlet is found to have committed an ethical violation, the council can order it to publish the ruling; failure to do so can result in a fine or up to four months in jail, though these sanctions are rarely imposed.
Political Environment: 6 / 40 (↓1)
The aftermath of the 2005 controversy over cartoons of the prophet Muhammad still affects the Danish media, both in terms of direct threats made against journalists and media houses and through a considerable chilling effect on coverage of related issues. The cartoonist at the center of the Muhammad cartoon controversy, Kurt Westergaard, continues to receive round-the-clock protection by the authorities after a failed assassination attempt in 2010.
In February 2015, Danish-Palestinian Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein killed two civilians in two related incidents and injured five police officers in Copenhagen. The first shooting occurred at a free speech event called “Art, blasphemy and the freedom of expression.” Attendant Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who had penned controversial drawings of the Prophet Muhammad in 2007, was presumed to be the main target. The second shooting took place hours later in front of a Copenhagen synagogue. El-Hussein was subsequently killed by police.
The attacks took place five weeks after a deadly attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which had also published cartoons lampooning the prophet Muhammad. Both incidents led to discussions in the Danish press regarding self-censorship, with several publications openly citing fear of attacks as a daily concern in the editorial process. The newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which published the original Muhammad cartoons in 2005, declared that it would no longer publish this type of drawing due to fear of violence.
In spring 2015, free speech advocate and former newspaper editor Lars Hedegaard was charged with revealing the identity of the perpetrator of a 2013 assassination attempt against him. The suspect, a Danish citizen, was arrested in Turkey in 2014 but was allegedly released by Turkey in exchange for 47 hostages held by the Islamic State militant group. There has since been no indication of the whereabouts of the alleged assailant.
In general, physical harassment and threats against journalists are extremely rare.
Economic Environment: 4 / 30 (↑1)
The private print media are vibrant, though many papers have clear political sympathies. Two of the three largest daily newspapers, Politiken and Jyllands-Posten, are owned by the same company, though they have separate editorial boards and journalistic staff and different political leanings. The third, Berlingske, also runs the state-funded public service channel Radio24syv. The costs of establishing and operating media outlets are prohibitive. Government subsidies and a value-added tax (VAT) exemption are vital for the press, and state support is available for struggling newspapers. The public broadcaster DR (Danmarks Radio), dominant in both radio and television, is financed by a license fee. TV2 is a privately run but government-owned television network, while the private station TV3 broadcasts from England due to advertising regulations. Satellite and cable television are also available, as are a variety of internet-based news outlets. In 2015, 96 percent of the population had access to the internet.