Swedish Press Council criticizes naming figures in #MeToo allegations

The Swedish Press Council, responsible for judgments on whether the country's print media have followed journalistic best practice, has criticized several newspapers over their reporting of sexual assault allegations.

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards NewsMavens, Sweden
Swedish Press Council criticizes naming figures in #MeToo allegations - NewsMavens
Oslo women's march, Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

According to the Swedish Press Council, six newspapers violated "good editorial practices" in ten separate sexual harassment cases. One of the six was accused of a "gross breach of good editorial practices".

One reason the body criticized the revealing of names was a lack of evidence supporting the allegations, according to Sweden's press ombudsman Ola Sigvardsson in an article for the newspaper Dagens Nyheter. Sigvardsson said it was not a matter of reporting the allegations that was the issue, but how it was done, and furthermore noted "accusations of this kind tend to stick".

The editor of Expressen, the newspaper accused of the most violations, said in an article that he accepted the decision but argued that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein would not have faced consequences for alleged sexual assault had he not been named by the American press. 

Sweden reacted strongly to the global #MeToo movement, with allegations surfacing of assault by high profile cultural figures and widespread complaints about gendered discrimination and harassment in a range of professions. The movement led to a parliamentary debate on how to tackle the issue, and the government tightened laws relating to sexual consent.

After the first wave of allegations, there were a series of "petitions" signed by thousands of working women across different industries, outlining their experience of harassment without naming individuals. The Press Council's decision suggests that this may be a more ethical method of addressing issues, such as assault in the workplace, in order to avoid scapegoating or individuals being harmed by unproven or false allegations -- but the question remains of how to ensure those who abuse positions of power face consequences.

Details from the story:

  • Complaints were made to the Swedish Press Council by four different people accused of sexual assault: a TV personality, a radio presenter, a journalist and one person who asked to be anonymous in the council's decision.
  • The Swedish Press Council's rules state that media should refrain from naming people in articles that could cause them harm, unless there is "an obvious public interest".
  • The #MeToo movement in Sweden previously faced backlash for naming the accused after the suicide in March of one of the high profile figures named.
  • Sweden passed a Freedom of the Press Act over 250 years ago, considered one of the oldest pieces of freedom of information legislation in the world.
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