The Finnish branch of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is concerned about Finland’s press freedom, after a recent clash between the Prime Minister and the country’s public broadcaster. The group says Finland is more than likely to suffer for it in the next May 2017 press freedom ranking.
Finland has dominated the number one position in the yearly World Press Freedom Index for almost a decade, after first achieving the top spot in 2008. Generated by RSF annually, the index compares press freedom levels in 180 different countries.
Criteria used in the evaluation include such things as media independence, self-censorship levels, transparency and quality of infrastructure. This qualitative analysis is then combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated.
Finland’s RSF says the fall from glory is not likely to be too severe, as Finland is widely respected in the international community. Finnish residents tend to follow the news avidly, and the country has the highest newspaper readership rates in the European Union.
But Finland’s size puts pressure on press freedom, argues Yle reporter Marcus Ziemann. He says that the media is too closely concentrated in his home country, with too little competition. The fact that most decision-makers and reporters know each other somehow through other channels also adds its own risks.
Finland’s first etiquette rules for newspaper reporters were written up in 1957. Today’s Guidelines for Journalists were drawn up in 2011. Compliance with the guidelines is monitored by the Council for Mass Media committee, which investigates potential breaches of good professional practice and requires parties in violation to publish the reprimand within a short time period. The Council’s rulings do not have any judicial authority.
On November 25, Prime Minister Juha Sipilä sent up to 20 indignant emails to an Yle journalist who reported on a possible conflict of interest he may have had. He argued that he wasn’t given a fair chance to comment on the report, ultimately writing that his confidence in the public broadcaster was zero.
An article in the periodical Suomen Kuvalehti later claimed that Yle managers shelved follow-up stories in response to Sipilä’s intervention. On December 12, two Yle journalists resigned over “a working culture hostile to journalistic practices”.
The two incidents have been widely discussed in Finland since the events, as they bring up important questions about not only politicians meddling in press freedom, but also the state-sponsored broadcaster’s potential self-censorship.