Politicians are demanding funding cuts, a narrower mission and personal penalties for journalists. Public service is the target of online abuse and threats, and a new financing model has only increased criticism. In many parts of Europe, public service broadcasting is already under severe pressure. Is Sweden next in line?
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has published a new report: Swedish public service media under fire
Politicians are demanding funding cuts, a narrower mission and personal penalties for journalists. Public service media is the target of online abuse and threats, and a new financing model has only increased criticism. RSF Sweden therefor proposes that the distance between the political sphere and public service be maintained by providing constitutional protection for editorial independence. Protect individual journalists by investigating and prosecuting all crimes against journalist and strengthen protections against threats and harassment.
In February this year, the line between politics and public service was crossed. An MP demanded that the heads of public service be called up by the Swedish Parliament’s Committee on Culture to answer for segments that his party considered lacking in impartiality and objectivity.
The most important task of journalism is to hold power accountable, consequently a clear divide between journalism and politics is important. The political debate in Sweden, as well as developments in the rest of Europe, show that independence cannot be taken for granted. Attacks on journalists are increasing and intensifying.
In times of crisis, the tables are often turned. The covid-19 pandemic has changed the media climate and more people are turning to traditional news outlets. For example, viewing of Swedish public service television channel SVT2 increased by 48 per cent during April of 2020, compared to the same month last year. But what happens after the crisis? Will the polarization and the political demands remain?
“Looking at the situation in Europe, we see public service broadcasters being threatened by lack of funding and greater political control. Hungary and Poland are among the frightening examples. We must safeguard free, independent journalism in Sweden. Therefor we should protect independence in the Swedish constitution,” says Erik Halkjaer, president of RSF Sweden.
“Sweden, which is ranked 4th in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, is supposed to be a model in Europe,” said Pavol Szalai, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk. “Guaranteeing the independence of the Swedish public media is a way to set an example for many other countries such as Poland, whose government is using the public television – on the eve of the upcoming presidential election – as an campaign tool.” says Pavol Szalai, head of the EU and Balkan desk at Reporters Without Borders.