Freedom of the Press
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Sweden’s media environment is one of the world’s most open, with a variety of outlets that are generally free from political pressure. However, the country has struggled to define the boundaries between legitimate reporting and potential hate speech, and while violence against journalists is rare, threats from extremist groups are perceived as a growing problem.
- Media outlets were accused of self-censorship in March 2015 for their efforts to report on a triple murder in Uddevalla without stoking anti-immigrant sentiment.
- In February, three people linked to the far-right Swedish Resistance Movement were arrested for allegedly planning to attack journalists from the daily Expressen.
Legal Environment: 2 / 30
There are strong legal protections for media in Sweden under the Freedom of the Press Act of 1766, the first press freedom law in the world, as well as the 1991 Fundamental Law of Freedom of Expression. However, these laws criminalize expression considered to be hate speech, and prohibit threats or expressions of contempt directed against a group or member of a group. In 2013, the government made it possible for police to access IP addresses in order to identify when and where online hate crimes occurred.
The penal code criminalizes defamation, and offenders may face up to two years in prison. The editors of Swedish newspapers are accountable for all content published on the newspaper’s website, including those filed in archives, and are thus legally responsible for material approved by their predecessors. In March 2015, the Göta Court of Appeal upheld a four-month jail sentence issued in 2014 for Fredrik Vejdeland, an editor of the Swedish Resistance Movement’s website Nordfront, in connection with almost 30 reader comments containing racism and hate speech.
The Freedom of the Press Act provides protections to journalists’ sources and guarantees access to information. Swedish public bodies respect freedom of information in practice, and the government overall has exhibited high and rapid response rates to both domestic and international requests.
The self-regulatory Swedish Press Council was established in 1916. It consists of a judicial board as well as industry representatives and independent members. Complaints are investigated by an appointed ombudsman who can choose to dismiss them for lack of merit or forward them to the council with a recommendation to uphold. The council ultimately rules on complaints and can impose a fine of up to 30,000 kronor ($3,600). Although the council does not have authority over broadcast media, it does operate an ethical code across all platforms. The code is applied to broadcast media by the Swedish Broadcasting Authority, which has a separate body—the Review Board—for examining the content of radio and television programs. In September 2015 the Review Board ruled that an interviewer on Sveriges Radio (SR) P1 had violated a provision on offensive content by asking the Israeli ambassador whether Jews bore any responsibility for increasing anti-Semitism.
Political Environment: 5 / 40 (↓1)
Media outlets are generally free from political pressure, and freedom of the press is greatly valued in the country. However, there is considerable debate in Swedish media about the limits of free speech regarding contentious issues like immigration or Islam. The Swedish Union of Journalists observed during 2015 that self-censorship has increased in recent years, due to both threats and fear of making offensive statements. In March, coverage of the killing of three young people in the city of Uddevalla was extremely opaque, as media outlets refrained from reporting the details of what may have been a conflict within a Muslim immigrant community.
Physical violence and harassment directed at media workers or outlets are rare. However, Utgivarna, an interest group representing the major Swedish media publishers, held a meeting with Swedish intelligence authorities in 2014 to discuss police protection for its members. In January 2015 Utgivarna published a survey showing that a majority of Swedish news outlets perceive an increase in threats against journalists and the media in the past five years. The survey also showed that 5 percent of respondents in the daily press and 3 percent in broadcasting had employees who had been harassed or exposed to violence.
In February, three people linked to the Swedish Resistance Movement were arrested for allegedly planning to attack journalists from the daily Expressen, which was investigating the extremist group. Police seized several knives, and those arrested were subsequently released.
Economic Environment: 4 / 30
Buoyed by a high level of readership, Sweden’s newspaper market is very diverse, with many local and regional papers. The government offers subsidies to newspapers regardless of political affiliation in order to encourage competition, and media content in immigrant languages is supported by the state. Public broadcasting, consisting of Sveriges Television (SVT) and SR and funded through a license fee, has a strong presence in Sweden. There are also more than 100 private radio stations and a considerable number of private television stations, with TV4 serving as SVT’s main competitor. Private ownership in the broadcast sector is highly concentrated under the media companies Bonnier and the Modern Times Group.
In 2013 the television license fee was also applied to households with computers and mobile phones, but in 2014 a Swedish court ruled that these devices are exempt. Access to the internet is unrestricted, and the medium was used by about 91 percent of the population in 2015.