Press Freedom

Press Freedom in Europe

Press Freedom in Sweden

In the Swedish Constitution: The Freedom of the Press Act (SFS nr: 1949:105)

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. The Riksdag Act occupies an intermediate position between a fundamental law and ordinary law.

Freedom of the Press Act

The most recent Freedom of the Press Act was adopted in 1949 although Sweden established freedom of the press by law as early as 1766 and was first in the world to do so, at least according to its government. Freedom of the press means the right to disseminate information in printed form but with accountability before the law. Another feature of the Freedom of the Press Act is the citizens right to study public documents, and the principle of public access to official documents.

On joining the Eropean Union, Sweden was therefore obliged to make a few minor adjustments to the fundamental laws. For example, the Freedom of the Press Act was amended to enable the prohibition of advertisements for breast milk substitutes.

Chapter 1 of the Freedom of the Press Act has the heading “On the freedom of the press”. Here are the content of Chapter 1:

  • Article 1 provides the following: The freedom of the press is understood to mean the right of every Swedish citizen to publish written matter, without prior hindrance by a public authority or other public body, and not to be prosecuted thereafter on grounds of its content other than before a lawful court, or punished therefor other than because the content contravenes an express provision of law, enacted to preserve public order without suppressing information to the public. In accordance with the principles set out in paragraph one concerning freedom of the press for all, and to secure the free exchange of opinion and availability of comprehensive information, every Swedish citizen shall be free, subject to the rules contained in this Act for the protection of private rights and public safety, to express his thoughts and opinions in print, to publish official documents and to communicate information and intelligence on any subject whatsoever. All persons shall likewise be free, unless otherwise provided in this Act, to communicate information and intelligence on any subject whatsoever, for the purpose of publication in print, to an author or other person who may be deemed to be the originator of material contained in such printed matter, the editor or special editorial office, if any, of the printed matter, or an enterprise which professionally purveys news or other information to periodical publications. All persons shall furthermore have the right, unless otherwise provided in this Act, to procure information and intelligence on any subject whatsoever, for the purpose of publication in print, or in order to communicate information under the preceding paragraph.
  • Article 2 provides the following: There shall be no scrutiny of any written matter prior to printing, nor shall it be permitted to prohibit the printing thereof. Nor shall it be permitted for a public authority or other public body to take any action not authorised under this Act to prevent the printing or publication of written matter, or its dissemination among the general public, on grounds of its content.
  • Article 3 provides the following: No person may be prosecuted, held liable under penal law, or held liable for damages, on account of an abuse of the freedom of the press or complicity therein, nor may the publication be confiscated or impounded other than as prescribed and in the cases specified in this Act.
  • Article 4 provides the following: Any person entrusted with passing judgment on abuses of the freedom of the press or otherwise overseeing compliance with this Act should bear constantly in mind in this connection that the freedom of the press is fundamental to a free society, direct his attention always more to illegality of subject matter and thought than to illegality of expression, to the aim rather than the manner of presentation, and, in case of doubt, acquit rather than convict. In determining the penal sanctions associated with abuses of the freedom of the press under this Act, particular attention shall be directed, when dealing with statements which require correction, to whether such correction has been brought to the attention of the public in an appropriate manner.
  • Article 5 provides the following: This Act applies to all written matter produced using a printing press. It shall likewise apply to written matter duplicated by stencil, photocopying, or other like technical process, provided 1. a valid certificate of no legal impediment to publication exists in respect of the written matter; or 32 2. the written matter is supplied with a note indicating that it has been duplicated and, in association therewith, clear information concerning the identity of the person who duplicated it and the year and place of duplication. Rules in this Act which refer to written matter produced using a printing press, or to printing, shall apply in like manner to other written matter to which the Act applies under paragraph one, or to the duplication of such matter, unless otherwise indicated. Pictorial matter is classified as written matter even when there is no accompanying text.
  • Article 6 provides the following: Printed matter shall not be deemed to be such unless it is published. Printed matter is deemed to have been published when it has been delivered for sale or dissemination within the Realm by other means. This does not however apply to printed documents of a public authority to which there is no public access.
  • Article 7 provides the following: Periodical is understood to mean any newspaper, magazine or other such printed matter, which, according to its publishing schedule, is intended for publication in at least four issues or instalments a year, appearing at different times under a particular title, and posters and supplements pertaining thereto. Once a certificate of no legal impediment to publication has been issued, a publication shall be deemed to be a periodical until such time as the certificate is rescinded or is declared to have lapsed. If the owner of a periodical disseminates or causes to be disseminated the contents of the periodical, or parts thereof, in the form of a radio programme or technical recording under the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression, the programme or technical recording shall be equated, in respect to the application of Chapters 1 to 14, with a supplement to the periodical, insofar as the version disseminated in such form reproduces the contents of the periodical in unaltered form and indicates how the contents have been disposed. A special obligation to record such programmes, and retain technical recordings and keep them available, may be laid down in law. Rules concerning the right to broadcast are contained in Chapter 3 of the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression.
  • Article 8 provides the following: Provisions laid down in law apply in respect of the rights vested in the originator of a work of literature or art or the originator of a photographic picture, of rights neighbouring on such copyright, and the prohibition of the reproduction of works of literature or art in such a way as to encroach upon cultural interests.
  • Article 9 provides the following: The provisions of this Act notwithstanding, rules laid down in law shall govern 1. bans on commercial advertising insofar as the advertising is employed in the marketing of alcoholic beverages or tobacco products; 2. bans on commercial advertising employed in the marketing of goods other than tobacco products and services, if the advertisement contains a trade identification in use for a tobacco product, or which under current rules concerning trade marks is registered or established by custom in respect of such a product; 3. bans on commercial advertising introduced for the protection of health or the environment in accordance with obligations pursuant to accession to the European Communities; 4. bans on the publication, within the framework of the professional provision of credit information, of any credit information which improperly infringes the personal integrity of a private subject or contains false or misleading statements; liability for damages for such publication; and the correction of false or misleading statements; 33 5. liability under penal law and liability for damages relating to the manner in which information or intelligence has been procured.
  • Article 10 provides the following: This Act does not apply to the portrayal of children in pornographic pictures. (see more about the Constitution of Sweden here).

Other chapters:

  • Chapter 2: On the public nature of official documents
  • Chapter 3: On the right to anonymity
  • Chapter 4: On the production of printed matter
  • Chapter 5: On the publication of periodicals
  • Chapter 6: On the dissemination of printed matter
  • Chapter 7: On offences against the freedom of the press
  • Chapter 8: Liability rules
  • Chapter 9: On supervision and prosecution
  • Chapter 10: On special coercive measures
  • Chapter 11: On private claims for damages
  • Chapter 12: On court proceedings in freedom of the press cases
  • Chapter 13: On matter printed abroad etc.
  • Chapter 14: General provisions

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