Skip to content

We are now increasing aid for press freedom – more should follow suit


Today, on World Press Freedom Day, the Government announced that it is expanding and deepening our work for press freedom around the world through several key actors.

Minister for International Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade Johan Forssell and Minister for Culture Parisa Liljestrand, opinion piece, Expressen, 3 May 2024.

In 2024, elections will take place in more than 70 countries around the world. This makes the work of journalists more important than ever. Freedom of expression and information, and free and independent media are the cornerstones of every free and democratic society. It is also crucial to maintaining other individual rights and freedoms, freedom to conduct business and individuals’ opportunities to make informed decisions. 

Unfortunately, developments are moving in the wrong direction in many countries. Today, 71% of the world’s population lives in autocracies, which is a dramatic increase. Ten years ago, the corresponding figure was 48%. In many parts of the world, access to free and independent media is being restricted – journalists are being threatened, imprisoned and even killed. 

An unprecedented number of journalists have been killed or injured in the ongoing conflicts around the world, not least in Gaza. This is totally unacceptable. While Sweden continues to demand that journalists and media workers be given access to conflict-affected areas, they must also be protected in accordance with international humanitarian law. 

We are also seeing a sharp increase in the spread of disinformation and lies, not least on social media. In many cases, this is part of a conscious strategy in which authoritarian leaders and countries systematically attack free speech and use their propaganda machine to promote their messages. For example, in recent years, we have seen a sharp increase in Russian disinformation in both European and African countries aimed at destabilising countries and driving them in an anti-democratic direction. 

The methods used by authoritarian countries are often proactive and long-term. Major resources are being spent on training and ‘educating’ journalists to form their own narrative. However, we are also seeing an increased threat to online freedom, not least through authoritarian states’ use of the digital infrastructure to censor and silence the opposition. 

This development has geopolitical consequences for Sweden, Europe and the entire free democratic world. 

Sweden is already the world’s third largest donor to free and independent media, after the United States and Germany. Support for human rights, democracy and the rule of law is also the area that receives the largest share of Swedish aid. In 2023, 26% of aid via the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) went to activities related to this area, an increase compared with the previous year. However, in light of geopolitical developments, Sweden, the EU and the entire democratic world must do even more.

The Government, via the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, will now urgently review the conditions for supporting the US-led press freedom programme Reporters Shield. 

Reporters Shield provides legal support to journalists and independent media working on investigative reporting in difficult environments, when non-legitimate lawsuits are directed against them. 

We are now also expanding aid to several other important aid efforts to support free journalism.  

This year, the Government is significantly enhancing its support to two key organisations working to protect journalists and human rights defenders in the most difficult environments, not least in Eastern Europe – the European Endowment for Democracy (EED) and the Prague Civil Society Centre. We will increase our support to the EED from SEK 20 million to SEK 35 million in 2024 and we will double our support to the Prague Civil Society Centre from SEK 10 million to SEK 20 million in 2024. 

At the same time, the focus on media freedom is being strengthened by the Government’s new strategy for global development activities in the area of human rights and freedoms, democracy and rule of law that governs Sida’s work. Sida will therefore work actively over the next five years to enhance its focus on matters such as support for free and independent media. This has already led to concrete results through new support amounting to SEK 31 million to the Copenhagen-based organisation International Media Support (IMS), which works to protect local media in difficult environments. 

Sweden will do its part. However, more countries must do more to increase their support for free journalism, both online and offline. 

Despite the fact that the threat to free and independent media is greater today than ten years ago, support to the media sector has fallen globally and currently accounts for only 0.5% of global aid. This is not sustainable in the long term.

Sweden will therefore step up efforts in the EU, the UN and the OECD to ensure that more countries play their part. 

Through these measures, Sweden takes its responsibility to protect free speech from those who threaten it in an increasingly uncertain world. But more of us need to take responsibility. In this work, independent media as well as human rights defenders and citizens have a role to play. We all have a choice between just watching a development where free speech is increasingly restricted, or doing what we can to protect it. 

Johan Forssell, Minister for International Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade

Parisa Liljestrand, Minister for Culture

The European Endowment for Democracy (EED)

The European Endowment for Democracy (EED) specifically works to support for human rights defenders and journalists in the most repressive environments. The support goes to democracy movements, civil society organisations, free and independent media and individual human rights and democracy defenders. The Government increased its support from SEK 20 million per year to SEK 35 million in 2024.

The Prague Civil Society Centre

The Prague Civil Society Centre supports human rights defenders and journalists in repressive contexts. The support goes to democracy movements, civil society organisations, free and independent media and individual human rights and democracy defenders. The Government increased its support from SEK 10 million in 2023 to SEK 20 million in 2024.

Reporters Shield

Reporters Shield is a membership programme that offers a new form of protection to journalists and independent media by defending investigative reporting around the world from legal threats aimed at silencing critical voices. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs is currently reviewing the possibilities for support to the organisation for the coming years.

International Media Support (IMS)

International Media Support (IMS) is a Copenhagen-based organisation that works with capacity development and strengthening of media actors in difficult countries and contexts. On 22 March, Sida approved a multi-year grant of SEK 31 million to IMS.

OECD common principles that support the media sector

Sweden has been a driving force in the development of new common principles in support of the media sector within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to encourage other countries to increase their support for free and independent media. These principles were adopted on 22 March 2024.