In this context, ‘communication’ is defined as researchers’ exchange of knowledge and competencies in society, including participation in public debate. This may take place through articles, reviews, features in and letters to newspapers, books that convey knowledge to a wide audience of non-specialists, participation in radio and television broadcasts, and teaching to a broad audience of non-specialists at, for example, university extension courses or adult education centres
In this context, researchers enjoy extensive – though not unlimited – freedom of expression, as discussed below. See Danish Universities’ Principles for good research dissemination (2019).
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.
This website includes detailed information about the history of freedom of speech in Denmark.
The limits 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 the Danish Trade Secrets Act, and an employee may by agreement (e.g. in the employment contract) be subject to specific confidentiality obligations.
Public employees’ freedom of expression
Public authorities (including Danish universities) may lay down rules governing who may speak on behalf of the authority, and how this is to be done.
Public employees have the freedom of expression to make utterances on their own behalf (private utterances). This is generally described as follows in the Ministry of Justice’s guide to public employees’ freedom of expression (2016), p. 7:
“The framework for the freedom of expression of public employees may be summarised as follows:
It must be made clear that you are speaking on your own behalf and not on behalf of the authority.
The duty of confidentiality must not be breached.
Public employees may not express themselves in a manner which is defamatory or which constitutes an invasion of privacy.
Public employees may not express themselves in an unreasonably crude manner or present clearly incorrect information about essential matters within their own area of work.
Within this framework, public employees may basically say whatever they wish. This also applies if they express criticism of their workplace, and even if they have not first raised the criticism internally or otherwise informed the management.”
The guidelines also make it clear that employees located close to the decision-making processes are subject to certain restrictions on the right to express an opinion on matters relating to their own areas of 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
- 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 as other public employees to speak out on their own behalf, including by taking part in the public debate (as described above). In many cases, however, the utterances of researchers cannot be characterised as such private utterances, but rather as activities connected with their position – without, however, being utterances made on behalf of the university. Researchers are thereby often in a special position in relation to other public employees.
It also follows from section 2(3) of the University Act that universities should encourage researchers to participate in public debate. This provision limits per se the ability of the universities to interfere with the researchers’ opinions through management. 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 Univeristy’s 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”.
Researchers are subject to the same general limits on freedom of expression that apply to others (see the section on this above). Researchers must moreover comply with the norms of responsible research practice in their communication.
The limits to 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 case 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 case brought against Politiken’s then editor-in-chief, Bo Lidegaard. Professor Jørn Vestergaard has discussed these rulings and the relevant rules in an article which Forskerportalen.dk has been given permission to reproduce 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).
No duty to speak out
Researchers’ freedom of expression does not entail any duty to speak out.