The country ranks second in the World Press Freedom Index 2017, climbing six notches from its eighth place last year. Norway grabs the top spot, while Finland and Denmark follow closely after Sweden in the third and fourth place respectively.
The index, which is issued each year by Reporters Without Borders (RWB), measures the conditions for media in 180 countries. Published since 2002, the index measures indicators including pluralism, media independence and respect for the safety and freedom of journalists.
Sweden boasts the world's oldest press freedom law, which celebrated 250 years in 2016. But with the rise of social media, online threats against journalists have posed a growing threat to press freedom in the country in recent years.
Jonathan Lundqvist, president of RWB Sweden, said Sweden's improved ranking this year was largely down to improved cooperation between the media and the police over such threats.
“Last year we had a number of court sentences in cases where journalists had been threatened, and where the legal authorities had prioritised investigating these threats. That sends a very clear signal: that an attack on journalists is more than just that – it's an attack on society as a whole,” Lundqvist told The Local.
Image: Reporters Without Borders
But for many other Western democracies, conditions have worsened. The number of countries where the media freedom situation was ‘good’ or ‘fairly good’ has fallen by 2.3 percent.
An obsession with surveillance and violations of the right to the confidentiality of sources have contributed to the continuing decline of many countries previously regarded as virtuous. This includes the United States (down 2 places at 43rd) and the United Kingdom (down 2 at 40th).
“In the US, we've seen the election of Donald Trump, and there's a worrying development, not least because of the language he uses, where he names the media as the enemy. That's something we haven't heard before from a leader in the West, particularly not from someone who could be considered the world's most powerful man. That's deeply problematic,” Lundqvist said.
“In the UK, there are lots of problems with libel legislation, and we've seen infringements where security services have made raids against media groups. There are big problems in these two countries, even though the UK and the US should still be considered functioning democracies, of course.”
In the EU's case, Lundqvist mentioned Poland and Hungary as two countries that have chosen a path which breaks with Western ideals. That is something that needs paying close attention to, so that the development can be changed, he said.
“The aftertaste left from this index is that the West is sadly on the decline. That's something we haven't seen before,” Lundqvist told The Local.