last updated: May 29, 2020
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RSF ranking: 3rd out of 180 (RSF, 2020)
Population: 5.79m (Worldometer, 2020)
Percentage in the capital: 23% (1.5m; World Population Review, 2020)
GDP: 324.48bn USD (Statista, 2019)
EU member: since January 1, 1973 (EUROPA, 2020)
Official language: Danish
Press council: Pressenævnet (the Press Council)

Press freedom environment: Freedom House classes Denmark as a “free” country with a total score of 12 out of 100; with 0 being “most free” and 100 being “least free” (Freedom House, 2017). The breakdown of this score is split between the legal (2/30), political (6/40), and economic environments (4/30; Ibid.). At the time of writing, Freedom House did not have a “narrative report” for 2017, and the most recent one is from 2016. This report shows that although Danish journalists are able to work free from legal or political constraints, the impact of the Danish Cartoon controversy is still felt, in terms of concerns about censorship and self-censorship (Freedom House, 2016). This was especially the case after a terrorist attack at a free speech event hosted by Lars Vilks, a Swedish artists who had caricaturised the Prophet Mohammed (Ibid.), and revived again in June of 2017 when a blasphemy law from 1683 that prevents public insult of religion was repealed (Agence France-Presse, 2017). In terms of the legal environment, Freedom House outlines that although freedom of speech is protected under Section 77 of the Danish constitution, there are still restrictions against libel, blasphemy, and racism (2016). In 2014, the Access to Public Administration Files Act came into force, which maintains confidentiality of certain official documents that journalists are unable to access (Ibid.), with recent calls to reconsider the parameters of when and how the act can be implemented (Council of Europe, 2019). In terms of the political environment in Denmark, Freedom House observes treatment and harassment of journalists to be rare occurrences, and only addresses the political environment in relation to free speech events, firstly citing the 2005 Danish Mohammed Cartoon controversy, then the above-mentioned attack on an event hosted by Lars Vilks (which took place in February 2015, shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attack in January that same year), and finally in relation to the case of Lars Hedegaard (2016). Lars Hedegaard is a free speech advocate who survived an assassination attempt in 2013, but was then charged for naming his attacker in 2015 (Ibid.). This attacker was arrested in 2014 in Turkey, but then exchanged for 47 hostages held by the so-called Islamic State (Ibid.). With regards to the economic environment, Freedom House cites Denmark as having an “vibrant” private print media, that have “clear political sympathies” (Ibid.). Two of the three key national newspapers share a parent company (Jyllands-Posten and Politiken), and the third (Berlingske), also runs a radio station that accepts state subsidies (Radio24syv; Freedom House, 2016). The state provides financial support for the press and newspapers through subsidies and value-added tax (Ibid.). A licensing fee pays for the public broadcaster (Danmarks Radio), the government owns another broadcaster that is privately run (TV2), and other stations broadcast from other countries like the UK because of restrictions on advertising (TV3), in addition to the availability of international channels (satellite and cable; Ibid.).

Media landscape

Newspapers and market

Denmark has 32 newspapers, with 8 national newspapers and 4 regional ones (Harrie, 2018: 24). In 2016, Denmark had a total of 31 daily paid-for newspapers, 1 non-daily paid-for newspaper, 1 free daily newspaper, and 216 free non-daily newspapers (Ibid.: 67). There are around 120 local and weekly local newspapers, the larger ones are: Bornholms Tidende (Bornholm is an island off the coast of Sweden), Århus Stiftstidende (Aarhus is the second-largest city in Denmark), and Amager Bladet (Amager is the largest borough of Copenhagen; MediaVejviseren, 2019). The top five newspapers, for both broadsheets and tabloids in 2014 were: Politiken (broadsheet, quality), Jyllands-Posten (broadsheet, quality), Berlingske (broadsheet, quality), Børsen (financial news/broadsheet, quality), and B.T. (tabloid, popular; Harrie, 2018: 74).

Denmark’s oldest newspaper, Berlingske Tidende, was founded in 1749 (Berlingske Tidende, 2020) and was taken over by the Belgian De Persgroep in 2016 (Schrøder and Ørsten, 2018: 74). It offers “business-friendly conservatism” (Netterstrøm, 2018: 2). The nation’s centre-left broadsheet, or quality newspaper, Politiken, was founded by the “liberal intelligentsia” (Ibid.), in 1884 (Politiken, 2020). The nation’s centre-right newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, engages with a “more rural and cultural conservatism” (Netterstrøm, 2018: 2), and was founded in 1871 (Jyllands-Posten, 2020a). Jyllands-Posten was the first Danish newspaper to go online in 1995 (Jyllands-Posten, 2020b). Both Jyllands-Posten and Politiken are part of the same publishing house, which pledges that “we create enlightened citizens” (JP/Polikens Hus A/S, 2020). The nation’s left-leaning newspaper, Information, was founded shortly before the end of WWII in May of 1945 as a part of the resistance to German occupation (Information, 2015). Danish newspapers give access to online articles through subscriptions, but the income from these have yet to replace income from printed formats (Netterstrøm, 2018: 2).

Due to advances in the digital sphere (more on this below), there has been a significant decline of print newspaper readership. In 2015, this was at 41.5%, compared to 92% in 1964 (The Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces, 2017: 14). More recent data show that 50% of daily newspapers lost at least 10% of readers in 2018 (The Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces, 2019: 27). In terms of current statistics on readership, the top ten newspaper figures are as follows: 611k for B.T. (tabloid, popular), 546k for Politiken (broadsheet, quality), 415k for Jyllands-Posten (broadsheet, quality), 333k for Berlingske (broadsheet, quality), 279k for Ekstra Bladet (tabloid, popular), 269k for Børsen (financial news/broadsheet, quality), 216k for Kristeligt Dagblad (broadsheet, quality), 209k for Weekendavisen (weekly, quality), 181k for Information (broadsheet, quality; Statista, 2020).

Audience news consumption

The 2019 Reuters Digital News Report combines results of weekly usage across television, radio, and print, as well as online in Denmark (Newman et al., 2019: 80). The two main public broadcasters rank at the top with DR News at 61% for tv, radio, and print, and 37% for online; and TV2 News at 57% for tv, radio, and print, and 33% for online. In terms of the top five named newspapers, Ekstra Bladet (tabloid, popular) was at 27% for online and 9% for print, BT (tabloid, popular) was at 25% for online and 9% for print, Politiken (broadsheet, quality) was at 13% for online and 6% for print, Jyllands-Posten (broadsheet, quality) was at 11% for online and 6% for print, and Berlingske (broadsheet, quality) was at 9% for online and 5% for print (Ibid.).

Public service media

The major Danish public broadcaster, Danmarks Radio (DR), is presently financed by mandatory licensing fees. However, there have been moves initiated by the right-wing, populist Danish People’s Party (DF) to remove the licensing fee altogether and instead provide funding through taxes (Gadd, 2017). Currently 98% of Danes access DR on a weekly basis (Netterstrøm, 2018: 4).[1] The actual budget is 4.4 billion DKK (10 DKK = £1.10, approx.), with DR receiving the majority at 3.6 billion DKK, and the major sister television channel, TV2, receives 4 billion DKK, which is uses primarily for regional broadcasting (Gadd, 2017). In 2018, DR’s budget was reduced by 20%, a cut which comes into effect through to 2023 (Schrøder and Ørsten, 2018). The total funding cut was €54m (Schrøder and Ørsten, 2019).

DR was founded in 1925, with mandatory licensing in place from 1928 (Zaavi and Malik, 2018). The first television programme was broadcast in 1932, but was heavily censored during the German occupation in WWII (Ibid.). In 1988, TV2 was introduced as the second public service channel, but it is mainly financed by media licenses and advertisements and has a focus on entertainment programming, versus the more public-service and educational approach of DR; for example, DR had famously boycotted the Eurovision Song Contest in the decade from 1967 to 1977 to stress that its purpose was for information and not entertainment (Ibid.). In 1996, DR2 was created, with a focus on satire and debate, and further channels followed into the late 2000s (Ibid.). All television channels were moved from analogue to digital in 2009 (Ibid.). Additionally, both DR and TV2 are Denmark’s top online news outlets (Harrie, 2018: 26), and, as a side note, political advertisements are not allowed on television or radio (Netterstrøm, 2018: 6).

In a 2017 report by the The Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces, state-owned public service media were described as the “watchdogs of democracy”, which “ensure that the democratic system remains healthy, uncorrupted and functional”, where “the watchdog role also involves showcasing, developing and creating a debate about our natural, cultural and democratic values, thus creating common beacons, dialogues and debates between the general public and various groups within our society” (The Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces, 2017: 4). Competition laws regulate the media market in Denmark, meaning that media ownership is not regulated (Netterstrøm, 2018: 2). Foundation ownership and a large public service sector prevent too much political influence from media owners (Ibid.). Media start-ups and projects have access to public funds, which also factors into the Danish media context because it diversifies it (Ibid.).

Public trust in the press and media

According to the 2019 Digital News Report, overall trust in Danish news was at 57%, with Denmark ranking 3rd out of the 38 countries in the study (Newman et al., 2019: 80). The most trusted sources of news are DR and TV2 (public broadcasters), and the least trusted are Ekstra Bladet (tabloid, popular), and Den Korte Avis (extreme-right, “alt-right”; Ibid.). On a scale of 1-10, the most trusted brands for news are public broadcasters DR News (7.68) and TV2 News (7.42), and the top five newspapers following these are Børsen (7.31; financial news/broadsheet, quality), Berlingske (7.01; broadsheet, quality), Politiken (6.99; broadsheet, quality), Jyllands-Posten (6.97; broadsheet, quality), Information (6.88; broadsheet, quality; Ibid.).

In 2016, 1,008 Danish participants took part in Special Eurobarometer 452, titled Media pluralism and democracy (Eurobarometer, 2016: factsheet for Denmark). Here, 82% of participants thought that the national media represented a “diversity of views and opinions”, and 61% thought that the media were “free from political or commercial pressure” (Ibid.). Likewise, 54% thought that public broadcasting services were free from political influence (Ibid.). General trust in media was at 77% (Ibid.), reliability in television was at 89%, radio at 91%, and newspapers (both print and online) at 85%; however, trust in social media platforms was low at 31% (Ibid.). A low number of participants were aware of regulatory bodies at 17%, with 56% thinking that they were free from political or commercial influence (Ibid.). In the study, 35% of Danish respondents thought that journalists, bloggers, and social media users were the targets of hate speech and abuse, the highest national percentage out of the 28 countries involved in the study (Ibid.). Although Denmark is a safe country to be a journalist, 2017 saw world-wide coverage of the murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall by Danish inventor Peter Madsen, after she boarded his home-made submarine (BBC, 2018).

Recent data on risks to media pluralism show that Denmark is overall ranked as “low risk”, in terms of basic protection (13%), political independence (21%), and social inclusiveness (28%); however, results showed that it has “medium risk” in relation to market plurality (50%; Netterstrøm, 2018: 4-7). The “medium risk” of market plurality in the Danish context has to do with a higher concentration of a native-speaking audience that has access to a small media market, which has a large government involvement, however the other categories remain at “low risk” due to an “‘arm’s-length principle’” between political influence on public service media (Ibid.; 8). In terms of the current RSF rankings, Denmark is listed as 3rd (out of 180) on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, an increase from 5th in 2019 (RSF, 2020). According to the 2019 Digital News Report, overall trust in Danish news was at 57%, with Denmark ranking 3rd out of the 38 countries in the study (Newman et al., 2019: 81). Internet penetration for Denmark is at 97% (Newman et al., 2019: 80).

Online only/digital entrants

In terms of online-only brands, the Reuters Digital News Report for 2019 lists the following as the most-used sources of news “used last week” were Avisen (8%), and Altinget (7%; Newman et al., 2019: 81).

In terms of digital entrants that publish longform news stories, there is one key player in the Danish market., was created by two male and two female journalists in 2012 (Zetland, 2018), and it is one of the key new digital entrants to the news market. Zetland publishes 3-4 longer, in-depth articles a day, including making all items available in audio form and narrated by the author (Schrøder and Ørsten, 2018). Other platforms are Altinget and Føljeton (The Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces, 2017: 12; the former covers political news on weekdays, the latter covers general news six days a week). With regard to press council membership, however, all online media, such as social media accounts, that require editorial management are also able to request membership (Fielden, 2012: 36). Digital entrants are requested to join voluntarily, but by becoming a member, they are then afforded the same rights as “traditional journalism” regarding certain areas such as protecting sources (Ibid.: 16-17).

Current studies and context: digital engagement

Hallin and Mancini’s model of media systems (2004), describes Denmark as having a Northern European or Democratic Corporatist Model, which is “characterised by a strong mass press, a high degree of political parallelism, professional journalism, and strong public service” (Harrie, 2018: 13). Denmark has also been described as the “purest example of the democratic corporatist model” (Benson et al., 2012: 25). However, with the changes in technology and access to digital content over the last decade and a half, engagement with news, and how we understand its democratic role, has changed.

There is a current, general view that government has a vested interest in Danish-language media and cultural production (Netterstrøm, 2018: 2), as a “universalistic state-dominated system” (Esping-Andersen, 1990: 142). This is perhaps in response to the advent of international, globalised foreign technology giants that threaten the domestic media ecology, specifically, social media, streaming services, and big tech companies (The Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces, 2017: 5). In 2016, 56% of Danes used social media to get news, compared to 31% in 2013. Recent “live” services like Facebook Live, Instagram Stories, Snapchat Discover, Twitter Live, also drive this engagement (Ibid.: 6). Streaming services are also changing traditional tv-viewing habits. The public service television channels, DR and TV2 are out-manoeuvred by Netflix and YouTube for audiences 15-29 years old (Ibid.). Big tech provides the instruments (software) and tools (devices) to shape media consumption, where:

One of the consequences of the technology companies’ influence on the Danish media market is that the media companies’ value chain has dissolved. Online interaction between a Danish medium and a Danish media user is now colonised by a myriad of other players, in which Google and Facebook dominate and all of whom effectively bridge the gaps in and capitalise on the consumer’s liaison with the media. (Ibid.)

This also means that domestic media and media distributors cannot compete with big tech, giving them an advantage on subscription markets (Ibid.: 7).

Social media in particular have created a new process loop in the production of news. This has to do with the influence of social media, primarily Facebook, on how news content is produced within social media as well as on how traditional media are fed into Facebook’s processes, and in turn, how Danish journalists create content as well as respond to the pressures to adapt to this new distribution model (Ibid.: 8). This means that Danish media post 92% of their stories on social media, 14% of web traffic to news media websites comes from social media (95% of which is from Facebook), and as a consequence of this high digital engagement, debate and discourse taking place on social media becomes in and of itself a news item (Ibid.). A high percentage of journalists distribute their articles using Facebook (83%), and as such Facebook’s KPIs are used by editorial offices to assess news pieces and drive editorial decisions (Ibid.).[2]

The Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces cites six key areas of risk to the Danish media ecology, the extract below is from their 2017 report:

    1. Danish media development capacity is impaired. Few Danish media companies are large enough or have sufficient resources or capacity to transform themselves – or to reduce their dependency on the international media giants.
    2. The weak link in the publicistic [sic] food chain. Publishing’s “middlemen” – independent regional, local and medium-sized publications that seek to provide general news – risk first losing journalistic clout, then gradually their raison d’être and finally becoming extinct.
    3. Limited journalistic diversity. Market consolidation and the weak links in the publicistic [sic] food chain may mean that certain geographic and subject areas – those of no great commercial value – risk losing journalistic attention and coverage entirely.
    4. Weakening the role of the press as the watchdogs of democracy. Independent investigative journalism, which is one of the news media’s most demanding and democratically most important areas, currently risks debasement as a result of the consolidation of and economic pressures on the media industry.
    5. Media credibility is undermined. Public confidence in the news media and journalists generally is dwindling fast. Public confidence – and journalistic integrity – is crucial if the new media are to continue to make an important and legitimate journalistic contribution to democracy.
    6. Blurring of the distinctions between commercial and editorial content. There is a risk that the new forms of advertising may blur important distinctions between editorial and commercial content in the media – and thus further impair media integrity. (Ibid.: 9)

The report raised the following eight open questions in the current climate of reassessing state subsidies to media:

    1. If consumers prefer to pay for international streaming channels and spend time on the international social media and video services, does it make any sense at all to provide state subsidies for specifically Danish media production?
    2. Is it at all possible to sustain media subsidies based on current criteria in the face of a deeply fragmented media ecology and financial impoverishment of the Danish media industry?
    3. Will subsidies at the current level be sufficient to preserve a diverse, nationwide supply of high-quality [sic] Danish media in the foreseeable future?
    4. How can we prevent high quality journalism and cultural dissemination from becoming services for an elite that is prepared to pay for them while the majority make do with free content and the social media as their access point to social debate and development of a Danish culture and identity?
    5. What is the role of public service in the future described in this report?
    6. How do we prevent the loss of local news coverage and local community anchorage in local media in some parts of Denmark as the national media lose their grip on the population, i.e. focus solely on selected segments and target groups?
    7. How can we foster a viable media industry in Denmark and a strong and creative production environment – by means other than media subsidies?
    8. How can we via media policy ensure that the Danes generally are media literate and that every Dane is informed and competent to move in the media universe described in this report? (Ibid.: 10)

The main implication that the report underscores is that “technology giants and their digital products also set off an avalanche in the media market that has fundamentally altered the depth and breadth of the market such that it is now in practical terms both impossible and meaningless to speak of the Danish media market or the Danish media industry as definitive singular entities” (Ibid.: 12). With a high internet penetration at 97% (Newman et al., 2019: 80), where 97% of 15-18 year olds use social media, 86% of whom use Facebook daily (The Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces, 2017: 15), this shows just how much the population, and newer generations, interact with news and media through the realm of the digital.

Regulatory environment

Denmark does not have particular media ownership laws because its media are regulated by competition laws (Netterstrøm, 2018: 2). Denmark has not seen challenges with powerful private owners who are politically affiliated or who have used their positions to influence a given media outlet (Ibid.). State subsidies are provided to news media according to the number of employed journalists and other requirements, such as “being a socially diverse readership and the creation of democratically important political and cultural content” (Schrøder and Ørsten, 2018), and this includes both public service broadcasting as well as private media (Schrøder and Ørsten, 2019). It should be noted that these conditions of funding act in tandem with the self-regulation of the press council.

Regulators (tv, radio)

Regulation for both radio and television is “under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture”, with “aid to printed and digital commercial media” (Ministry of Culture, 2020). Radio and television are regulated through statutory regulation by the Radio and Television Broadcasting Act (Ibid.). Aid to printed and digital commercial media is in the form of “production and innovation aid”, where the scheme “consists of a main and supplementary scheme as well as a three-year transition fund for media that obtain less in total aid from the production aid scheme than under the previous distribution of aid scheme. Innovation aid is granted for projects or feasibility studies concerning the establishment of new or development of existing media” (Ibid.).

Other institutions involved are The Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces, which “[safeguards] the quality, versatility and diversity of the electronic media” through its Radio and Television Board (Ministry of Culture, 2020). The Radio and Television Board (Radio- og tv-nævnet)[3] is an “independent authority”, whose tasks include “administering the pool from which grants can be awarded to local radio and television, issuing licenses to perform radio and television activity, pronouncing on whether radio and television companies are fulfilling their public service obligations, and making decisions concerning advertising and sponsorship of programmes” (Ibid.). The Board also publishes its decisions, but they are not complaints decisions or decisions based on content quality, rather they are decisions on administration and grant applications (The Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces, 2020). DR which is fully funded by licensing and is an “independent public institution” as a public broadcaster (television, radio, online; Ministry of Culture, 2020). TV2 and its seven regional stations “[conduct] public service business” as a limited company owned by the Danish state (Ibid.).[4] With regards to codes of ethics from these four entities, to date the only ones that could be located are from DR and TV2. DR’s complaints are handled in-house and DR has its own ethical guidance rules (etiske retningslinjer), as well a dedicated page for decisions from the press council for complaints that have been escalated to the press council (DR, 2020). TV2’s complaints are also handled in-house and TV2 has its own ethical guidance rules (etiske retningslinjer), as well as decisions from both the press council and the Radio and Television Board (TV2, 2020). Content is only available in Danish for both DR and TV2.

The press council (print, broadcast, and new media journalism)

In 1964, the Pressenævnet, a press council for print media was set up by the Association of Newspaper Publishers as a measure to monitor how court proceedings were reported, as well as a response to the cessation of a link between political parties and the press; however this was not supported by the journalists’ association, which wanted representation on the council as well as assurances on press freedom and individual freedom of expression (Fielden, 2012: 112). The press council in its present form has a legal basis from the 1991 Media Liability Act (Pressenævnet, 2013a)Regulation by the press council is compulsory for print journalism and broadcast journalism, but it is voluntary for journalism in new media. This is outlined in the first paragraph of the Media Liability Act:

Para. 1. The law applies to the following mass media: 1) Domestic periodicals, including images and similar representations that are printed or otherwise reproduced. 2) Audio and visual programs broadcast by DR, TV 2 / Denmark, the regional TV 2 companies and enterprises that are licensed or registered to carry out radio or television activities. 3) Texts, images and audio programs that are periodically disseminated to the public, if they have the nature of a news dissemination that can be equated with the dissemination covered by Para. 1 or 2, cf., however, Para. 8, Section 2 .[5]

The membership criteria are that a publication must publish more than twice a year and all broadcasters holding a licence must be members (Fielden, 2012: 16). In terms of complaints, only the parties affected can file these with the press council (Ibid.: 9). In terms of enforcement, failure to publish corrections carries the risk of a fine or prison sentence (Ibid.: 9), enforced only by the Prosecution Service. Also, although membership is mandatory, the Danish press council is regarded as an option in lieu of litigation (Ibid.: 9). Funding for the press council is provided by media, although it is initially paid for by, then reimbursed to, the Ministry of Justice, with half of the funding coming from public service broadcasters, and the other half coming from print publishers (Ibid.: 25). Finally, press council chairmen are judges (Pressenævnet, 2020b). Freedom House describes the Danish press council in the same way:

Print, online, and broadcast media are regulated by the Danish Press Council, whose eight members are jointly appointed by the president of the Supreme Court and journalists’ associations. Participation is mandatory for broadcast media and print outlets that publish at least twice a year. Online media that choose to register receive the legal protections afforded to traditional journalists. If an outlet is found to have committed an ethical violation, the council can order it to publish the ruling; failure to do so can result in a fine or up to four months in jail, though these sanctions are rarely imposed (Freedom House, 2016).

The press council drafts a code of ethics, called The Press Ethical Rules (Vejledning om god presseskik), also sometimes translated as the Advisory Rules for Sound Press Ethics (DJ, 2020; Pressenævnet, 2013b).

Recent press council report/cases

The Danish press council publishes its decisions (kendelser) on its website, and its annual reports provide details of the numbers and types of cases that are handled in a given year. The 2018 report for the Danish press council showed that 160 complaints were received, 89 cases were resolved with a decision from the press council, and 30 cases were rejected by the Chairman and therefore not resolved (Pressenævnet, 2018: 11).

Out of the 89 cases that were resolved, 80 had to do with press ethics (presseetik), 14 had to do with a right to reply (genmæle), 10 had to do with both press ethics and a right to reply (presseetik og genmæle), 5 had to do with a request to reopen a case (begæringer om genoptagelse); this is as written in the report (Ibid.). Out of the 30 cases that were rejected by the Chairman and therefore not resolved, 11 had to do with lack of legal interest (manglende retlig interesse), 8 were outside of the press council’s remit, 4 were submitted after the deadline, 4 were deemed baseless, 3 were rejected requests to reopen cases (Ibid.). In addition, 9 were retracted by the complainant (Ibid.: 12). Lastly, 32 were cases where the complainant either had their complaints fully or partially acknowledged with a decision, with 28 to do with press ethics, 4 to do with a right to reply, and 26 with an order of publication of the decision (Ibid.).

The most complained about organisations that have four or more decisions registered for 2018 were public broadcaster DR (7 complaints), research networking website FORSKERforum (7 complaints), national newspaper Politiken (5 complaints, broadsheet/quality), regional newspaper Fyens Stiftende (4 complaints), weekly newspaper Weekendavisen (4 complaints, broadsheet/quality), news agency Ritzaus Bureau (4 complaints), and public broadcaster TV2 Danmark (4 complaints) (Ibid.: 14). The complaints were spread across a broad range of outlets; newspapers, online newspapers, radio, television, and “others” (e.g. websites). Out of these categories, there were 49 complaints against 29 newspapers/online newspapers, 15 complaints against 6 radio and television outlets, and 20 complaints against 20 “other” outlets (e.g. websites); these figures exclude cases that were reopened (Ibid.).[6]

The Danish press council has their annual reports available online going back to 1992 (Pressenævnet, 2020c). The 2018 report has the total cases per year dating back to 2009, where the least/most number of cases reported were 150 submitted in 2009 and 211 submitted in 2012 (Pressenævnet, 2018: 11). This means that the overall numbers of complaints have remained relatively level; however, these figures do not indicate if these cases are more, less, or equally complex. Out of this period, a portion of cases were not resolved at the press council, that is, between 2009 and 2018, the press council registered 1,698 cases, but out of these 1,115 were resolved, making an average of 65.7% resolved per year between 2009 and 2018 (Ibid.). Cases that were not resolved were either rejected by the Chairman, retracted by the complainant, not taken up as case work due to lack of replies from the complainant to correspondence from the press council, referred to the correct complaints body, or set aside for other reasons not described (Ibid.).

Decisions are published on the press council website (Pressenævnet, 2020a), where the top of the page reads: “The decisions of the Press Council concern the cases that are reported to the Press Council. On this page you can see all the decisions organised by date with the newest at the top. Each decision contains a unique case number that can be used if you need to refer to a decision”.[7] It is not immediately clear from the list if each of these decisions had a requirement to be published in the infringing organisation’s publications (print or online).

In terms of co-operation with other bodies, the press council works with the Danish Union of Journalists (founded in 1961), and the 2018 report has a note about the “The Press Ethical Rules” (Vejledende regler for god presseskik), where it says, that they were last changed on the 22nd of May, 2013, “as adopted at the delegation meeting of the Danish Union of Journalists, 23-24 April 2013, and at The Association of Danish Media’s general assembly on May 22, 2013” (Pressenævnet, 2018: 43). The Association of Danish Media is an industry organisation representing private media organisations (Danske Medier, 2020). In terms of the Danish press council working with third sector organisations, no evidence was found of this.

In terms of professional activities, the press council meets every other year with the other Nordic press councils from Finland, Norway, and Sweden (Pressenævnet, 2018; Pressenævnet, 2016), and it attends the meetings of the AIPCE, which is the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe (AIPCE, 2020a), which hosts an annual conference (AIPCE, 2020b).

Other bodies and codes of ethics

The Danish Union of Journalists was founded in 1961 and is a trade union for people working in the fields of journalism, media and communication (Dansk Journalistforbund, 2020). At the time of writing the union had 18,000 members, where “self-regulation is a key term for Danish media workers” and where education on press ethics is a part of journalism degrees (Ibid.). An industry representative from the union sits on the press council board, and the press council’s Advisory Rules for Sound Press Ethics are adopted by all journalists in Denmark (Ibid.).

Journalism culture

Denmark has been described as being an example to other countries as having a strong tradition of press freedom and of responsibility of the press (Jones, 1980: 19). In 1970, media apprenticeships were replaced with formal vocational training for journalists, followed by the establishment of undergraduate and graduate university degrees in 1998 (Skovsgaard et al., 2012: 156). Access to employment as a professional journalist is limited without formal training (Ibid.: 158). In terms of the workforce, the gender balance is almost equal with men at 46% (Ibid.). More recently, journalists are trained, typically with a professional Bachelor’s degree in journalism (65%), or with a Master’s degree (28%; Skovsgaard and van Dalen, 2016: 1).

In the Worlds of Journalism Study for Denmark (n=1,362), Danish participants had worked an average of 18.41 years as journalists, with 40.8% respondents working at specific desks like politics, local news, or sports (Ibid.). In general, Danish journalists adhere to a value of factual and objective reporting, and upholding a “watchdog role” (Ibid.). In the study, the categories that most participants responded to in terms of values (i.e. more than 50% responding “extremely” and “very important”) were: “Report things as they are (90.9%), Provide information people need to make political decisions (88.5%), Monitor and scrutinize political leaders (80.4%), Monitor and scrutinize business (74.2%), Provide analysis of current affairs (74.1%), Be a detached observer (63.2%), Let people express their views (50.5%)” (Ibid.: 2). With regards to professional ethics, most of the participants in the study “strongly” or “somewhat agreed” that they must respect codes of professional ethics in every instance (75.9%), and around half thought “what is ethical in journalism depends on the specific situation” (45.9%), a similar number thought that “it is acceptable to set aside moral standards if extraordinary circumstances require it” (50.6%), and a small number thought that ethics came down to the individual’s judgement (27.4%; Ibid.).

Journalism as a profession is a respected form of employment in the Danish context, as are organisational mechanisms (Netterstrøm, 2018: 4), such as unions and training. Journalists’ jobs are protected in instances of change of ownership or editorial approach, and self-regulation ensures that journalism must be separate from financial incentives, such as advertising (Ibid.: 5-6). This is the result of changes in the media ecology since the early 20th century, where journalists were often primarily politicians, novelists or students (Skovsgaard et al., 2012: 155). Up to the 1960s, newspapers were closely aligned with the four key political parties,  [8] and “served as enthusiastic party supporters as well as communication channels to the voters” (Ibid.: 156). Changes also took place in journalism methods, where reporting and interviews became more popular, as well as adopted methods such as the inverted pyramid method; prompting in turn the creation of a nation journalists’ union in 1961 (Ibid.).

Shared journalistic roles across all news media organisations in the Danish context typically regard “neutrality as an important ideal as well as for a journalistic obligation to encourage citizens’ engagement in societal affairs” (Ibid.: 156). Journalism role perceptions across all news media organisations are broken down between a “critical-active role”, i.e. critical of power or having a watchdog role, a “public-mobilizing role”, i.e. enabling citizens to make judgements for themselves, and a “breaking news role”, i.e. providing news quickly (Ibid.: 161); all of which are driven by valuing objectivity and a duty to the public (Ibid.: 167). Print and broadcast journalism is held accountable by mandatory regulation by the Danish press council (Fielden, 2012: 8).

In summary, the evolution of the media ecology in the Danish context has seen a massive shift to citizens’ use of online means of accessing news. This creates its own sets of challenges in terms of how the roles of public media services, traditional (printed) news, and elite, paid-for longform news might intersect in order to uphold journalism’s watchdog role. Additionally, commercial pressures, such as those presented by the online realm, have the potential to undermine journalism’s democratic role (Skovsgaard and van Dalen, 2013: 382).

Other information

Governing framework
Constitutional monarchy (Comparative Constitutions Project, 2018).


Seats in parliament
179 (Harrie, 2018: 58)

Seats held by women
70 (Hamilton and Wenande, 2019)

Last election
June 5, 2019 (Hamilton and Wenande, 2019)

Coalition government
Social Liberals (Radikale Venstre), Socialist People’s party and Red Green Alliance (Henley, 2019)

Populist party
Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party), established in 1995 (Herkman, 2017: 435).

Origins of key minority groups in 2018
Lebanon, Turkey, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, and the former Yugoslavia (Barrett, 2018).

Constitutional text on freedom of speech/expression/the press

    • Any person shall be entitled to publish his thoughts in printing, in writing, and in speech, provided that he may be held answerable in a court of justice. Censorship and other preventive measures shall never again be introduced (Comparative Constitutions Project, 2018).

Media model (Hallin and Mancini, 2004: 67)
Northern European or Democratic Corporatist Model

Global media scandal
2005: Jyllands-Posten publishes 12 editorial cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, sparking national and international debate and outrage, and raising a debate about “news decisions” and their impact (Skovsgaard et al., 2012: 155). The cartoons were later reprinted by newspapers internationally, including satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2006 (Klausen, 2007: 185-200)

Key events
2017: Border police are allowed to confiscate valuables from asylum seekers, in a bid to deter immigrants (BBC, 2019).
2017: A blasphemy law from 1683 that prohibits insulting a religion in public (e.g. holy book burning) was repealed in June 2017 (Agence France-Presse, 2017).
2018: A ban of face veils came into effect, having been passed by Parliament in May (Reuters in Copenhagen, 2018).
2020: Danish authorities refuse an apology for a satirical cartoon of the stars in the Chinese flag replaced with the coronavirus (BBC, 2020).
click here for the BBC’s recent articles on Denmark.
click here for The Guardian’s recent articles on Denmark.


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Barrett, M. 2018. Here’s where Denmark’s foreign residents live and where they come from. April 11, 2018 at 17:00. The Local. [Online]. Available from:
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[1] Please note that DR provides radio, television, and online news services.
[2] Please note that journalists are only described as “Danish journalists” in this document.
[3] Board could be translated to Council instead.
[4] The founding date for the Radio and Television Board cannot be located and the minutes only go back to February 2001, DR was founded in 1925, and TV2 in 1988.
[5] In Danish: “§1. Loven gælder for følgende massemedier: 1) Indenlandske periodiske skrifter, herunder billeder og lignende fremstillinger, der trykkes eller på anden måde mangfoldiggøres. 2) Lyd- og billedprogrammer, der spredes af DR, TV 2/Danmark, de regionale TV 2-virksomheder og foretagender, der har tilladelse til eller er registrerede til at udøve radio- eller fjernsynsvirksomhed. 3) Tekster, billeder og lydprogrammer, der periodisk udbredes til offentligheden, såfremt de har karakter af en nyhedsformidling, som kan ligestilles med den formidling, der er omfattet af nr. 1 eller 2, jf. dog § 8, stk. 1.”
[6] Item left out of this section: “the most common complaints”. The 2018 press council report has an index from page 29, with a list of topics, the year of the report, and the page number of the report. It is not possible to understand how many there were of these types of complaints, for example, “email complaint” or “interview”, or further details about these without reading and analysing the reports or analysing the list of decisions.
[7] “Pressenævnets kendelser drejer sig om afgørelser af de sager, der er anmeldt til Pressenævnet. På denne side kan du se alle kendelser arrangeret efter dato med de seneste øverst. Ved hver kendelse står et unikt sagsnummer, der kan bruges hvis du skal referere til en kendelse.”
[8] These are the Social Democratic Party (SD), the Liberal Party (V), the Conservative People’s Party (KF), and the Radical Liberal Party (RV; Corstange, 2000).

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