Openness in Sweden
Free speech, free press and overall transparency are key to Swedish society.
Openness and transparency are vital parts of Swedish democracy. The democratic society is protected by 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.
Sweden has tax-funded press subsidies. This is to support newspapers that compete with other, higher circulation publications.
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 identities of sources who provide publishers, editors or news agencies with information are protected, 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. Suspected crimes against the freedom of press or expression laws are dealt with by the non-political Office of the Chancellor of Justice.
In Reporters Without Borders’ worldwide press freedom ranking for 2021, Sweden ranked fourth. The list is based on the degree of freedom that journalists and news organisations have in each country, and the efforts made by the authorities to safeguard this freedom.
Independent television and radio
The public broadcasting services SVT (Sweden’s Television, link in Swedish) and Sveriges Radio (Sweden’s Radio, link in Swedish) 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.
Freedom of information
The principle of freedom of information means that the general public and the mass media have access to official records, which means that 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 documents can be kept secret – for example if they involve matters of national security.
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
The European Convention on Human Rights has been incorporated into Swedish law since 1995. Sweden has also signed and ratified several human rights agreements within the UN, 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 96 per cent being internet users. Out of a population of 10 million, 98 per cent have access to internet in the home (2020), according to the Swedish Internet Foundation. The Swedish government 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 nearly 9 out of 10 Swedes used social media, a growth partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Facebook is used by 81 per cent in total, and is most popular among 26- to 35-year-olds. Instagram is used by 71 per cent in total, and by 90 per cent of 16- to 25-year-olds. Snapchat is used by 91 per cent of the same age group, but the total figure for all ages is only 42 per cent. Twitter is the least popular out of these, as it’s only used by 24 per cent – but among the youngest age group 44 per cent are using it.
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.