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Sweden enjoys media freedom

Itai Dzamara in Stockholm

THE Swedish media enjoys unhindered access to information and freedom of expression, contrary to claims by authorities in Zimbabwe that media lawshere are tight


The Swedish Freedom of the Press Act provides that the media must easily and freely access information from the state as well as private entities, an ongoing study tour by Zimbabwean journalists has revealed.

Speaking to the Zimbabwe Independent recently, Media and Information Commission chair Tafataona Mahoso said Sweden’s press laws were stricter than Zimbabwe’s.

Compared to Zimbabwe, where there have been numerous arrests of journalists over the last three years since the promulgation of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Public Order and Security Act, the last arrest of a journalist in Sweden was more than 30 years ago.

Journalists in Sweden don’t have to be accredited to operate in the country and the same applies to foreign journalists.

To start a newspaper or radio station, one merely needs to register as a company and specify a “responsible editor”. The rest of the journalists working at the paper or broadcaster don’t need to be accredited by any authority.

The government doesn’t run the media, as is the case in Zimbabwe. Government owns none of the 140 newspapers in Sweden. There is a public broadcaster with two television stations and three radio stations funded by the taxpayer. The government does not have a say in the day-to-day running of the broadcaster.

There are also two private television stations and five private radio stations in Sweden. The Freedom of Press Act provides, in Chapter 3, for the protection of anonymous sources and actually categorises as criminal attempts either by the state or any member of the public to force a journalist to reveal an anonymous source.

A press ombudsman and a Press Council appointed by a body comprising the Swedish Publishers Association, the Magazine Publishers Association, the National Press Club and the Swedish Union of Journalists perform the role of monitoring the media.

The ombudsman and press council, comprising eight members including a Supreme Court judge, handles complaints against the media.

“We are happy to enjoy the freedom of the media in this country,” said Olle Stenholm, the press ombudsman.

“Since the ban on censorship in 1766, this country has over the years been gradually developing a culture to respect and uphold freedom of the media.

The responsibility to determine what comes out is entirely up to journalists and we have laws that create a self-regulatory framework for the media. The laws are not statutory.”

Swedish journalists interviewed this week said they enjoyed freedom and had easy access to information.

“I can say from the 33 years I have been practising as a journalist that there is press freedom in Sweden,” said Kjell Hedlund, a senior journalist at Uppsala NyaTidning, a daily based in the Uppsala province.

“We easily access public information. In fact, ministers send documents to us by mail upon request in 24 hours as required by law.”

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