By Kristian Porter

Sweden’s Riksdag votes in favour of government bill to strengthen local journalism and allow public broadcasters to expand their online footprint, but there’s a caveat.

The parliamentary vote comes at a time when the country’s three public broadcasters – Sveriges Radio (SR), Sveriges Television (SVT) and Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company (UR) – find their role and function debated more prominently by political parties and increasingly used as a political football.

Worryingly, some, like the conservative Moderate party, have actively discussed scrapping public media in Sweden or at least capping the breadth of their services. At their party conference last week, the Moderartes suggested shrinking the current PSBs and called for an inquiry into “left-wing” bias, despite research indicating little support for their claims. The Christian Democrats also want to see a more narrowly defined public media landscape.

Earlier this year, the government passed a bill transferring the licence fee to a tax-based model collected by the Swedish Tax Agency. This was partially in response to high evasion rates and a decline in TV ownership.

On the face of it the new conditions remain largely unchanged for the upcoming 2020-2025 contract period, with public media continuing to be characterised by independence and an ambition for universal relevance.

Yet despite an air of “business as usual”, some of the new conditions require SR and SVT to expand and strengthen their local reporting, and to provide more relevant and representative content – as in many European countries, local journalism has suffered a considerable decline in Sweden.

Read more: The immediate future of public service is decided

The bill also approves an expansion of the public broadcasters’ online footprint and “play services”, allowing them to develop a broader multi-platform reach. This, according to SVT CEO Hanna Stjärne, should allow the broadcasters to better adapt to changing audience habits.

However, much like the fears raised by the collection of public media funding by a government tax agency, there are concerns that some of the new conditions will require public broadcasters to seek government approval for the implementation of new online services. Critics have labelled these “pre-trials” of online services as a threat to independence and freedom of expression, allowing the government too greater oversight.

Furthermore, despite the notion of a contract that does not overlap with election periods, there is mounting concern that more conservative parties will continue to escalate the anti-PSB rhetoric for political gain.

The conditions will now be put forward for final approval next week, alongside a six-year contract for public media companies.

Header Image: Swedish Radio HQ. Photo: Mikael Grönberg/Sveriges Radio