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Sweden: Swedish Media Criticized by Swedish Press Council for Publishing Names of #MeToo Accused Without Cause

(Oct. 4, 2018) On June 25, 2018, the Swedish Pressens opinionsnämnd (PON, Press Council) in an unprecedented move issued critical opinions of the media regarding 10 of the 11 cases brought forward during 2018 in connection with the #MeToo movement. The Press Council condemned the media for publishing without sufficient cause the names of persons accused of sexual misconduct. ( Senaste fällningar , PON (June 25, 2018).)
Press Freedoms and Ethics in Sweden
Under Swedish law publishers are protected by two of the four laws that make up the Swedish Constitution—the Freedom of the Press Act ( TRYCKFRIHETSFÖRORDNINGEN (TF)) and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression ( YTTRANDEFRIHETSGRUNDLAGEN (YGL)), both on the Swedish Parliament website). However publishers’ freedom is not unlimited, and violations of press freedom may be punished. (1 kap. 3 § TF.)
In Sweden, media houses voluntarily subscribe to the Ethical Guidelines on Publishing. ( Publicitetsregler , JOURNALISTFÖRBUNDET (May 21, 2018).) These rules include provisions highlighting the importance of respecting the private life of persons that the media houses write about. ( Id. paras. 7–10.)
PON is responsible for determining what constitutes “the use of good publishing practice.” (PON, 1 § Stadgar för Pressens Opinionsnämnd , PON website (all translations by author).) PON is made up of two members each from the Publicistklubben (Publisher’s Club), Svenska Journalistförbundet (Swedish Journalist Association), Svenska Tidningsutgivareföreningen (Swedish Newspaper Publishers’ Association), and Sveriges Tidskrifter (Sweden’s Magazines). ( Id. § 6.)
Publishers that are criticized by PON for violating the press ethical rules are obliged to publish the PON opinion in the same form (i.e., digital, print, or video) as the original criticized piece was published, and must also pay fines to PON, the amount of which depends on the size of the publication’s distribution. ( Id. §§ 11 & 13.)
In addition to rules mentioned above, state media have additional requirements for how a broadcast may be conducted.
Section 15 of the Stadgar provides that “[t]he individual’s right to private life shall be respected in the program activities unless an undeniable public interest demands otherwise.” ( Det gäller vid namnpublicering i svenska medier , SVT (Oct. 17, 2017).) Thus, the general rule for state media is to not publish the names of persons suspected or accused of a crime. Instead, state media policy has been to publish the names only when the crime “is particularly serious and when there is a great public interest. Publishing the name can also become relevant if [the crime] concerns a public person, such as a politician, CEO, or other person in a role of responsibility.” ( Id. )
PON’s Media Criticism
During the past year with the growth of the #MeToo movement, several Swedish media corporations have published the names of persons who were not formally accused of sexual misconduct crimes in courts of law but who had been publicly accused by alleged victims. For instance, Svenska Dagbladet published an article with the name of a man accused by 12 women of sexual harassment. (PON, Svenska Dagbladet klandras för publicering om NN [namn angivet] (Case: Svenska Dagbladet, exp. nr. 88/2018, dnr. 17409, June 25, 2018).)
In this case PON found that
[w]hen a name is published and the person mentioned is negatively affected, it is of great importance that the publisher act with restraint and responsibly during the publication. A fundamental prerequisite for publishing must be that the publishing is compatible with good publishing practices and that there is evidence to substantiate the information.
Even though the newspaper that published the information had investigated the events and interviewed the participants, PON found that what the newspaper had accumulated in the form of background material did not warrant publishing a name. ( Id .)
Another man, Martin Timell, a well-known media personality and TV carpenter who was publicly accused of sexual violence, including rape, but was later cleared of all charges in court also had his name published in the media. (PON, Expressen klandras: Pekade ut Martin Timell som skyldig (Case: Expressen, exp. nr. 89/2018, dnr. 17495, June 25, 2018); Timell efter domen: ‘Är oerhört lättad’ , NÖJE (June 8, 2018).) The media outlet Expressen was criticized for writing about Timell as if he was already guilty. ( Id .) PON did acknowledge that sexual violence crimes are of great public interest, and that it is imperative that such accusations be brought to light. It also maintained that public figures such as Timell must bear greater scrutiny than a nonpublic person. However, PON found that because Timell had been accused of a rape that had occurred a long time ago, the public interest did not warrant publishing his name. (PON, Expressen klandras: Pekade ut Martin Timell som skyldig (Case: Expressen, exp. nr. 89/2018, dnr. 17495, June 25, 2018.)
#MeToo Accusations May Be Defamation
Under Swedish law, even true accusations may be defamation—the fact that an accusation is true is not in itself a defense against defamation ( förtal ). (5 ch. 1 § 2 mom. ( BROTTSBALKEN [BRB] [CRIMINAL CODE] (SFS 1962:700).)  Swedish courts have sentenced individual women to pay day-fines (fines calculated on the basis of the accused’s daily income) as well as monetary compensation  for accusing men on social media of raping or sexually assaulting them. ( See, e.g. , Fredrik Samuelson, Kvinna döms för förtal efter #metoo-inlägg , EXPRESSEN (Feb. 20, 2018).)

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