Freedom of Expression

Freedom of Expression in Europe

Freedom of Expression in Sweden

In the Swedish Constitution: The Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression (SFS nr: 1991:1469)

In addition to the Instrument of Government, Sweden has three fundamental laws (Sveriges Grundlagar): the Act of Succession, the Freedom of the Press Act, and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression, which covers basic and general provisions, court proceedings in freedom of expression cases and others. The Riksdag Act occupies an intermediate position between a fundamental law and ordinary law. The four fundamental lwas formed the Constitution of Sweden.

The Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression was adopted in 1991 and is Swedens youngest fundamental law. Like the Freedom of the Press Act, it contains provisions on free dissemination of information and prohibits censorship. It covers old and new media, such as radio, TV, films and CD-ROM discs.

Fundamental laws are more difficult to amend than other laws. They may only be amended or abolished if two Riksdags have adopted identically formulated decisions, with an election intervening. No other laws or ordinances may conflict with the fundamental laws.

Chapter 1 of the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression has the heading “Basic provisions”. Here are the content of Chapter 1:

  • Article 1 provides the following: Every Swedish citizen is guaranteed the right under this Fundamental Law, vis-à-vis the public institutions, publicly to express his thoughts, opinions and sentiments, and in general to communicate information on any subject whatsoever on sound radio, television and certain like transmissions, films, video recordings, sound recordings and other technical recordings. The purpose of freedom of expression under this Fundamental Law is to secure the free exchange of opinion, free and comprehensive information, and freedom of artistic creation. No restriction of this freedom shall be permitted other than such as follows from this Fundamental Law. References in this Fundamental Law to radio programmes shall apply also to television programmes and to the content of certain other transmissions of sound, pictures or text made using electromagnetic waves, as well as to sound radio programmes. Technical recordings are understood in this Fundamental Law to mean recordings containing text, pictures or sound which may be read, listened to or otherwise comprehended only using technical aids. Database is understood in this Fundamental Law to mean a corpus of information stored for the purpose of automatic data processing.
  • Article 2 provides the following: Every Swedish citizen is guaranteed the right to communicate information on any subject whatsoever to authors and other originators, as well as to editors, editorial offices, news agencies and enterprises for the production of technical recordings for publication in radio programmes or such recordings. He also has the right to procure information on any subject whatsoever for such communication or publication. No restriction of these rights shall be permitted other than such as follows from this Fundamental Law.
  • Article 3 provides the following: There shall be no compulsory prior scrutiny by a public authority or other public body of matter which is intended for publication in a radio programme or technical recording. Nor is it permitted for public authorities or other public bodies to prohibit or prevent the publication or dissemination to the general public of a radio programme or technical recording on grounds of its known or expected content, except by virtue of this Fundamental Law. The provisions of paragraph one notwithstanding, provisions may be laid down in law concerning the scrutiny and approval of moving pictures in films, video recordings or other technical recordings intended for public showing. It is not permitted for public authorities or other public bodies to prohibit or prevent the possession or employment of such technical aids as are necessary to receive radio programmes or comprehend the content of technical recordings on grounds of the content of a radio programme or technical recording, except by virtue of this Fundamental Law. The same applies to any ban on the construction of landline networks for the transmission of radio programmes.
  • Article 4 provides the following: Public authorities and other public bodies may not intervene against any person on grounds that he has abused the freedom of expression or contributed to such abuse in a radio programme or technical recording, except by virtue of this Fundamental Law. Nor may they intervene against the programme or recording on such grounds, except by virtue of this Fundamental Law.
  • Article 5 provides the following: A person appointed to pass judgment concerning abuses of the free-dom of expression or otherwise oversee compliance with this Fundamental Law should bear in mind that the freedom of expression is fundamental to a free society. He should direct his attention always to the aim rather than the manner of presentation. In case of doubt, he should acquit rather than convict.
  • Article 6 provides the following: This Fundamental Law applies to transmissions of radio programmes which are directed to the general public and intended for reception using technical aids. Such transmissions of radio programmes are understood to include also the provision of direct broadcasts and recorded programmes taken from a database. In the case of radio programmes transmitted by satellite and emanating from Sweden, the provisions of this Fundamental Law concerning radio programmes in general apply. Exceptions from this Fundamental Law in respect of radio programmes intended primarily for reception abroad and radio programmes transmitted by landline but not intended for reception by a wider public may be laid down in law. Such exceptions may not however relate to the provisions of Articles 2 and 3.
  • Article 7 provides the following: In the case of simultaneous and unmodified onward transmission in this country of radio programmes under Article 6 emanating from abroad or transmitted to Sweden by satellite but not emanating from Sweden, only the following provisions apply: Article 3, paragraph one, prohibiting prior scrutiny and other restrictions; Article 3, paragraph three, on the possession of technical aids and the construction of landline networks; Article 4, prohibiting interventions except by virtue of this Fundamental Law; Article 5, on the attitude to be adopted in applying this Fundamental Law; Chapter 3, Article 1, on the right to transmit radio programmes by land-line; and Chapter 3, Articles 3 and 5, on special legislative procedures and exam¬ination before a court of law. If the Riksdag has approved an international agreement concerning radio programmes, provisions under Article 12, paragraph two, may not constitute a barrier to onward transmission of radio programmes in breach of the agreement. Chapter 10, Article 2, contains provisions concerning the right to communicate and procure information and intelligence for publication in radio programmes emanating from abroad.
  • Article 8 provides the following: In the case of radio programmes or part-programmes consisting of direct broadcasts of current events, or of religious services or public performances arranged by some person other than the person operating the programme service, the following provisions are not applied: Article 2, on the right to communicate and procure information for publication; Article 4, prohibiting interventions; Article 5, on the attitude to be adopted in applying this Fundamental Law; Chapter 2, on the right to anonymity; Chapters 5 to 7, on freedom of expression offences, liability rules and supervision, prosecution and special coercive measures; Chapter 9, on court proceedings in freedom of expression cases; and Chapter 10, Article 2, on the right to communicate and procure information for publication in radio programmes emanating from abroad.
  • Article 9 provides the following: The provisions of this Fundamental Law concerning radio programmes apply also in cases in which the editorial office of a printed periodical or a radio programme, an enterprise for the professional production of printed matter or matter equated with printed matter under the Freedom of the Press Act, or of technical recordings, or a news agency, with the aid of electromagnetic waves 1. supplies to the general public, in response to a special request, information taken from a database the content of which can be modified only by the person carrying on the activitiy, either by direct transfer, or indirectly by the production of a technical recording, written document or picture; or 2. otherwise, in accordance with a prior agreement, supplies information to the public by direct transfer from a database under 1. The provisions set out in paragraph one apply also to any other person holding a valid certificate of no legal impediment to publication in respect of such activity. The issue of such a certificate requires that – the activity is organised in the manner referred to in paragraph one and transmissions emanate from Sweden; – a qualified responsible editor has been appointed and has accepted the appointment; – the activity has a name such that there is no risk of its being easily confused with the name of another activity under this Article. A certificate of no legal impediment to publication is valid for ten years from the date of issue. The certificate lapses thereafter. The certificate may be renewed for ten years at a time, with effect from the expiry of the preceding ten-year period, always provided the preconditions exist for issue of such a certificate. A certificate of no legal impediment to publication may be rescinded if the preconditions for the issue of such a certificate no longer pertain, if the activity has not commenced within six months from the date of issue of the certificate, or if the person carrying on the activity has given notice that it has been discontinued. If the certificate lapses or is rescinded, provisions laid down in law or other statute apply. More detailed rules concerning the issue, lapse, renewal and rescinding of a certificate of no legal impediment to publication are laid down in law. Every database shall have a name. More detailed provisions concerning such names are laid down in law. Provisions concerning penalties for persons offending against a provision under paragraph four or five are laid down in law.
  • Article 10 provides the following: This Fundamental Law applies to technical recordings which have been published. A technical recording is deemed to have been published when it has been delivered for dissemination to the general public in Sweden by being played, sold or otherwise made available. The question whether or not this Fundamental Law is applicable is examined in individual cases on the basis of what can be presumed concerning dissemination. Unless otherwise indicated by the circumstances, this Fundamental Law shall be regarded as applying to a recording containing information under Chapter 3, Article 13, and Chapter 4, Article 4.
  • Article 11 provides the following: Chapter 1, Article 7, paragraph two of the Freedom of the Press Act establishes that certain radio programmes and technical recordings shall be equated with periodicals. (see more about the Constitution of Sweden here)
  • Article 12 provides the following: The provisions of Chapter 1, Articles 8 and 9 of the Freedom of the Press Act to the effect that provisions may, without hindrance of fundamental law, be laid down in law concerning originators’ rights, certain commercial advertising, the provision of credit information and the manner in 59 which information is procured shall apply also to radio programmes and technical recordings without hindrance of fundamental law. The rules contained in this Fundamental Law do not preclude the laying down in law of other provisions concerning bans on commercial advertising in radio programmes or the conditions applying to such advertising. The same applies to provisions concerning bans on and conditions applying to other advertising and the transmission of programmes financed wholly or in part by some person other than the person operating the programme service.
  • Article 13 provides the following: This Fundamental Law does not apply to the portrayal of children in pornographic pictures.

Chapter 9 of the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression has the heading “On court proceedings in freedom of expression cases”. Here is the content of the only article of Chapter 9: The provisions laid down in Chapter 12 of the Freedom of the Press Act concerning court proceedings in freedom of the press cases shall apply also in respect of the corresponding cases relating to radio programmes and technical recordings (freedom of expression cases). The reference in Chapter 12, Article 2 of the Freedom of the Press Act to Chapter 8 of the Freedom of the Press Act shall relate in this connection to Chapter 6 of this Fundamental Law. Persons appointed jurors for freedom of the press cases shall be jurors also for freedom of expression cases.

Chapter 11 of the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression has the heading “General provisions”. Here is the content of the only article of Chapter 11: The provisions laid down in Chapter 14, Articles 1 to 3 of the Free-dom of the Press Act concerning the re-opening of closed cases, examination of freedom of the press cases before a higher instance and prompt handling of such cases shall apply also in respect of corresponding cases under this Fundamental Law. Provisions laid down in an act of law or other statute apply in all respects not specially regulated in this Fundamental Law or in an act of law adopted by virtue of this Fundamental Law. Foreign nationals are equated with Swedish citizens in respect of freedom of expression under this Fundamental Law unless otherwise provided in law.

Other Chapters of the Law are:

  • Chapter 2. On the right to anonymity
  • Chapter 3. On transmission, production and dissemination
  • Chapter 4. On responsible editors
  • Chapter 5. On freedom of expression offences
  • Chapter 6. Liability rules
  • Chapter 7. On supervision, prosecution and special coercive measures
  • Chapter 8. On damages
  • Chapter 10. On radio programmes and technical recordings emanating from abroad etc.

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