Censorship in Sweden
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Sweden protects freedom of speech and was a pioneer in officially abolishing censorship. A small number of restrictions remain such as child pornography, hate speech and libel. Cinema films are subject of advance censorship, otherwise there is an afterwards legal process if applicable.
Abolition of censorship
Sweden was in 1766 the first country to introduce a constitutional law where censorship was abolished and the freedom of the press guaranteed. The Law on the Freedom of Printing of 1766 was written by a committee of the parliament, during the Swedish "Era of Freedom" (frihetstiden). This law was also the first in the world to make most documents of the state authorities open and available for the citizens. This principle from 1766 is still an important part of the Swedish Constitution, and all Freedom of Information Acts in the world has grown out an application - usually in a very diluted way - of this Swedish "principle of public availability". The most important founding father of this part of the Swedish constitution was Anders Chydenius who was a member of parliament in the ecclesiastical estate. The freedom of press is also guaranteed in the Free Press Statute of 1812.
After an interlude between 1772-1809, with royal dictatorship and renewed suppression, the freedom of the press was reintroduced by the parliament in the Constitution of 1809-10. The constitutional prohibition against all forms of censorship before publication of books and other printed matters has since 1810 the strict formulation that is still a cornerstone of Sweden's freedom of the press. Not only is a censoring authority illegal, but also all other forms of court injunctions and other measures by the authorities to suppress or restrict a book or a paper before its publication. The injunctions that in many countries are sought by lawyers or officials, and given by the courts, to stop the publication or broadcasting of certain statements, facts or pictures are not possible in Sweden.
During the rule of king Charles XIV John the government had for a number of years power to administratively prohibit the further publication of newspapers. This was relatively easily circumvented by the press by small changes of newspapers' names, and the restrictions were abolished.
After the experiences during World War II (see below) a new Constitutional Law on the Freedom of Printing was decided by parliament in 1949. It gives a detailed constitutional protection of all steps in the way of a book or a newspaper from the protection of sources over the editing and printing to the distribution and the reading. This is done by special procedural rules for trials in all cases of press delicts, by trial by jury, by the requirement that no judgement of indemnity can be given if not a two-thirds majority of the jury has found the publication criminal - as well as through other rules that makes it impossible for the state or for private interests to take legal action against various persons or steps in the production.
The responsibility before the law rests only on the responsible publisher of a newspaper and only on the author of a book, with secondary rules only for such cases as books with an anonymous or an unknown author. It is not possible to take legal action against i.e. reporters, sources, distributors or printers because of the content of a book or a newspaper. The Swedish Constitution in this and a number of other ways gives very strong protection for the free word and the free press. Since 1992, the same level of protection is given to electronic media in a parallel Constitutional Law, although there are exceptions that allow regulation of radio and TV as well as censorship of films shown at cinemas.
Swedish law has a few criminal offences that concern misuse of the printed or spoken word. Among those is a law against hate speech. This is in Sweden seen as a crime against the state and public order, which means that legal action can be taken only by a special prosecutor that is under constitutional obligation to give special consideration to the importance of the free word for a free society.
During World War II
During World War II pressure from Germany caused the Swedish government to recommend Swedish publishers to not publish stories Germany may find biased. Minister of Justice Karl Gustaf Westman revived an old law, long considered obsolete, that made it illegal to publish "offensive writings" about a foreign State. Ture Nerman was sentenced to three months in jail in the winter of 1939 for an anti-Hitler column in his Trots allt! (In spite of it all). Another prominent anti-fascist Israel Holmgren was sentenced to jail by a Swedish court in 1942 for his book Nazisthelvetet (The Nazi Hell). Eventually he was pardoned, and Holmgren decided to publish exactly the same book again, but with a new ironic title, this time called Nazistparadiset (The Nazi Paradise), and he was no longer stopped from publishing it.
Hermann Rauschning's book, The Voice of Destruction, was confiscated two hours after it left the press. These and other cases of suppression showed the need to strengthen the protection of the free press. A committee, with former liberal minister of justice Natanael Gärde as chairman and well-known journalists and authors as the socialist Rolf Edberg, and the liberals Knut Petersson and Axel Brusewitz among the members, wrote a proposal for a revision of the Constitutional Law on the Freedom of Printing. This introduced a far stronger protection of the distribution of news, and it was with a few changes approved by parliament.
Sweden had a film censorship board, Statens biografbyrå, founded in 1911. Statens biografbyrå was closed down in 2011. A new board, Statens medieråd, have taken over the responsibility of determining the age limits for film. The censorship of film has been removed.
Statens biografbyrå oversaw censorship laws that stated that films "shall not include any material that is offensive to public decency or disrespectful to the authorities or private individuals, nor pictures depicting the commission of murders, robberies or other serious crimes, and exhibitions that are open to children shall not include pictures depicting events or situations that are liable to arouse emotions of terror or horror in the audience or for other reasons be considered unsuitable for children to look at." Since the abolition of Statens Biografbyrå, film censorship in Sweden has officially been removed.
The new board, Statens medieråd, determines age limits for films. The age limits are 7, 11 or 15 years old. Generally movies where people are killed or assaulted have 15 as the age limit, and movies with acts of sex (even if not shown in detail) have 11 as the age limit. This differs significantly from the practice in the United States of rating films with sex more harshly than films with violence.
All the documents about the examination of films, including cut scenes, are available to the public. Some movies have been banned entirely and are not available for viewing. The list of the films banned includes Nosferatu (banned for excessive horror), Mad Max and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. The last mainstream film to be cut was the 1995 film Casino.
It is also illegal to photograph or in any way make a picture of or describe (in writing) and/or publish pictures or documents of military installations and other "protected objects" (skyddsobjekt). The designation of "protected object" can be applied to facilities, geographical areas, ships and aircraft, when in the interest of national security.
The designation of military installations is the responsibility of the Swedish Armed Forces, while for civilian installations - such as critical infrastructure or defense contractor facilities - the responsibility for identification and designation rests with the local County Administrative Board.
Local protection (both civilian and military) has the right to confiscate and/or destroy images, documents and equipment that depicts or is used to depict the protected object/area.
Sweden prohibits hate speech, and defines it as publicly making statements that threaten or express disrespect for an ethnic group or similar group regarding their race, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, faith or sexual orientation. The crime does not prohibit a pertinent and responsible debate (en saklig och vederhäftig diskussion), nor statements made in a completely private sphere. There are constitutional restrictions pertaining to which acts are criminalized, as well limits set by the European Convention on Human Rights.
The sexual orientation provision, added in 2002, was used to convict Pentecostalist pastor Åke Green of hate speech against homosexuality based on a 2003 sermon. His conviction was later overturned.
Shortly after the news about the New Year's Eve sexual assaults in Germany was picked up by international media, Swedish press started to report about sexual assaults on women and underage girls by Afghan migrants at a music festival in 2014 and in summer 2015. The incidents were not reported by the police at the time. Only after research by newspaper Dagens Nyheter in response to the incidents in Germany, did the assaults become known to the public. Police chief Peter Ågren admitted the self-censorship, saying: "Sometimes we do not dare to say how things really are because we believe it will play into the hands of the Sweden Democrats".
The Swedish press was also subject to controversy after allegations that sources reporting the incidents were ignored before the assaults in Germany. A tip about the assaults was initially being researched by Dagens Nyheter, which claims it was unable to verify the credibility of the anonymous source.
The controversial Sweden Democrats party has complained about difficulties buying advertising space, due to media banning the party from advertising, which has been criticized by free speech organisations. On 16 June 2006, Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet decided to stop their boycott. Expressen, however, still retains a ban on Sweden Democrats advertising.
- The long history of censorship Archived 7 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
- Time Magazine: Censorship Over Sweden, Feb. 26, 1940
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- Statens Biografbyrå Archived 12 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
- Regeringskansliet Archived 19 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
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- Swedish Penal code, Brottsbalken, chapter 16, section 8.
- The Swedish Penal Code (English), chapter 16, section 8
- Proposition 2001/02:59, Hets mot folkgrupp, m.m., chapter 5
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- Lag om hets mot folkgrupp innefattar homosexuella[dead link]
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