How self-regulation works
The self-disciplinary system of the Swedish media is not based on legislation. It is entirely voluntary and wholly financed by four press organisations and four broadcasting companies: The Swedish Media Publishers’ Association, The Magazine Publishers’ Association, The Swedish Union of Journalists, The National Press Club, Swedish Radio (SR), Swedish Television (SVT), Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company (UR) and TV4.
These organisations and companies are also responsible for drawing up the Code of Ethics for Press, Radio and Television in Sweden.
The Swedish Media Council (Mediernas Etiknämnd, previously Pressens Opinionsnämnd) was originally founded in 1916 and is the oldest tribunal of its kind in the world. The Media Council is composed of four judges, who act as chairmen, 16 representatives from each of the above-mentioned media organisations, and 12 representatives of the general public who are not allowed to have any ties to the media business or to the media organisations.
The Media Ombudsman, MO, (previously Allmänhetens Pressombudsman, PO, established in 1969) is appointed by a special committee consisting of the Chief Parliamentary Ombudsman (JO), the chairman of the Swedish Bar Association and the chairman of the National Press Club.
Complaints from the public against newspapers, magazines or the broadcasting companies are first handled by the Media ombudsman. The MO is also empowered to take up matters on his/her own initiative, provided that the person or persons concerned are in agreement.
Any interested members of the public can lodge a complaint with MO against newspaper items they regard as a violation of good journalistic practice. But the person to whom the article relates must provide written consent if the complaint is to result in formal criticism of the newspaper.
When a complaint is filed, MO’s task is to ascertain whether it can be dealt with by a factual correction or a reply from the affected person, published in the newspaper concerned. MO may contact the newspaper for this purpose. If the matter cannot be settled in this way, the Media Ombudsman may undertake an inquiry if he suspects that the rules of good journalistic practice have been violated. He/she will then ask the newspaper’s editor-in-chief to respond to the allegations of the complainant. That person will in his/her turn be offered the opportunity to comment on the newspaper’s reply. Complaints must as a rule be filed within three months of the original publication.
Once the inquiry is concluded, MO has two alternatives: either (1) the matter is not considered to warrant formal criticism of the newspaper, or (2) the evidence obtained is weighty enough to warrant decision by the Media Council.
If MO writes off a complaint (option 1) the complainant may appeal that decision directly to the Media Council. Nothing prevents the complainant from taking the matter to a regular court of law after review by MO and the Media Council.
To file a complaint with MO is free of charge. MO also answers queries from the general public on matters of press ethics.
A newspaper or broadcasting company that has been found to violate good journalistic practice is expected to publish the decision of the Media Council. It shall also pay an administrative fine.
In recent years, 600+complaints have been registered annually. Roughly five (5) percent of the complaints lead to public criticism of the media by the Media Council. The large majority of complaints have been written off for various reasons, e.g. because the complaints were unsubstantiated, or the newspaper printed a correction or a reply.