Power has to be shared by many

Last updated: 2/2-2023

About Sweden – an orientation about Swedish society.

In Sweden, it is not only the Riksdag, the government and the politicians who have power. There are many other people and groups who can have an influence in society.

Sweden’s statute book, with a judge’s gavel on top.

Dividing power between several different people, groups and interests is important in a democracy. It is undemocratic and dangerous if all the power in a society is held by one person, or a small number of people. That is the basis of a dictatorship.

This text is about the media, businesses, the courts and civil society in Sweden. It describes what each of them do and how they can have an influence in society.

Everyone has the right to participate in the governing of their country, either directly or by electing their representatives in free and fair elections.

You are also entitled to freedom of opinion and expression. This means that you are free to have the views and think the thoughts you wish. You can also spread your ideas and thoughts to others, such as via social media. But you are not allowed to use your freedom of expression to spread hate and slander about other people and groups. You also have the right to organise and take part in peaceful gatherings, protest marches and associations. But you are also entitled not to participate in gatherings or protest marches, and not to be a member of any association.

The media

Freedom of the media is important in a democracy. The media transmit news, knowledge, and information that concern and affect all members of society. The media are also important for a public debate about various issues in a society. Journalists have to be free to inform the public and to scrutinise politicians and other people with power. Radio, television, newspapers, and online media must be able to broadcast, write and publish what they like, without anyone else deciding about content.

In some countries, there is no free press or media. Those in power decide what the media can write or broadcast. Journalists may be threatened or prevented from doing their job. That way, the leadership of the country can have more power and control over the people.

What is public service broadcasting?

There are three media companies in Sweden that have to provide what is known as public service broadcasting. These are Sveriges Radio (SR), Sveriges Television (SVT), and Utbildningsradion (UR). Public service broadcasting means that they have to provide news for everyone in society. Everyone in Sweden can watch and listen to the programmes from SR, SVT, and UR. No subscription is needed.

Public service broadcasters have to be independent of political and other interests. They have to report about society and about different opinions, without taking sides. But they have to defend democracy and equality. They are not allowed to make money from their programmes. Instead, they are financed by means of a fee that people pay as part of their tax.

Social media

Social media is used by people throughout the world. Social media is a collective term used for several different websites and apps on the internet. People on social media communicate directly with one another. In contrast with traditional media, such as radio, television and newspapers, which employ journalists to create content, anyone can create content on social media.

Examples of social media include blogs, online forums, Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, Twitter, WhatsApp, and YouTube.

Social media has made it possible for more people to express, spread, and receive different opinions and information. While this is positive, there are also challenges with social media. People can use social media to spread false information, rumours, or propaganda. Sometimes social media is also used to spread threats and hate against public figures. It is important to be conscious of who is spreading the information you receive on social media and what their motives might be. This is known as source evaluation.

What are the differences between traditional media and social media?

The market

Companies and consumers also influence society. They are part of the market. Companies make and sell products and services in society. The companies also employ a large number of people. The Swedish economy is influenced by the market – in terms of how much the state, regions, and municipalities receive in taxes, for example. The market also influences how many people have jobs and are able to manage on their own salary.

The legal system

A legal system typically includes the authorities that safeguard legal certainty and the rule of law. The foundation of the legal system is the courts. Crime prevention and investigation authorities, such as the Swedish Police and the Crime Victim Compensation and Support Authority (Brottsoffermyndigheten), are also part of the legal system.

The Swedish Courts have to try court cases and matters – that is, they have to pass judgement and issue rulings. They have to be impartial and independent. This means that the Riksdag, the government, or government agencies are not allowed to decide how the court should rule in a specific case.

There are three types of courts in Sweden: general courts, administrative courts, and special tribunals.

General courts

District and city courts, courts of appeal, and the Supreme Court are known as the general courts. They try criminal cases and civil cases. A criminal case is when someone is suspected of having committed a crime. Civil cases are when two parties do not agree on something and cannot resolve the situation themselves. Some of the most common civil cases involve money and purchases.

The courts, then, decide whether someone is guilty of a crime and what sentence (punishment) the person should get if they are. There are different types of sentences, including fines and prison. A person who is suspected of a crime must be considered innocent until the prosecutor can prove that the person is guilty.

Sweden does not have the death penalty. In 1921, the Riksdag banned the death penalty except for certain crimes during wartime, and in 1973, it banned the death penalty completely.

Administrative courts

Administrative courts, administrative courts of appeal, and the Supreme Administrative Court are known as the administrative courts. They decide disputes between private individuals and government agencies and between companies and government agencies. If you do not agree with a decision by the social services, for example, or Försäkringskassan or the Tax Agency, you can appeal it in an administrative court. Migration courts are also administrative courts.

Some municipalities have Citizens’ Offices (Medborgarkontor) where you can receive help if you need more information about how to appeal a decision.

Example: Anita gets help to appeal a decision

Anita is 73 years old and has applied for home help from the social services in the municipality where she lives. A support officer examines whether Anita is in need of support. When the examination is complete, the support officer sends Anita the decision by post. The letter says that Anita’s application has been turned down, so she will not be receiving home help. She thinks this is wrong. What should she do? The letter with the decision explains how she can appeal, but she finds the information difficult to understand. She calls the support officer, who is obliged to inform Anita about how to appeal the decision to the administrative court.

Special tribunals

Special tribunals decide disputes in various special areas. An example is the Labour Court, which decides disputes between employees and employers.

Civil society

In a democracy, it is important that you as a citizen can take part in influencing society. Civil society is the term used for citizens' organisations and citizens themselves when they get together to discuss and influence issues they think are important. Civil society is not part of the state or the market – it is a reflection of the citizens in a democracy and their concerns.

A vigorous civil society is important in a democracy. It is via civil society that people can influence policy, for example, or scrutinise those in power or get involved with defending human rights.

Many organisations and groups in civil society are non-profit associations in which many people work for free. A non-profit organisation might be football club for children and young people, for instance, or an organisation offering homework help to adults or a language café for new arrivals.

Freedom of association is enshrined in Swedish law, which is an important part of a democratic society. Freedom of association means that everyone has the right to start or join an association. A group of people with a shared interest or a shared background can start an association.

If you want to join an association, start one, or apply for funds for your association, contact your municipality. Often it is the municipality’s leisure and recreation services department that helps associations.