In this context, ‘dissemination‘ is defined as researchers’ exchange of knowledge and competencies in society, including participation in public debate. This may take place through articles, reviews, features and letters from readers in newspapers, books that convey knowledge to a wide audience of non-specialists, participation in radio and television broadcasts, as well as providing education to a wide audience of non-specialists at, for example, university extension courses and adult education centres
In this context, researchers enjoy an extensive – though not unlimited – freedom of expression, as discussed below.
The UBVA symposium 2015 included several presentations about this topic (in Danish), which are available as webcast at this link.
Freedom of expression
In Denmark, freedom of expression is protected under section 77 of the Danish Constitution:
”Any person shall be at liberty to publish his ideas in print, in writing, and in speech, subject to his
being held responsible in a court of law. Censorship and other preventive measures shall never again be introduced”.
The European Convention on Human Rights also contains the following provision on freedom of information and expression:
”Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers…”
A similar provision is contained in article 11(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
Public authorities may lay down rules for who can speak on behalf of the Authority and how this is to be done.
Public employees have established an extensive freedom of expression to comment on their own behalf, for example in the public debate. This freedom of expression also applies to statements about issues relating to the work of the public employee. The public employee must ensure that there is no doubt that the statements are made on their own behalf – and not on behalf of the public authority.
The bounds of freedom of expression
Freedom of expression is not absolute. In Denmark it is thus a criminal offence to make statements that are defamatory or an invasion of privacy, and it is illegal to disclose or use confidential information. This falls under the provisions of the Danish Penal Code, the Danish Public Administration Act and section 19 of the Danish Marketing Practices Act, and the employee may by agreement (e.g. in the employment contract) be subject to specific confidentiality obligations.
Naturally these limits also apply to public employees, including researchers involved in the public debate.
In addition, there are a few special limitations when it comes to statements which a public employee may make publicly. As a rule, public employees may not make statements which are unduly crude or make obvious misrepresentations about important issues relating to the work of the public employee, and central employees close to the decision-making process are subject to certain restrictions regarding their freedom of expression on matters relating to their own work.
For further details, please refer to
- Vejledning om offentligt ansattes ytringsfrihed(Danish Ministry of Justice, 2016) about guidelines on the freedom of expression of public employees
- Committee Report 1553/2015 from the Committee on Public Employees’ Freedom of Expression and Whistleblower Schemes
- Vejledning om offentligt ansattes ytringsfrihed (Danish Ministry of Justice, 2006) about guidelines on the freedom of expression of public employees.
- Committee Report 1472/2006 from the Committee on Public Employee’s Freedom of Expression and Right to Inform
- God adfærd i den offentlige sektor about the principles of good conduct in the public sector (the State Employer’s Authority, Local Government, Denmark and Danish Regions, 2007)
Researchers’ freedom of expression
Public sector researchers enjoy the same extended freedom of expression to speak out on their own behalf like other public employees (as described above).
The bounds for researchers’ freedom of expression have recently been tried in two cases by the Danish courts.
On 3 June 2015, the Supreme Court of Denmark ruled in a lawsuit brought by Jørgen Dragsdahl against the historian Bent Jensen (the ruling is available here). On 21 June 2016, the City Court of Copenhagen ruled in a lawsuit brought against Politiken’s then chief editor, Bo Lidegaard. Professor Jørn Vestergaard has discussed these rulings and the relevant rules in an article which Forskerportalen.dk has been given permission to bring here:
- Professor Jørn Vestergaard’s article, “Strafbare agentanklager – om akademisk frihed, journalistisk frihed og ytringsbegrænsninger” (available in Danish), printed in Børge Dahl, Michael Hansen Jensen & Søren Højgaard Mørup (ed.), Festschrift for Jens Peter Christensen (Jurist- og Økonomforbundets Forlag (Djøf Publishing) 2016).
It also follows from section 2(3) of the University Act that universities should encourage researchers to participate in public debate. This provision per se limits the ability of the universities to interfere with the researchers’ opinions through management. Please see
- The Danish Parliamentary Ombudsman’s opinion in FOB 2005.385.
- The Danish Parliamentary Ombudsman’s press release of 22 June 2017.
Some research institutions have established rules for researchers in the public debate. An example is the University of Copenhagen’s Legal guidelines for the use of the UCPH name and logo. Among other things, these rules limit researchers’ access to refer to their workplace (the University of Copenhagen) in the public debate, if the debate relates to topics that are ”completely outside the scope of their area of employment”.
No duty to speak
Researchers’ freedom of expression does not entail any duty to speak out.