Finland: Parliamentary working group makes recommendations to public service broadcaster

by Anette Alén-Savikko

In late 2015, Finnish Minister of Transport and Communications Anne Berner set up a parliamentary working group to tackle the role of the Finnish public service broadcaster, Yleisradio (Yle). Among other measures, the working group has since recommended that the scope and primary task of the service be redefined, while its financial independence should be preserved.

Broadcast_900X600 The recommendations the Finnish Parliament's working group made to public broadcaster Yle will probably come into force by early 2017, and have met with mixed reactions from media organisations in Finland. (Photo: public domain)

The ECPMF had earlier published a story on the assessment of the Finnish media market by a previous working group also formed by Berner. On that instance, the setting up of a parliamentary working committee to conduct further investigation was noted.

The committee was to assess Yle's tasks and financing, the scope of the public service remit, as well as the meaning of Yle in the Finnish media market and in relation to democracy, free speech, pluralism, and independent communications. Moreover, corporate governance was to be gauged. For this, the parliamentary working group was to hear stakeholders on a wide basis.

Many experts and leading media professionals alongside the Minister of Transport and Communications were heard. Among them was Hannu Nieminen, Professor of Media and Communication Policy and current Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Helsinki. Statements were also given by the Union of Journalists in Finland (UJF), among many others. (See Report, Annex I.)

The working group was led by Member of Parliament Arto Satonen (National Coalition) and included numerous members from other political parties. Originally, the group was to last until the end of May 2016, but an extension was given.

In mid-June, the working group presented its results and recommendations. In its Annex 2, the report includes proposals for amending the Yle Act (1380/1993) regulating the national PSB company. In addition, a background survey on Yle’s functional efficiency accompanied the report. By including elements such as resources, operations and structures, it aimed to provide material for fact-based decision-making and policy.

Recommendations for Yle by the parliamentary working group

The report recommends changes to the definition of the public service remit so that content services should be provided in public communications networks nationally and regionally (§ 7(1) Yle Act) whereas they currently may be, and whereas ‘regional’ would be defined in a way that refers to a wider level than currently.

Furthermore, while the duties of Yle currently included in Section 7(2) of the dedicated act refer to “support[ing] tolerance and multiculturalism and [provision] of programming for minority and special groups” the report proposes an amendment whereby the primary task is promotion of Finnish cultural heritage alongside tolerance, equality and cultural pluralism. (p. 1-2)

With regards to financing, the working group deems it necessary to safeguard Yle’s independence. Yle has been funded by a dedicated public broadcasting tax since 2013, and this should not change. However, the index reviews should be frozen also during the next couple of years – as they have been since 2015. Annual reviews pursuant to the Act on the State Television and Radio Fund (745/1998) would take place from 2020 onwards, but possibly already in 2019.

The report further recommends strengthening the position of Yle’s Administrative Council and the introduction of a permanent procedure for hearing experts. The Council would decide on Yle’s strategy and include representation for each political party with at least three parliamentary seats. For their part, experts should be heard, for instance, on issues related to ex ante evaluations, strategy and market effects. (p. 2-3)

Among the recommendations is an increase of 30-35 percent in the amount of program purchases from independent producers. This should be executed by 2022. In tendering, attention should be paid to fair practices in employment, among others. Cooperation in the media market should also be increased.

Dedicated provisions in the Yle Act would include obligations to foster media pluralism and quality journalism. Moreover, Yle could share its content with commercial media companies and be involved in safeguarding a basic national news service. Moreover, Yle will implement changes in its regional news provision to the benefit of print media.

Finally, and like the earlier working group assessing the media market, this parliamentary working group deems it necessary to adjust the value added tax rate for digital media content so as to correspond with print. The issue is on the EU agenda. It also notes a need for a separate working group which would map ways to safeguard the continuity of commercial TV activity (p. 3-4)

Implementation and reception

The recommendations will most probably be implemented during the fall and take effect by the beginning of next year. Those implying amendments to law must still undergo a legislative process.

The results and recommendations received somewhat of a mixed reception according to media coverage: Consensus was praised on the part of Yle, in particular due to its significance for the company’s independence.

The rest of the media sector alongside the Federation of the Finnish Media Industry (Finnmedia) and the Finnish Newspapers Association expressed dissatisfaction especially with Yle’s funding remaining untouched. Then again, the move towards increased cooperation and new responsibilities for media pluralism was deemed beneficial for the media market as a whole.

The press also noted the situation with value added taxation – even if the overall results were deemed minor in significance.

LL.D Anette Alén-Savikko works with the Faculty of law at the University of Helsinki.

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Report of the Parliamentary Working Group (Parlamentaarisen Yle-työryhmän muistio), LVM/1955/05/2015.
Survey on Yleisradio’s functional efficiency (NAG: Ylen tehokkuusarvioinnin raportti. Selvitys Yleisradio Oy:n toiminallisesta tehokkuudesta), LVM/1955/05/2015, 2 May 2016.

Decision on setting up the working group examining the tasks and funding of Yleisradio Asettamispäätös: (Yleisradio Oy:n julkisen palvelun tehtävää ja rahoitusta arvioiva parlamentaarinen työryhmä), LVM/1955/05/2015, 30 October 2015.

Press Release (1) of the Ministry of Transport and Communications, working group to examine the future of Finnish public service broadcasting, 2 Nov 2015.

Press Release (2) of the Ministry of Transport and Communications, Extra time for the working group to examine the future of Finnish public service broadcasting (Yleisradio tulevaisuutta kartoittavalle työryhmälle lisäaikaa), 17 May 2016.

Decision on granting extra time to the working group examining the tasks and funding of Yleisradio (LVM:n päätös Yleisradio Oy:n julkisen palvelun tehtävää ja rahoitusta arvioivan parlamentaarisen työryhmän toimikauden jatkamisesta), LVM/1955/05/2015, 16 May 2016.

Yle tax remains – Satonen’s working group reports on results (Yle-vero säilyy – Satosen työryhmä kertoi työnsä tuloksista), Yle, 16 June 2016.

CEO of Yle on the proposal of Satonen’s working group: ”Unanimity very valuable but not common (Ylen toimitusjohtaja Satosen työryhmän esityksestä: ”Yksimielisyyden saavuttaminen äärimmäisen arvokasta muttei tavallista”), Yle, 16 June 2016.

Media companies disappointed with Yle policy – ”Right direction but insufficient” (Mediatalot pettyivät Yle-työryhmän linjauksiin – ”Oikeansuuntaisia, mutta riittämättömiä”), HS, 16 June 2016.

Finnmedia and Finnish Newspapers Association disappointed in Yle funding not being cut (VKL ja Sanomalehtien liitto pettyivät siihen, ettei Ylen budjettia leikattu), M&M, 17 June 2016.

Press Release (3) of the Ministry of Transport and Communications, working group: Parliamentary consensus on the duties and funding of Yle, 20 June 2016.

All Quiet for the Yle Working Group (Yle-työryhmältä ei mitään uutta), SSS, 22 June 2016.

Act on Yleisradio Oy (1380/1993); unofficial translation by Ministry of Transport and Communications (amendments up to 474/2012 included):

Act on the State Television and Radio Fund (745/1998); unofficial translation by Ministry of Transport and Communications (amendments up to 475/2012 included).

Lauri Kivinen, Yle: Consensus of parliamentary working group strengthens Yle’s independence.