New book addresses 250 years of freedom of expression in Sweden

21 Aug 2017

Last year Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act, the first legislation of its kind in the world, celebrated 250 years. The newly released book, ‘The Legacy of Peter Forsskål. 250 Years of Freedom of Expression’, sheds light on the history of free speech based on Peter Forsskål and his 21 theses on civil liberty. 

Sweden and Finland, which then were one country, were the first in the world to pass a law on press freedom. But a few years before the new law was adopted, Peter Forsskål published a pamphlet that contained innovative ideas for that time, including every citizens’ right to freedom of expression.

Forsskål’s pamphlet was called ‘Thoughts on Civil Liberty’ and came to cause big commotion in the 1760s Sweden. It included 21 paragraphs setting out his thoughts advocating against oppression and tyranny and expressing civil rights for everyone, says Ulla Carlsson, one of the book’s editors and UNESCO Chair on Freedom of Expression at the University of Gothenburg.

‘The Legacy of Peter Forsskål. 250 Years of Freedom of Expression’ contains chapters from a number of researchers and writers from both Sweden and Finland. The authors shed new light on Forsskål’s life and historical battle for Swedish press freedom as well as development of freedom of the press until today. Thus, the book is both a historical look back and a highly topical work in today’s digital society.

Freedom of expression is constantly being disputed and it’s still not obvious. With the digitalization that cuts across every part of our society and with Internet and all its platforms new dimensions and dilemmas are created, not leased from a freedom of expression and democracy perspective, says Ulla Carlsson.

‘The Legacy of Peter Forsskål. 250 Years of Freedom of Expression’ is based on a seminar that took place on UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day in Helsinki, 3 May 2016, an event held in association with the 250th anniversary of Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act.

Anniversaries like these can be used as a starting point for debate. It’s important to discuss our history and where we stand today in terms of freedom of expression, the right to information and freedom of the press, and that’s what we want to do in this book, says Ulla Carlsson.

The book is available for download (open access) or to order in print from Nordicom’s website:


Information about the book and Nordicom
Ulla Carlsson is Professor and UNESCO Chair in Freedom of Expression, Media Development and Global Policy at the Department of Journalism, Media and Communication, University of Gothenburg. She is the former Director of Nordicom. David Goldberg is the Founder and Director of Project Forsskål (

The book is published by Nordicom, a knowledge centre in the field of media and communication research at the University of Gothenburg. Starting from academic research, Nordicom collects and adapts knowledge, mediating it to various user groups in the Nordic region, Europe and elsewhere in the world

For questions about the book or its content, please contact Professor Ulla Carlsson, phone: +46 786 80 88 74, e-mail: