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Sweden: ”Don't mess with our historical law”

Anders Chydenius, father of all Wobs and FOI-acts now under attack

The world’s oldest law on access to information is up for changes in order to conform with EU-legislation. Critics object strongly to the indicated suggestions.

A parliamentarian committee suggesting an overhaul of the Swedish Freedom of the Press Act (Tryckfrihetsförordningen, covering print media) and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression (Yttrandefrihetsgrundlagen, covering other media forms) has drawn hostile fire from a large amount of critics.
Only 4 out of 58 comments following a hearing are in favour of the committee’s preliminary suggestions.
32 comments from legal experts, media organisations, trade unions and others, criticise the suggestions, as well as the work done by of the committee so far.



Three alternative models for a technologically updated legislation are presented with a twofold purpose. One purpose is to adapt the legislation to new types of media, and the second is to iron out areas of conflicts between the Swedish law and EU-legislation
But the critics claim the Committee has done a poor job in analyzing the core of these conflicts, and haven’t actually proved the need for a change.
The critics also point out that the basic Freedom of Press act dating back from 1766 has served its purpose well, and has become a part of the Swedish political and cultural heritage.
”If it ain't broken, don't fix it” the argument goes.


The Committee’s proposals are called suggestions for discussions. A final proposal is expected at end of this year.
Many of the critics have never the less taken a firm stand already: They want to keep the constitutional laws in their present form.
Göran Lambertz, chairman of the Committee and a judge in the Swedish Supreme court takes the criticism rather lightly.
”We have received a useful reading of our different suggestions. The fact that people don’t want to change the present laws does not matter all that much. We didn’t ask for their opinion on that,” Mr Lambertz told this website.
Others involved are more blunt:
”Quiet embarrassing, these opinions form a major blow to the whole concept”, an informed source says.


The right of access to official document have been a part of the Freedom of the Press act, which again is a part of the Swedish constitution. The Finnish priest and Enlightenment politician Anders Chydenius originally introduced the law at the Diet – ”Riksdag of the Estates”, a forerunner to the Swedish Parliament.
Finland was a part of the Swedish realm until 1809.
The law has been suspended at times, but reintroduced again.
Besides access to information the Freedom of Press Act carries a prohibition of censorship, a protection of sources, as well as specific rules of responsibilities for publishers, and rules for trials on freedom of the press.
Taken together these different provisions give a strong constitutional protection of the freedom to print and the freedom of expression.


Until now there have been few open conflicts between Swedish law and EU-legislation as to access to information. EU-rules on transparency apply to EU-institutions and not to national authorities.
But on other areas such as data protection, data retention and prohibition of ”incitement to terrorism”, Sweden has declared constitutional reservations to EU-decisions.
One example is the data protection directive from 1995. The Swedish implementation of this directive makes an exception for data handling with a journalistic purpose.


Göran Lambertz, the chairman of the Committee says he has listened to the criticism to a certain extent.
»We will also take a look at a ”fixing-a-hole-solution”«, he says, indicating that the final result might not be a total overhaul of the constitution after all.

If the constitution should be changed this has to be decided by two different assemblies of the parliament with an election in between.
Two out of twelve Members of Parliament in the Committee, both from the liberal party in the government, and four legal experts have also made a statement rejecting a major overhaul of the Constitution.



Footnote: For a compilation of all the comments (in Swedish only) see under Documents. 


Staffan Dahllöf


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