The System of Media Ethics in Sweden


The Media Ombudsman (MO) is an independent self-disciplinary body, handling complaints on the editorial content of newspapers, magazines, broadcast media and their websites and social media. MO is the investigating authority in the process, handles complaints from individuals who feel unfairly treated by the media.

The complainant must be personally affected and identified, (e.g. by name, photo or other identifiable information) with offensive or otherwise damaging information about them and their personal affairs. The complaint must be submitted within three months’ time from the publicity.

If the Media Ombudsman finds that a publication is subject to criticism, the case will be submitted to the Media Council for review and decision. If the Media Council decides that the publication should be criticized for breaching the media-ethical rules, the restitution for the complainant is that the media shall publish a statement of the decision in the same channels as the original publication.

The media is also obliged to pay a fee to the Media Ombudsman. Companies, government authorities and organizations can also file complaints. The restitution for such institutional complaints is the right to respond or the right of a correction.

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 Swedish 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 media items they regard as a violation of good journalistic practice. But the person to whom the published piece 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 media 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/she 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.

Code of Ethics for Media in Sweden

The press, radio and television shall have the greatest possible degree of freedom, within the framework of the Freedom of the Press Act and the constitutional right of freedom of speech, in order to be able to serve as disseminators of news and as scrutinizers of public affairs. In this connection, however, it is important that the individual is protected from unwarranted suffering as a result of publicity.

Ethics does not consist primarily of the application of a formal set of rules but in the maintenance of a responsible attitude in the exercise of journalistic duties. The code of ethics for press, radio and television is intended to provide support for this attitude.

What can the Media Ombudsman review?

The Media Ombudsman can review printed newspapers and magazines, Swedish broadcast radio and television, as well as some online publications, i.e. online publications that are members of The Swedish Media Publishers’ Association (TU – Medier i Sverige) or The Magazine Publishers’ Association (Sveriges Tidskrifter), alternatively having filed for membership of the Ethical Press System.

Rules on Publicity

Provide accurate news
  1. The role played by the mass media in society and the trust of the public of these media call for accurate and objective news reporting.
  2. Be critical of news sources. Check facts as carefully as possible in the light of the circumstances even if they have been published earlier. Allow the reader/listener/viewer the possibility of distinguishing between statements of fact and comments.
  3. News bills, headlines and introductory sections must be supported by the text.
  4. Check the authenticity of pictures. See to it that pictures and graphical illustrations are correct and are not used in a misleading way.
Treat rebuttals generously
  1. Factual errors should be corrected when called for. Anyone wishing to rebut a statement shall, if this is legitimate, be given the opportunity to do so. Corrections and rebuttals shall be published promptly in appropriate form, in such a way that they will come to the attention of those who received the original information. It should be noted that a rebuttal does not always call for an editorial comment.
  2. Publish without delay critical rulings issued by the Swedish Media Council in cases concerning your own newspaper.
Respect individual integrity
  1. Consider carefully any publicity which could violate the privacy and integrity of individuals. Refrain from such publicity unless the public interest obviously demands public scrutiny.
  2. Exercise great caution in publishing information about suicide and attempted suicide, particularly with regard to the feelings of relatives and in view of what has been said above concerning the privacy and integrity of individuals.
  3. Always show the greatest possible consideration for victims of crime and accidents. Consider carefully whether to publish names and pictures out of respect for the victims and their relatives.
  4. Do not emphasize ethnic origin, sex, nationality, occupation, political affiliation, religious persuasion or sexual disposition in the case of the persons concerned if this is not important in the specific context or is demeaning.
Exercise care in the use of pictures
  1. Whenever appropriate, these rules also apply to pictures.
  2. Montage, electronic retouch and captions should be handled in such a way as not to mislead or deceive the reader. Whenever a picture has been altered through montage or retouch this should be stated. This also applies to such material when it is filed in picture libraries.
Listen to each side
  1. Offer persons, who are criticized in a factual report, the opportunity to reply instantly to the criticism. Aim at presenting the views of all parties involved. Bear in mind that the sole objective of filing complaints of various kinds with various bodies may be to cause harm to an individual.
  2. Remember that, in the eyes of the law, a person suspected of an offence is always presumed innocent until proven guilty. The outcome of a legal case should be published if it has been previously reported on.
Be careful with naming
  1. Show careful consideration to the harmful consequences that might ensue for persons if their names are published. Refrain from publishing names if it might cause harm unless it is obviously in the public interest.
  2. In case a person´s name is not published, also refrain from publishing a picture of that person or details on occupation, title, age, nationality, sex, etc, which could enable identification.
  3. Bear in mind that the entire responsibility for publishing names and pictures rests with the publisher.

More on Media Ethics

The code of ethics consists of a set of rules for members of the press regarding publicist decisions, it is not legislation. The rules serve as protection of the individual against publicity damages, beyond what the legal system can offer. The Media Ombudsman adhere to the media ethic rules in their assessments.

The legal framework concerning publications in newspapers and magazines are part of the Freedom of the Press Act (Tryckfrihetsförordningen, TF). TF gives each citizen the right to express her/himself in writing. The law also offers protection for the individual against defamation in newspapers. Broadcast media and online newspapers adhere to the corresponding rules in the Freedom of Expression Act (Yttrandefrihetsgrundlagen, YGL). If an individual considers her/himself to be subject of slander in media, there is the possibility of arbitrary prosecution. The Chancellor of Justice can also prosecute.

Rules of professional conduct

Swedish Union of Journalists

Strong journalistic integrity is crucial for maintaining credibility. Those who scrutinize society must also be able to withstand scrutiny. It is important that journalists show due respect when working in the field and that journalists while on duty strive to report correctly, in order to retain the confidence of the general public. Trust in the media and its employees is built upon following the rules of professional conduct.

The journalist’s integrity

  1. Do not take on journalistic commissions in your professional capacity from people outside an editorial management group.
  2. Do not accept commissions, invitations, gifts, free trips or other benefits – and do not enter into any agreements or other undertakings – that may cast suspicion upon your position as a free and independent journalist.
  3. Do not succumb to pressure from outside parties that aims to hinder or restrict legitimate publicity or to create publicity when it is not journalistically motivated.
  4. Do not use your position as a journalist, or your press pass, to apply pressure for your own or someone else’s gain or to obtain private benefits.
  5. Do not use unpublished news regarding financial circumstances or measures taken by the state, local government, organizations, companies or individuals for your own gain or that of others.
  6. Observe the regulations of the collective agreements for journalists, which state that employees may not be ordered to carry out degrading tasks or tasks that are contrary to their believes.

Acquisition of material

  1. Show particular consideration to inexperienced interviewees. Inform the interviewee whether the conversation and other material is intended for publication. Be careful to reproduce statements and other material that non-public figures publish in social media.
  2. Accommodate reasonable requests from interviewees who want to know in advance how and where their statements will be used.
  3. Do not falsify interviews or images.
  4. Show due respect when on photographic assignments and when obtaining pictures, especially in connection with accidents and crimes.
  5. Hidden camera and other hidden recording equipment, when used for the purpose of publishing, should be used only in exceptional cases, after careful consideration and when a journalistic evaluation has stated that the information is not available in any other way. Concerned parties should be informed that the recording took place and why it was carried out, before publishing the information.
  6. Respect copyright rules regarding text, images and sound.
  7. State the source when an account is based largely on someone else’s information.

Contact us

The Office of the Swedish Media Ombudsman

Phone: +46(0)8 692 4620
Opening hours: Monday – Thursday 09.00-17.00, Friday 09.00-15.00. Closed for lunch 12.00-13.00. Day before public holiday 09.00-12.00.

E-mail: info@medieombudsmannen.se
Postal address: P.O. Box 22310, SE-104 22 Stockholm, Sweden

Caspar Opitz, Swedish Media Ombudsman

Direct: +46 (0) 8 692 4630

E-mail: caspar.opitz@medieombudsmannen.se

The Office of the Swedish Media Council

Phone: +46(0)8 692 4604
Opening hours: Monday- Thursday 09.00-17.00. Closed for lunch 12.00-13.00. Day before public holiday 09.00-12.00.

E-mail: namnden@medieombudsmannen.se