Free speech and freedom of the press

Published 2 December 2013 in:

Photo: Catarina Axelsson/MFA

A lot of developments in various parts of the world have recently brought the questions of free speech and freedom of the press into focus. In Sweden these issues have been debated for centuries. In fact, as early as 1766 Sweden was the first country to introduce a constitutional law where censorship was abolished. This law was the first in the world to make most documents of the state authorities open and available for the citizens. Although there have been some backlashes on the way, this principle is still an important part of the Swedish constitution.

Every country has laws that in various degrees limits access to certain documents or makes it illegal to take photographs of certain military installations etc. In can also be illegal to deliver so-called ‘hate speeches’ or try to deny certain historical facts, as for instance in the case of denying the holocaust in Germany. However, the principle should be that free speech should really be as free as possible. It is, in my view, very disturbing when governments try to limit free speech just because it makes it easier to govern. And it is especially dangerous when press freedom is infringed upon. An important role for media is to scrutinize those in power. Making it illegal to search for information is a certain step towards dictatorship. That is why it is illegal in Sweden for authorities to even ask journalists to reveal their sources of information. If media cannot protect their sources the press will not be free.

Peter Forsskål (1732-1763) was one of Carl von Linné’s  (1707-1778) disciples and published in 1759 a famous text on the neccessity of free speech, “Thoughts on Civil Liberty”.  It is still worth reading today.

The following links might be of interest for those who wish to know more about Sweden and its tradition of free speech:

The Freedom of the Press Act

Media of Sweden

Censorship in Sweden