Author:
Mathias A. Färdigh (University of Gothenburg)
October 2015

1. Introduction

The Swedish media system is dominated by public service broadcasters. Public service radio and TV both have a solid reputation as being trustworthy and reliable news providers. The Swedish public service television company (SVT) has the widest range of programming of all of the TV companies in Sweden.[1] SVT and Sveriges Radio (Radio of Sweden) are the most trusted outlets, along with TV4, the largest private channel. Sweden is also characterised by a high newspaper penetration. The level of press circulation is amongst the highest in the world, the overall consumption of broadcast media, however, has decreased slightly recently (Nord 2011). At the same time, Sweden has an excellent ICT infrastructure, affordable ICT access, and very high Internet usage (The World Economic Forum 2015; Eurostat 2014).

The implementation of the MPM2015 in Sweden shows a generally low risk for media pluralism in the country:  80% (16) of the indicators demonstrate low risk. However, there are important exceptions. Sweden scores high risk on two of the ‘Market Plurality’ indicators, ‘Concentration in media ownership’ and ‘Concentration of cross-media ownership’. In sum, media pluralism as a whole can be perceived as being both entrenched and secured. However, the alternative conclusion is that certain aspects of media pluralism may be endangered in Sweden in the near future.

 

2. Results from the data collection: assessment of the risks to media pluralism
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2.1 Basic Protection (16% risk – low risk)

The Basic Protection indicators represent the regulatory backbone of the media sector in every contemporary democracy and they measure a number of potential areas of risk, including the existence and effectiveness of implementation of regulatory safeguards for freedom of expression and the right to information; the status of journalists in each country, including their protection and ability to work; as well as the independence and effectiveness of national regulatory bodies, namely media authorities, competition authorities and communications authorities.

 

Indicator Risk
Protection of freedom of expression 27% risk (low)
Protection of right to information 6% risk (low)
Journalistic profession, standards and protection 25% risk (low)
Independence of national authority(ies) 4% risk (low)

 

Overall, the conclusion of the ‘Basic Protection’ domain indicators is that they pose relatively low risk. Of the total of 4 basic indicators, 4 scored a low risk.

Sweden benefits from a long regulatory tradition for media freedom. Media legislation in Sweden is based on a strong tradition of press freedom.[3] The Freedom of Expression Act ensures freedom for the content of Swedish broadcast media, and additional laws regulate organisational and technical conditions.

The basic indicators for Sweden vary between 4% and 27%.

Regarding the ‘Independence of the national authority[3] and the ‘Protection of right to information’, Sweden scores a low risk. Instead, it is interesting to note that the specific dimension used to measure the ‘Protection for the freedom of expression’ and the ‘standards and protection of the journalistic profession’ are the measures that rank the worst, in terms of low risk, among the basic protection domain indicators (27% and 25%).

In Sweden, freedom of expression has been included in the Swedish Constitution since 1991. Amending the Swedish Constitution involves a special procedure, requiring two consecutive parliamentary decisions with an election between them. It is important to note that these two measures indicate two different elements. Concerning the freedom of expression, the score reveals more about the interpretation of the indicators that are meant to capture freedom of expression violations than about actual violations. There have been relatively few cases of freedom of expression violations in Sweden in recent years. It would thus be more accurate to speak in terms of exemptions that are, first and foremost, related to the controversial Mohammed cartoons and examples of the censorship of certain cultural expressions, than about systematic violations.

However, regarding the ‘Standards and protection of the journalistic profession’, the score tells a completely different story about the threats to both the physical and digital safety of journalists. A recent report from The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention shows that more than 30% of Swedish journalists are threatened and harassed each year because of their work as journalists. These results, from the J-panel at the University of Gothenburg, also show that as many as 80 percent of the Swedish journalists who answered questions about threats and abusive comments during the last 12 months reported that email was the most common mediation of threats and abusive comments. In addition, one-third of Swedish journalists are without permanent employment. This will most likely have negative consequences for a democratic society in the long run.

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2.2 Market Plurality (49% risk – medium risk)

The Market Plurality indicators examine the existence and effectiveness of implementation of transparency and disclosure provisions with regard to media ownership. In addition, they assess regulatory safeguards against high concentration of media ownership and control in the different media, within a media market as well as cross-ownership concentration within the media sector.

 

Indicator Risk
Transparency of media ownership negligible
Concentration of media ownership 70% risk (high)
Concentration of cross-media ownership 77% risk (high)

 

Overall, the conclusion of the Market Plurality domain indicators is that they pose a high risk. Of three indicators, two indicators scored a high risk, while one scores a negligible risk.   Sweden scores high risk on the indicators concerning ‘Concentration of media ownership’ (70%) and in ‘Cross-media ownership’ (77%),. The limits to prevent a high level of horizontal concentration of ownership in the media sector in Sweden are regulated by the Radio and Television Act and also in the broadcasting licenses. In addition, the media sector is regulated on the basis of the more general Competition Act. However, the Radio and Television Act contains no clearer criteria than the wording: “ownership may not change more than to a limited extent”. It is thus up to each control authority to assess what is really meant by “more than to a limited extent”. It is also remarkable that this formulation has absolutely no constitutional support.

Cross-media ownership is also regulated by the Swedish Competition Act through two main provisions: (1) Prohibition of anti-competitive co-operation; (2) Prohibition of the abuse of a dominant position. The Competition Act also contains rules for: (1) Anti-competitive sales activities by public entities; (2) Control of concentrations between undertakings. However, there is no specification about cross-ownership in terms of media companies.

Moreover, the digitalisation of the Swedish media system has now lasted for more than a decade.  Just as in other European countries, the Swedish media market is in the midst of an extensive transformation. Newspapers are losing readers, especially young readers of printed editions. In addition, the broadcasting media are being forced to revise their old business models in order to adjust to new and changing conditions in the wake of technological change. Five large actors dominate the Swedish TV market. Among the Swedish newspapers, there is a trend toward cutbacks, stripped-down newsrooms, and increased co-ordination of editorial work. This has consequences for the ownership structure and ownership concentration in the Swedish media system.

Regarding ‘Transparency of media ownership’, Sweden scores a negligible risk. Sweden does not have any specific rules on transparency for media companies. Instead, they follow the general rules stated in the Law of Financial Relations, also called the Transparency Act. Everyone can access the annual reports of media companies, including information about the ownership.  Most companies also have the reports available for download on their websites.

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2.3 Political Independence (17% risk – low risk)

The Political Independence indicators assess the existence and effectiveness of implementation of regulatory safeguards against biased representation of political viewpoints in the media, and also the extent of politicisation over media outlets, media distribution networks and news agencies. Moreover, it examines influence of the state on the functioning of the media market, with a focus on state advertisement and public service media.

Indicator Risk
Political bias in the media 4% risk (low)
Politicisation of control over media outlets Negligible
Politicisation of control over media distribution networks Negligible
State advertising 50% risk (medium)
Independence of PSM governance and funding 4% risk (low)
Independence of news agencies 50% risk (medium)

 

The conclusion of the Political Independence domain indicators is that they pose a relatively low risk. Of the total of 6 indicators, 4 score low risk and 2 indicators score a medium risk.

Concerning the risk related to ‘Political bias in the media’, Sweden scores a low risk (4%). The result also corresponds with a number of evaluations of the Swedish media content that have previously been conducted, during, after and between elections since 1998. For example, the latest report shows that the Swedish PSM channels are fair, balanced and impartial (Asp 2015).  This document also reveals that plurality has increased somewhat in the PSM channels, whereas it decreased in the commercial channels between 2013 and 2014. Moreover, the results from the Swedish Media Election Survey, a detailed campaign survey of the news covering in press, radio, and television during the last four weeks before election day, which has been conducted since the Swedish parliamentary elections in 1979, show that Swedish media (both commercial and PSM) generally offers proportional and non-biased representation (Asp 2011).

It is also important to note that the Swedish laws on public service media (PSM) demand diverse programming, and that all PSM have editorial freedom. Furthermore, the general competition regulation and the broadcasting licenses are backed up by the Swedish media subsidy system for the written press, both print and online, with the stated objective of strengthening and maintaining media pluralism.

The risks of ‘Politicisation of control over media’ and ‘Politicisation of control over distribution networks’ is, in both cases, negligible. The Swedish media companies refer to these issues in their annual reports; moreover, the theme is regulated in the Annual Report Act. Some may argue that the main risk with, for example, Swedish newspaper distribution, is how it is co-ordinated, and this concerns logistics, rather than political affiliations.

For the indicator ‘Independence of PSM governance and funding’ (4%), in the case of the broadcast media, the license regulates the operations of the public service that are to be characterised by independence from the state and from different economic interests in society. Independence is also regulated by the Radio and Television Act and the Freedom of Speech Act. The appointment procedures also provide for the independence of PSM boards and management. However, they are not fully effective in guaranteeing their independence. The boards are appointed by the government at the proposal of the political parties in parliament. Nonetheless, to prevent the general election from having an immediate impact on the management of the board’s composition, the Chairman and six other members are appointed by the government in the year that follows the general election. The authors have searched for examples of conflicts concerning the appointment and dismissal of the managers and board members of the Swedish PSM, but have found none.

The indicators on ‘State advertising and Independence of news agencies’ score medium risk (50% each). It is striking that it is impossible to say anything substantial about state advertising in Sweden due to the lack of data. However, it is important to note that the lack of data can be problematic when it comes to competition on equal terms, or to determining whether public funds spent on advertising are at a reasonable level. Lastly, the Swedish news agency Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå (TT) is alone in having a continuous rolling news flow in text and pictures, both from Sweden and the world, covering all subject areas. However, some minor Swedish news agencies compete with TT by specialising in specific areas (economics, medicine, and engineering) and by targeting particular groups of users. In these areas, TT has a much smaller share of the market.

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2.4 Social Inclusiveness (9% risk – low risk)

The Social Inclusiveness indicators are concerned with access to and availability of media for different, and particularly vulnerable, groups of population. They assess regulatory and policy safeguards for access to media by various cultural and social groups, by local communities and by people with disabilities. Moreover, they assess the centralisation of the media system, and the quality of the country’s media literacy policy, as well as the digital media skills of the population.

 

Indicator Risk
Access to media for different social and cultural groups, and local communities 13% risk (low)
Availability of media platforms for community media 29% risk (low)
Access to media for the physically challenged people Negligible
Centralisation of the media system 8% risk (low)
Universal coverage of the PSM and the Internet 6% risk (low)
Media literacy Negligible

 

Overall, the conclusion of the Social Inclusiveness domain indicators is that they pose relatively low risks. Of the total of 6 indicators, 6 scored a low risk.

In Sweden, the ‘independence of community media is part of the idea of media plurality and encompasses  diversity in both media providers and media content, as the low levels of risk for the indicators ‘Centralisation of the media system’ (8%) and ‘Universal coverage of the PSM and the Internet’ (6%) attest. PSM also has a special responsibility to offer a diverse range of programmes, including programmes with both mass and more specific attraction. These should reflect the diversity of the entire country, be characterised by a high level of quality, versatility and relevance, and be accessible to all (Sveriges Television n.d.). Likewise, the Swedish broadcasters have a major responsibility to take into account the needs of both the national linguistic and ethnic minorities[4] (indicator ‘Access to media of different social and cultural groups, and local communities’: 13%), as well as ‘Access to media for the physically challenged people’ (negligible risk). Operations such as the state support for cultural magazines and press subsidies that are aimed at linguistic minorities, must therefore be a priority; and they are expected to work actively to improve accessibility and give minority media access to media platforms. In terms of ‘Media and Information Literacy’ (MIL), Sweden is currently in a state of transition and development. Many MIL-related projects have recently been undertaken in Swedish schools, with many stakeholders and actors being involved (indicator Media literacy: negligible risk).

 

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3. Conclusions

Based on the findings of the MPM2015, the following issues have been identified by the country team as more pressing or deserving particular attention by policy-makers in order to promote media pluralism and media freedom in the country. . 

The implementation of the 2015 media pluralism monitor for Sweden in general demonstrates a low risk for media pluralism in the country. However, two particular aspects stand out. The first aspect covers the standards and protection of the journalistic profession. The results of the MPM2015 show that Sweden, despite representing a highly developed democratic context, does not manage to fully guarantee journalistic safety. Intimidation and harassment are effective ways to silence journalists even in Sweden. There is a need to add a dimension of external pressure and threats to the discussion on journalistic autonomy to the media policy agenda in both Sweden and the EU; self-censorship includes more than merely the chilling effects of government mass surveillance and the adaptions to the economic and political power structures.

The other aspect is the concentration of media ownership. Media pluralism and the opportunity for people to gain unimpeded access, and to generate and share a wide range of information, are essential pillars of democracy to ensure transparency and accountability. They are also essential for the functioning, sustainability and legitimacy of a democratic regime. Moreover, the media are expected to work as a platform for free expression for all, to foster constructive public debate, to empower the citizens, to enhance government efficiency, and, last but not least, to provide the government with the information needed to govern responsively and in the interest of citizens.

The Swedish media landscape is undergoing an extensive transformation. This is characterised by a steady increase in the convergence of media services, with a visible move towards intertwining traditional media and the Internet. This transformation presents both opportunities and challenges in terms of media plurality. Although it has never been easier for people to access, generate and share information, this transformation has led to an increased concentration of media ownership, more cutbacks, and an increased conformity of information and news. It is not sufficient that the media companies, like any other company, are included in the Swedish general laws that are supposed to ensure competition – the media companies have a much wider responsibility in a democracy. A media landscape that undergoes an extensive transformation also leads to extensive outcomes, which need to be investigated further.

 

Annex I. List of consulted national experts

Christoffer Lärkner – Ministry of Culture, Government Offices of Sweden

Mart Ots – Jönköping University

Oscar T. Westlund – Swedish Media Inquiry, Government Offices of Sweden

Lennart Weibull – University of Gothenburg

 

References

Asp, K 2015, Svenskt medieutbud 2014, Myndigheten för radio och tv, Stockholm, http://mrtv.se/Documents/Publikationer/Svenskt-medieutbud-2014-web.pdf.

Asp, K 2011, Mediernas prestationer och betydelse. Valet 2010. Department of Journalism, Media and Communication (JMG), University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, http://jmg.gu.se/digitalAssets/1335/1335825_63-mediernas-prestationer-och-betydelse.pdf.

Eurostat 2014, Community survey on ICT usage in Households and by Individuals. http://semantic.digital-agenda-data.eu/dataset/digital-agenda-scoreboard-key-indicators

Nord, L 2011, Mapping Digital Media: Sweden, Open Society Foundations. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/reports/mapping-digital-media-sweden

Sveriges Television (SVT) (n.d.), Charter, paragraph 6, http://www.svt.se/omsvt/fakta/public-service/article1713807.svt/binary/Sändningstillstånd 2014-2019

The World Economic Forum (2015).  Global Information Technology Report 2015. http://reports.weforum.org/global-information-technology-report-2015/economies/#indexId=NRI&economy=SWE

 

[1] About SVT: http://www.svt.se/aboutsvt/the-swedish-public-service-broadcaster

[2] Press freedom is regulated in the Constitution since 1766.

[3] NB: It needs to be noted that this indicator has been found to be problematic in the 2015 implementation of the Media Pluralism Monitor. The indicator aimed to combine the risks to the independence and effectiveness of media authorities, competition authorities and communication authorities was found to produce unreliable findings. In particular, despite significant problems with regard to the independence and effectiveness of the authorities in many countries, the indicator failed to pick up on such risks and produced and overall low level of risk for all countries. The indicator will be revised for further versions of the MPM (note by CMPF).

[4] Sweden has five recognised minorities (Samer, Jews, Roma, Swedish Finns, and Tornedalians). However, according to the definition of minorities that is used by the MPM project, there is only one minority group that amounts to over 1 percent of the Swedish population (Swedish Finns, 6 percent).

 

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