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Sweden celebrates 250 years of Freedom of speech with ad campaign & Women journalist seminar

The Ministry of Foreign affairs in Sweden have produced this silent ad called #Free the Speech for the 250th anniversary of our Freedom Of the press law. In many parts of the world, fundamental rights and freedoms on free speech are increasingly under threat, and the film is intended to dramatize the consequences of silencing speech. Margot Elisabeth Wallström, the Swedish Social Democratic politician and our current Minister for Foreign Affairs, has this to say;

Free speech and transparency were guaranteed in Sweden on 2 December 1766, when the Swedish Parliament passed the Freedom of the Press Act, the first legislation of its kind anywhere in the world. This is an important landmark to celebrate – 250 years of media freedom! The Act has served Sweden well. Free speech and transparency are prerequisites not only for democracy, but also for innovation, feeding ideas through critique, debate and scrutiny. Transparency is also an important tool in combating corruption. However, as the 250th anniversary approaches, it is disturbing to see that the fundamental rights and freedoms it sets out to defend are increasingly under threat around the world. In many places, democracy and the rule of law are being undermined, human rights violated and their universal nature denied. These developments call for redoubled efforts to promote freedom of expression, transparency and media freedom, including promotion of media literacy and increased support to free and independent media around the world. In the second half of 2016, the Swedish MFA is running a campaign in defence of freedom of expression where we hope to contribute to the global discussion on this important topic. Please join us in this important conversation. Let the 250th anniversary become the starting point for a new era of freedom of expression.

I, unlike Margot Wallström and our ministry of foreign affairs, do not confuse freedom of the press with freedom of speech. Sweden, like several other countries, has laws against any speech that can be defined as "hate speech," that is speech that threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits. In the award winning campaign "The Swedish number", calls placed by journalists to random Swedes suddenly got an earful claiming Sweden had no freedom of speech. To which the journalists responded by discussing how to not have that guy represent them. The anonymous Swede said:

"Except for the politicians. And they don't listen to the people. And you are not allowed to state... to express your opinion in Sweden... if you have a job for example or in the media, you can only express opinion that are approved by the state and by the government - otherwise you can be fired from your job. It's really horrible. There's no freedom of speech."

The anonymous man brings up a good point, whether you agree with him or not. While a journalist has their reporting protected by the 1766 law, classic intimidation tactics are still used on anyone who opposes the status quo. And while we do have a 1766 law ensuring freedom of the press, in 1948 "Lex Åberg" was added later known as "Incitement to hatred", named after the first man who was convicted for it due to his anti semitic publishing business. People who are not journalists can be convicted for words on social media, and street artists such as Dan Park are jailed for their satirical politically charged posters. So we have freedom of the press, and speech, but there are limits.

Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs - Free The Speech - (2016) :30 (Sweden)


Still, the 2nd December, Sweden celebrated the world’s oldest Freedom of the Press Act – 250 years of media freedom and transparency. That's not bad at all. The Act abolished censorship of printed publications and secured the right of citizens to access public documents and take part in political debates. The film is an integral part of the campaign ‘# Free Speech – Greater Ideas #Defending Free Speech’ being run by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs together with Swedish embassies to highlight the threats against freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Journalistic freedom can not be taken for granted. In the past 10 years, more than 800 journalists and media workers have been killed, and at least one has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in the UK. According to Freedom House, in 2015, global press freedom fell to its lowest point in 12 years. The Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström marked the anniversary by keeping silent during her address at a seminar in Stockholm on "hate and threats against women journalists", called Fojo. By doing so, she wanted to highlight the increased threats to freedom of speech and freedom of expression around the world. The seminar in Stockholm on hate and threats against women journalists was livestreamed at Fojo.se and is archived on Youtube. I'm not sure why women journalists are getting their own seminar, and I can't image the likes of Anna Politkovskaya or Veronica Guerin waiting for a special conference created just for them, but I digress. Interesting to find who was invited to this journalist's event, one attendee was Anita Sarkeesian, founder of "feminist frequency," an academic styled video commentary series about gender representation in video games and not journalism in any sense of the word. She's not a journalist by any stretch of the imagination, but she does fulfill the "woman" criteria, which makes me wonder how few women journalists are currently working around the world.

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