Photo: Sofia Sabel/imagebank.sweden.se
Openness shapes Swedish society
Sweden is a free and open society. The people have freedom of speech, a free press, the right to scrutinise those in power and the right to take part in demonstrations.
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.
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 2018, Sweden ranked second. 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.
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. Human rights are being integrated into all areas of Swedish foreign policy – security, development, migration, environmental and trade policy – and the government prioritises eight areas:
- democracy building
- strengthening freedom of expression
- abolition of the death penalty
- combatting torture
- combatting summary executions and arbitrary detention
- protecting the rule of law
- protecting human rights and international humanitarian law
- fighting discrimination.
Openness on the internet
Sweden has the highest level of internet usage within the European Union. Out of a population of 10 million, 95 per cent have access to the internet (2017).
Of all people aged 12 or more, 94 per cent are internet users. And 85 per cent of Swedes use the internet via their smartphones. Sweden has one of the top rankings in the World Economic Forum’s Network Readiness Index, and ranks fifth in the UN’s ICT Development Index.
Copyright and innovation
The growth of the internet has brought the world file-sharing, leading to debates about the infringement of copyright on books, music, films and software. The loud conflicts about piracy some years ago seem to have calmed down, partly because of the introduction of successful products and companies that offer legal alternatives for music and video streaming.
Social media in Sweden
Social media have become an integrated part of many Swedes’ everyday lives. As many as 74 per cent of internet users use Facebook, but the fastest growing platform has been Snapchat, which grew by 32 per cent between 2016 and 2017 – from 25 to 33 per cent using it. Instagram also keeps growing, with 53 per cent using it. And around 25 per cent use Twitter.
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.
Last updated: 28 June 2018