The extreme right newspaper Nationell Idag is currently supported by the press subsidy. The proposal does not want to change this by introducing a "democracy clause" in the criteria. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/SCANPIX

Press subsidy review comes under fire

A proposal to change the current press subsidy system has come in for heavy criticism. The chairman of the committee that came up with the plan, is distancing himself from the proposal. He says changes are not radical enough - and not taking the rapidly changing media landscape into account.

The news papers are struggling in Sweden, like elsewhere around the world. In December 2011 a parliamentary committee was set to work on a review of the current press subsidy and how it ought to support the daily press in the future.

The current system has more or less been the same for decades, focused on the state giving financial support to the second biggest newspaper in towns and cities as a way to promote diversity on the newspaper market.

But the chairman of the committee, professor and parliamentary ombudsman Hans-Gunnar Axberger, told Swedish Radio News that the committee has just trundled along the same track as before, and not properly taken into account the deep crisis in the newspaper industry.

"You can't just use the subscribed paper newspaper as a norm for journalistic work," he says. "There are major cuts to professional journalism and the support system should focus on qualified independent journalism, which is not just carried out in newspapers and the digital version of the newspapers".

According to Axberger, a general support for professional journalism makes more sense than just support for the second biggest paper in a town, at a time when readers are changing behaviour and all newspapers find it hard to make professional journalism profitable.

But the representatives of the seven political parties in the committee do not think they are forgetting about the digital revolution. 

"It is the exact opposite. We eliminate the discrimination that there has been between digital and printed editions," Per Bill, Moderate party member and committee, tells Swedish Radio News. "The proposal means new and completely digital papers can be supported, and papers that are today bi-weekly can increase their publishing by one or two days through digital publication".

Other suggestions include a more unified delivery system, so that the postman will not only deliver letters, but also people's subscribed newspapers. According to the inquiry, Sweden's postmen currently drive 250,000 kilometres per day to deliver letters, and so do the newspaper delivery people, only earlier in the morning.

"A more unified delivery system would be an advantage to consumers as well as the environment," said Per Bill.

The committee has also been asked to look into the possibility of introducing a so called "democracy-criteria" as a condition for financial support. For example the weekly extreme nationalist paper Nationell Idag and the marxist paper Offensiv are currently receiving press subsidy.

But here, the committee decided it was not possible for the state to be the one to decide which papers are democratic and which are not.

"I sympathise with the thought that we do not want to have anti-democratic forces in society, but not the means," says Christian Democrat Tuve Skånberg. "However bad we think violations of democracy and human rights are, we cannot censor people's views".

The person who received the finished inquiry on her table, culture minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, was disappointed with this conclusion.

"It is not a human right to get financial press support from public funds," she says "Especially not if you publish a paper that does not support that everybody's equal," says Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth.

The proposal will now be referred to consideration by various organisations and stakeholders. A decision to change the press subsidy system will come into effect in 2017.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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