Openness in Sweden
Free speech, free press and overall openness and transparency are key to Swedish society.
Openness and transparency are vital parts of Swedish democracy. To protect the democratic society, there are four fundamental laws: the Instrument of Government, the Freedom of the Press Act, the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression and the Act of Succession. These laws make up the Swedish Constitution and they take precedence over all other laws.
The constitution states that all citizens have the right to freely seek information, organise demonstrations, form political parties and practice their religion.
Press and media subsidies
Sweden has tax-funded press and media support. This is to promote a diversity of general news media at both national and local level.
Freedom of the press
Freedom of the press is based on freedom of expression and speech – a cornerstone of most democracies. In 1766, Sweden became the first country in the world to write freedom of the press into its constitution. The Freedom of the Press Act states that those in authority must be held accountable and all information must be freely available. The law protects the identities of sources who provide publishers, editors or news agencies with information, and journalists can never be forced to reveal their sources.
But the right to express an opinion is not an absolute right. When abused, freedom of speech can be offensive, incite discrimination or violence, or have negative consequences for an individual or society. It is the non-political Office of the Chancellor of Justice that deals with suspected crimes against the freedom of press or expression laws.
In Reporters Without Borders’ worldwide press freedom ranking for 2021, Sweden ranked third. The list is based on the degree of freedom that journalists and news organisations have in each country, and the efforts that authorities make to safeguard this freedom.
Independent television and radio
The public broadcasting services SVT (Sweden’s Television, link in Swedish), Sveriges Radio (Sweden’s Radio, link in Swedish) and UR (the Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company) offer a range of programmes free from advertising. Most people also have access to several commercial channels and streaming services.
Open access to academic publishing
The OpenAccess programme supports electronic publishing at Swedish institutions of higher education. This makes works produced by researchers, teachers and students at institutions of higher education more accessible.
Principle of public access
The principle of public access grants the general public and the mass media access to official records. This means they have the opportunity to scrutinise the activities of government on all levels – national, regional and local. Transparency reduces the risk of power being abused.
Civil servants and others who work for the government are also free to inform the media or outsiders. However, certain information can be classified – for example if it involves matters of national security or sensitive information about health and medical care.
Openness includes equality and human rights
In Sweden, human rights are protected primarily through the Instrument of Government, the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression. Public power should be exercised with respect for the equality of everyone and the freedom and dignity of the individual.
Laws and other regulations may not lead to any citizen being disadvantaged because they belong to a minority, in terms of gender, transgender identity or expression, ethnic origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation or age.
The global fight for human rights
In 1995 Sweden incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into Swedish law. Sweden has also signed and ratified several human rights agreements within the UN, the International Labour Organization and the Council of Europe. All areas of Swedish foreign policy – security, development, migration, environmental and trade policy – should be based on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Openness on the internet
Swedes are connected, with more than 9 out of 10 being internet users. Nearly all Swedes have access to internet in the home (98 per cent in 2020, according to the Swedish Internet Foundation), most of them via fibre. The Swedish so-called broadband strategy aims for a ‘completely connected Sweden’ by 2025.
Much used mobile solutions like Swedish payment app Swish and the BankID electronic identification app help drive this development.
Social media in Sweden
In 2020–2021, 95 per cent of internet users claimed to have used social media at some point during the last year. Youtube is the top social media, used by 81 per cent in total. Facebook is number two at 71 per cent and Instagram number three at 64 per cent. Both Facebook and Instagram are most popular among people between 20 and 30 – also called Millennials and Generation Z.
At fourth place is Snapchat, which is used by 38 per cent in total – but the figure is a staggering 94 per cent for students between the ages of 16 and 19.
At number five we find Linkedin, used by 25 per cent in total, the biggest user group being people who work. But if we look at daily use, Tiktok takes the fifth spot, with 10 per cent using it every day – most of them born in the 2000s.
Openness about government data
Based on the idea of transparency, Sweden has a website – openaid.se – which is built on open government data. It offers individuals, NGOs, aid recipients and officials the chance to access and study official government data. The aim is to further transparency and openness in humanitarian efforts and to inspire other institutions to increase their transparency and openness towards the public.
The word ombudsman comes from Swedish, and refers to a person who acts as a representative, such as:
The Parliamentary Ombudsmen
Handle complaints from anyone who feels that they, or somebody else, have been wrongly treated by a public authority or civil servant. Whether Swedish citizen or not, anyone can lodge a complaint.
The Chancellor of Justice
Supervises the government agencies and courts on behalf of the government.
The Equality Ombudsman
Fights discrimination and promotes equal rights and opportunities for all.
The Media Ombudsman
Deals with press ethics. After an investigation, it may hand a case over to the Swedish Press Council for further action.
The Consumer Ombudsman
Makes sure companies comply with marketing and product safety laws. It can intervene against misleading advertisements, unreasonable terms and conditions, incorrect pricing information and dangerous products.