The Swedish Right to Public Access gives people the freedom to roam the countryside.
Photo: Johan Willner/imagebank.sweden.se
Openness shapes Swedish society
Sweden is a free and open society. Its people have the right to take part in demonstrations, freedom of speech, a free press, the opportunity to move freely in nature and the right to scrutinise those in power. Openness is also about creating an equal society.
Openness and transparency – vital parts of Swedish democracy
The Swedish constitution is governed 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 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
In 1766, Sweden became the first country in the World to write freedom of the press into its constitution. Freedom of the press is based on freedom of expression and speech – a central tenet of most democracies. 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. The law on freedom of expression was passed in 1991 to expand this protection to non-print media, such as television, film and radio. The law seeks to ensure a free exchange of views, information and artistic creativity.
However, the right to express an opinion also brings with it responsibilities. Freedom of speech, when abused, can be offensive, incite discrimination or violence, or have negative consequences for an individual or society. If a crime against the freedom of press or expression laws is suspected, the case is dealt with by the Office of the Chancellor of Justice. The Chancellor of Justice is a non-political civil servant appointed by the government.
The principle of freedom of information means that the general public and the mass media have access to official records. This affords Swedish citizens clear insight into the activities of government and local authorities. Scrutiny is seen as valuable for a democracy, and transparency reduces the risk of power being abused. Access to official records also means that civil servants and others who work for the government are free to inform the media or outsiders.
However, documents can be kept secret if they involve matters of national security; Sweden’s relationship with another country or international organisation; national fiscal, monetary or currency policy; inspection, control and other supervisory operations by public authorities; the prevention or prosecution of crimes; the economic interests of the general public; protection of the personal and financial position of private individuals; and the protection of animal or plant species. As of 1 January 2014, information linked to cooperation in the EU can also be classified.
Everyone is equal
In Sweden, human rights are protected primarily through three of the fundamental laws: 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 for the freedom and dignity of the individual. Public authorities should especially safeguard the right to work, housing and education, and should promote social welfare, security and a good environment for people to live in. Laws and other regulations may not lead to any citizen being disadvantaged because they belong to a minority, in terms of gender, transgender identity, ethnic origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation or age.
Through its laws and regulations, Sweden strives to ensure that no one is disadvantaged because they belong to a minority.
Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström
Continuing the fight for human rights
Human rights are being integrated into all areas of Swedish foreign policy: security, development, migration, environmental and trade policy.
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. The government is prioritising eight areas in its work for human rights in Swedish foreign policy:
- Democracy building. Millions of people still live in dictatorships. The government wants to strengthen public opinion in favour of democracy, support the work of NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and establish better ties with democratic states.
- Strengthen freedom of expression. Sweden believes freedom of expression is a moral necessity and a practical tool in the fight for human rights.
- Abolish the death penalty. Sweden and the EU have long sought the abolition of the death penalty on the grounds that it is incompatible with human rights.
- Combat torture. The Swedish government draws attention to such abuse wherever it occurs and supports organisations that help victims of torture.
- Combat summary executions and arbitrary detention. For many years Sweden has supported a UN resolution concerning summary, extrajudicial and arbitrary executions, and will continue to act to bring this issue to international attention.
- Protect the rule of law. Sweden promotes the principles of the rule of law through organisations such as the UN, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and in talks with other countries.
- Protect human rights and international humanitarian law. Sweden works actively so that all states, large and small, will respect international law.
- Fight discrimination. In many countries, large groups of people receive far from equal treatment. The Swedish government wants to direct special attention to the rights of women, children and people with disabilities.
Openness on the internet
Sweden has the highest level of internet usage within the European Union. Out of a population of 9.8 million, 93 per cent have access to the internet (2015).
Of all people aged 12 or more, 91 per cent are internet users. Seventy-seven per cent of Swedes also have access to a smartphone. 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 2015.
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. Seventy per cent of internet users use Facebook, but Instagram is the social media that is increasing most, with 40 per cent of internet users using the service. Around 22 per cent also use Twitter.
In an effort to create further trust for government aid and humanitarian activities, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs together with Sida (the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency) launched www.openaid.se in 2011. The site collates official government data so it can be accessed and studied easily by individuals, NGOs, aid recipients and officials. 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. This initiative is part of a larger movement where Swedish government agencies provide more open interfaces to their data.
- The Swedish Data Inspection Board
- The government’s website on human rights
- The Swedish National Environmental Protection Agency
- Swedish Government Offices
- Reporters Without Borders
- The Child and School Student Representative
- Sweden’s Radio
- Sweden’s Television
- Swedish Newspaper Publishers’ Association
Please note that this web version of ‘Openness shapes Swedish society’ may have been updated more recently than the pdf versions.
Last updated: 3 December 2015