Written by Antonia Paal

Back to Country Selection


  • Area: 450,295 square kilometres
  • Population: 10,011,860 (2017)
  • Capital: Stockholm
  • State form: Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
  • Official languages: Swedish
  • Religion: Church of Sweden (Christian, 65 per cent)

  • Flag of Sweden

    Sweden has a long tradition of freedom of expression that reflects in a strong and early developed press market. The public broadcasting service was originally introduced to oppose the historically partisan press. Therefore, while the press sector is highly self-regulated by a Press Council and has a distinct accountability system, broadcasting – primarily public but also commercial – is subject to some regulations and an authority. Although the state does not interfere in the press market regarding regulations, Sweden grants subsidies to smaller newspapers to support content diversity. Thus, the country shows external pluralism in mainly local or regional press markets. However, ownership is partly concentrated on some successful media houses. For having a strong public broadcasting and a traditionally independent press, Sweden is sorted in Liberalism in our typology.
    In general, ethical standards are important in Swedish newsrooms. Journalists are well educated and see themselves as a source of correct information and a fourth estate towards the state. However, audience research, multi-media skills and digitalisation are changing the field of journalism not only in the daily work but also in the journalism education. Having just this high professionalism in journalism or state subsidies, Sweden is part of the Democratic Corporatist Model of Hallin and Manchini (2004) – although in the course of globalisation and digitalisation, the country is stepping closer to the Liberal Model (Nord, 2008: 28). The following portrait is based on NGO reports (Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders), other documents and literature.
    Communication policy and regulations
    Sweden was one of the first countries to establish freedom of expression in its constitution. In 1766, the Press Act was passed, which gave people the right to a free debate on vital social issues and abolished state censorship – with the two exceptions of criticism of the monarchy or the Lutheran state church (Hök, 2012: 54-55). In a new version, these two exceptions were removed. “The Freedom of the Press Act provides protections to journalists’ sources and guarantees access to information. Swedish public bodies respect freedom of information in practice, and the government overall has exhibited high and rapid response rates to both domestic and international requests” (Freedom House, 2016). However, expressions considered to be hate speech are still criminalized and threats or expressions of contempt are prohibited (ibid.). The Freedom of Expression Act is a parallel basic law that grants freedom for the content of radio and television as well as it presents general principles of broadcasting. Details about for example licencing are determined in the Radio and Television Act.

    There is no law against ownership concentration in Sweden (Nord, 2008: 10); therefore some media companies possess a number of different media. The media market, especially the print sector is highly self-regulated. There are state regulations, though, regarding “the public service media, the ban of advertising, impartial and neutral programming in the broadcast media, programming for children and press subsidies to second-ranking newspapers in a region” (ibid.). “In terms of active state policy, state subsidies have been given to economically weak newspapers since the early 1970s” (Weibull, Jönsson & Wadbring, 2010). These subsidies are granted to small newspapers to maintain diversity, and are mainly to support those who engage in traditional cultural coverage (Hök, 201: 68). There are operational and distribution subsidies. “During 2015, the Press Subsidies Council distributed SEK 486.7 million [51 million Euro] in the form of press subsidies. Of these, SEK 436.2 million were in the form of press subsidies and SEK 50.5 million in distribution subsidies” (Myndigheten för press radio och TV, 2017). In addition, there are partial tax exceptions for media as they only have to pay a fifth of the value added tax (Jönsson & Weibull, 2009: 585). However, these subsidies play a less important role than previous as they only make up to three per cent of the revenue (ibid.) and have not prevented a change in the market towards media conglomerates. “In 2008 a discussion started in the EU about the Swedish press subsidies, but still there has been no decision to change them” (Weibull et al., 2010).

    Regulatory Bodies
    Sweden’s press is highly self-regulated as there is a well working accountability system. The Swedish Press Council was established in 1916 and comprises three journalist associations:
    • Tidningsutgivarna (TU), which is a union of newspaper publishers but also an interest grouping and organisation for wage negotiation (Jönsson & Weibull, 2009: 581),

    • Svenska Jounalist Förbundet (SJF) is a journalists’ union, founded in 1901 (Hök, 2012: 56),

    • and Publicistklubben (PK), which is a union for publicists.

    Together the Swedish Press Council has set up three different catalogues of rules for particular thematic areas. There are
    • rules for “good journalistic practice”, which are the oldest part of the code of conduct and regulate fairness, respect of privacy and so forth;

    • rules for “professional journalism”, which deal with journalists’ professionalism and integrity; and

    • rules that determine “editorial advertisement” (Jönsson & Weibull, 2009: 583).

    These rules are voluntary, but mainly guarded by the council and a Press Ombudsman, a function that was established in the 1950s and 1960s (Weibull et al., 2010). It is possible for citizens to lodge a complaint if there were violations of one set of rules. “Complaints are investigated by an appointed ombudsman who can choose to dismiss them for lack of merit or forward them to the council with a recommendation to uphold. The council ultimately rules on complaints and can impose a fine of up to 30,000 kronor ($3,600). Although the council does not have authority over broadcast media, it does operate an ethical code across all platforms. The code is applied to broadcast media by the Swedish Broadcasting Authority” (Freedom House, 2016).

    Said Swedish Press and Broadcasting Authority (Myndigheten för press radio och tv) was established in 2010, when the Swedish Broadcasting Commission, which was a government agency, was merged with the Swedish Radio and TV Authority. The newly formed authority takes “decisions on licences, fees and registrations, exercises supervision of television broadcasts, on-demand television, searchable teletext pages and audio broadcasting, and rules on applications for a certificate of no legal impediment to publication” (Swedish Government, 2015). The government issues licences with additional specifications for public broadcasting service, normally for a period of five years. The authority, however, grants licences in all cases where the broadcast operations are not financed by radio and TV fees and establishes a registry of all broadcasters (Radio and Television Act, 2010).

    The Press and Broadcasting Authority like the Broadcasting Commission before, supervises not only public broadcasting services but programmes of commercial radio and TV as well. There are rules regarding the ethics of media coverage (like impartiality, accuracy, respect of privacy) as well as general regulations affecting advertisement, sponsorship or product placement (Myndigheten för press radio och TV, 2016a). That’s why some Swedish commercial broadcasting companies are located in Great Britain to evade the stricter Swedish regulations (Nord, 2008: 13).

    Furthermore, included in the authority is the Press Subsidies Council, which considers applications for state support. To “gather relevant research and disseminates information on media development, media effects and media use regarding children and young people” is the task of the Swedish Media Council, also an official government agency.
    Media offers
    Print market Sweden is a nation of newspaper readers as still 67 per cent of the adults read a newspaper on an average day (TI Svenska Mediehus, 2015: 6). To ensure the stability of this important medium, the government supports newspapers – mostly second-ranked newspapers or those that engage in cultural coverage – with state subsidies since 1973 (Hök, 2012: 68). These account for three per cent of the newspapers’ revenue in total, which amounted two billion Euro in 2005 (Jönsson & Weibull, 2009: 584). The governmental support is offered “regardless of political affiliation in order to encourage competition and media content in immigrant languages” (Freedom House, 2016).

    The circulation figures for daily press are quite stable, but “slowly decreasing from the 90s onwards” (Hök, 2012: 58). The proportion of those who subscribe a newspaper is also decreasing; however, still 53 per cent of the Swedish subscribe papers (Myndigheten för press radio och TV, 2016b: 19) and almost 93 per cent of the morning newspaper circulation is based solely on subscription (TU Svenska Mediehus, 2015: 4). The entire print market can be divided in five sectors (Weibull et al., 2010; TU Svenska Mediehus, 2015: 5):
    • Metropolitan morning papers: published in the three main cities and issued seven days a week; Dagens Nyheter (266,000 copies in 2014) in Stockholm, Göteborgs-Posten (177,000) in Göteborg, and Sydsvenskan (96,000) in Malmö.

    • Metropolitan single copy sale papers: two daily tabloids that are published seven days a week; Aftonbladet (166,000) and Expressen (165,000), including its local editions in Göteborg (GT) and Malmö (Kvällsposten).

    • The regional and local papers: the biggest being Helsingborgs Dagblad, Helsingborg (64,000), Dalarnas Tidningar, Falun (48,000) and Nerikes Allehanda, Örebro (47,000). Regional and local papers are mostly sold on subscription.

    • Newspapers that are published once or twice a week, both local and metropolitan papers.

    • As a group of its own: gratis newspapers as Metro (766,000), which was introduced in Stockholm in 1995, 1998 in Göteborg and 1999 in Malmö.

    Thus it appears, newspapers in Sweden are mostly regional or local – only two tabloids (Aftonbladet, Expressen) and one economy newspaper (Dagens Industri, 89,000) are published nationwide (Jönsson & Weibull, 2009: 584).

    National dailies “have traditionally been affiliated with a particular political party” (Nord, 2008: 12). Over the last decades these affiliations have “only been attached to the editorial page where certain party positions have been defined, especially during election campaigns” (ibid.). However, this party press journalism was replaced by non-partisan, neutral content on the news pages – during election campaigns, though, some aspects of the coverage are still partial (ibid.). This historically strong party press defines Sweden (as well as the Nordic countries in general) as part of the Democratic Corporatist Model of Hallin and Manchini (2004). Other features of this model – that all can or could be found in the Swedish media system – are “an early development of mass-circulation press” and “strong professionalism”, while the state still plays a role “at a structural level” with (although decreasing) state subsidies and a strong public broadcasting service (Nord, 2008: 16).

    However, besides having a strong local press market and state subsidies to support smaller newspapers, there is still a concentration in ownership. The Bonnier Group is the dominating actor in the newspaper market. Amongst others it owns Dagens Nyheter, Expressen, Sydsvenskan, Dagens Industri and the free daily City. Additionally, the Bonnier Group is active in the broadcasting market as it also holds shares on the Swedish TV channel TV4. Another big player is the Stampen Group, which owns Göteborgs-Posten as well as five other dailies and eight free papers. “A typical feature of the Swedish newspaper market is regionally based chains, e.g. the Ander Group in Karlstad and the Herenco Group in Jönköping” (Weibull et al., 2010). During the 2000s, “numerous multi-production enterprises established”, which promotes for further ownership concentration (Hök, 2012: 58).

    Broadcasting market
    Sweden has a dual broadcasting system – inspired by the British public broadcasting service and the BBC. The advent of Swedish radio was in the 1920s, when a privately owned was started that later became the public service radio station Sveriges Radio (SR). In the late 1950s television was introduced and Sveriges Television (SVT), the public service television, was established. One company comprised radio and television held the monopoly of broadcasting as commercial broadcasting was not allowed until the late 1980s (Hök, 2012: 56). According to SVT, the public broadcasting media are “the most trusted Swedish media and enjoy a very good support from the Swedish TV audience” (SVT, n.d.).

    To ensure the funding of the public radio service, everyone who bought a radio receiver had to pay a mandatory licence fee since the start of radio broadcasting. When TV was introduced, the same model was transferred to the new medium (Engblom, 2012: 25). Additional revenues of SVT, come mainly from co-productions, selling technical services, sponsorships and programme sales. These amounted to “seven per cent of SVT’s total income of SEK 283 million [29 million Euro] in 2010” (ibid.: 24). The statues for public broadcasting obliged it to be “impartial and objective” – on contrast to the former partisan press (Hök, 2012: 57). “SVT programming is subject to the provisions of the Radio Act, to terms set out in the charter between SVT and the state as well as internal programming guidelines. The charter guarantees SVT´s independency of all pressure groups, political, commercial or otherwise.” (SVT, n.d.) The public broadcaster operates four channels: SVT1, SVT2, SVT24 and Barnkanalen (a childrens’ channel), which share the same channel ID, and in cooperation with the Swedish Educational Broadcasting company (UR) Kunskapskanalen. In addition, there is an international channel namely SVT Europa.

    The first commercial terrestrial television station TV4 was established in 1992 and is owned by the Bonnier Group and the investment trust Proventus (Jönsson & Weibull, 2009: 587). TV4 is a hybrid commercial channel, which means it is privately owned but operates under public service conditions (Nord 2008, 13). It additionally broadcasts niche programmes like information or comedy channels (Jönsson & Weibull, 2009: 587).
    Two other TV stations, TV3 and Kanal 5, are broadcasted from outside Sweden due to less stringent regulations on programmes and financing (ibid.: 586). TV3 for example has its headquarter in London and is influenced by Fox Television. It is owned by the Modern Times Group (MTG), which is also in possession of TV6, TV8, two niche channels, the radio Rix FM, and the free paper Metro. (ibid.: 587) In 2013, there was a change in ownership of Kanal 5 from the German Media Group ProSiebenSat.1 Media to SBS Discovery Media. True to the channel’s slogan “More Entertaining TV” it mainly broadcasts entertainment.
    In total, SVT1, SVT2, TV3, TV4 and Kanal 5 have a reach of about 60 per cent – with STV1 (24.3 per cent) and TV4 (20.2 per cent) having the biggest market shares (Myndigheten för press radio och TV, 2016b: 11).

    Regarding radio broadcasting, the first commercial radio was established in 1993. In 2016, however, there are are several commercial and community radio stations besides the four public broadcasting stations, which all aim different topics: SR P1 (news and culture), SR P2 (classical music), SR P3 (youth), SR P4 (specific regional news in 25 regions). “The range of the radio is stable and has even increased slightly from 2014. The Swedish Radio which undoubtedly reach the most listeners, about 58%, compared to the commercial radio which reaches about 36%. Bauer Media is the largest network with the most radio stations and the greatest reach.” (Myndigheten för press radio och TV, 2016b: 15) Bauer Radio owns amongst others NRJ, Rockklassiker and Mix Megapol, which is the commercial channel with the highest weekly reach of 43 per cent and a market share of 10 per cent. Rix FM owned by MTG Radio follows with 33.5 per cent (TNS Sifo, 2015: 25). Commercial radio stations are actually local stations as only SR channels are broadcasting nationwide. There are “commercial networks with national ambition” (Jönsson & Weibull, 2009: 588) like NRJ (having 22 stations), Mix Megapol (with 37 stations) or Rix FM (with 21 stations) (Nordicom, 2015). “The private radio market has from its start been under economic pressure. […] Most stations have been making substantial losses with the exception of a few stations with a strong local profile” (Weibull et al., 2010).

    The third form of radio broadcasting is “närrido” (community radio), which has a reach of ten kilometres and is only allowed to be run by civic associations. There are significant differences between community radio stations because some are almost “as commercial as private local radio” (Weibull et al., 2010) as they are permitted to broadcast advertising since the early 21st century. Whereas “others are more idealist, e.g. immigrant stations in their own language” (ibid.).

    Access to the internet is unrestricted in Sweden. The penetration is at almost 91 per cent and the medium was used by about 91 per cent of the population (Freedom House, 2016). Influenced by digitalisation most media outlets have digital or online versions of their content. There is the possibility to access radio (7 per cent daily reach) or TV online (22 per cent) (Nordicom Mediabarometer, 2016: 1). Regarding online TV, SVT has the highest market share (69 per cent) followed by TV4 (21 per cent) (MMS, 2016: 27).
    Furthermore, daily newspapers are read not only in print format but also online or via an app. The digital offer is used by 26 per cent of the readership (Myndigheten för press radio och TV, 2016b: 18). “In 2008 the leading single-copy papers, Aftonbladet and Expressen, had significantly more Internet than print readers” (Weibull et al., 2010). In total, websites of daily newspapers have over 40 million visits a week (TU Svenska Mediehus, 2015: 11).
    Journalists' autonomy
    Taking a look at the Freedom of the Press Index (Freedom House, 2016), Sweden is not only classified “free”, but with a score of 11 one of the three countries with the best scores in the world. On World Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders, 2016) Sweden ranks 8– which is a downfall compared to 2010 (first) or even 2015 (5). As a reason, Reporters Without Borders cites “protection for the media is not that good because a third of the journalists polled by the National Council for Crime Prevention in 2015 said they had been threatened” (ibid.). As there are certain topics that trigger threats or abusive comments, “there is considerable debate in Swedish media about the limits of free speech regarding contentious issues like immigration or Islam. The Swedish Union of Journalists observed during 2015 that self-censorship has increased in recent years, due to both threats and fear of making offensive statements” (Freedom House, 2016).

    Role and self-perception of journalists
    Still journalists in Sweden can work freely and unharmed. Even if self-censorship in connection with audience feedback is an issue that journalists have to deal with, “Swedish journalists found it most important to report things as they are, to be a detached observer and to let people express their views” (Löfgren Nilsson, 2016: 1). Many agree in the fact that a journalists’ role is being a democratic watchdog and simplify complicated events (Hök, 2012: 64). They “share the notion of autonomous, interdependent and impartial journalism” (ibid.: 53). Hence, Swedish journalism is a “mixture of independent monitoring ‘fourth estate’ and social responsibility with a necessary relationship between the political system and the media system to maintain diversity” (Nord, 2008: 9). This reflects in the fact that the public broadcasting services are believed to exercise their power on behalf of the public (Engblom, 2012: 26) and are widely trusted by their audience. However, many journalists see just this audience as a growing influence (Nygren, Dobek-Ostrowska & Anikina, 2015: 88), as audience research (63 per cent) and audience feedback (69 per cent) are a present factor in their daily work (Löfgren Nilsson, 2016: 4) – not only in regards with self-censorship but also in matters of their subject choices.

    While almost 70 per cent of the journalists perceive ethical standards as extremely or very influential (ibid.: 3), the leverage of these standards is still weakened. “The Swedish journalists completely agreed that journalists should always adhere to codes of professional ethics, regardless of situation and context. However, a majority at the same time regarded the codes as negotiable and 49.9 percent regarded ethics in journalism as a matter of personal judgement.” (ibid.: 2)

    Education and working conditions
    Journalism education in Sweden started with an apprentice system, which broke down as mass media expanded and commercialized in the post-war years (Gardeström, 2016: 33-34). Originally, the “press wanted to train their own journalists to socialize them into the regional or political culture of their specific newspaper” (ibid.). Press organizations wanted to maintain control over journalist training, however in 1959 a formal journalism education was established. A journalism institute was founded in Stockholm and Gothenburg – “both were integrated into the university system” in 1977 (Hovden, Nygren & Zilliacus-Tikkanen, 2016: 14). In the 1980s and 1990s many new programmes were established including short journalism programmes and independent vocational programmes (ibid.). “Whereas countries like Germany usually admit only students with a strong academic background to their journalism programmes and offer in-house training (volontariat), the Scandinavian countries offer an integrated model […] whereby the programmes offer both practical courses in media production and more academic subjects, often taking in young students with little educational or work experience.” (ibid.: 15)

    In Stockholm for example, “higher journalism education is offered at two universities, Stockholm University and Södertörn University” (Hultén & Wiklund, 2016: 95) – a Bachelor’s programme in journalism, Journalism and Multimedia, and Journalism with Social Studies. There is also the Poppius School of Journalism, a private school, that is fee-founded and offers “part-time courses in practical journalism” (ibid.: 96). As a result, professionalization of journalism is very strong in the Nordic countries, thus “a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in journalism has become the norm as a prerequisite for entering the profession” (Hovden et al., 2016: 15). Among young journalists “9 out of 10” have a professional education in the field of journalism (Nygren et al., 2015: 85). In a study, surveyed journalists state professionalization as one of the notable changes in the field – along with technical skills, social media and audience influence (Löfgren Nilsson, 2016: 4). As the media market is in rapid transition towards multi-media and multichannel journalism (Hök, 2012: 62) working hours are increasing. Still, journalism is a profession in demand as the numbers show: there are around 17,000 members of the Swedish journalist union (13,700 active, the others are students or senior members) plus about 2,000 outside the union (ibid.: 59). A majority of journalists hold, generally speaking, a full-time position, while only few are freelancers or part-time working (Löfgren Nilsson, 2016: 1). In general, journalists have “no problem in making a living from journalism” (Nygren et al., 2015: 85)
    Recommended citation form
    Antonia Paal: Sweden. In: Michael Meyen (ed.), Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich: Department of Communication Studies and Media Research 2017. http://mappingmediafreedom.de/sweden/ (access date).