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26.07.2019

Finland’s press freedom under pressure from politicians and lack of transparency

 

by Fred Krull

Finland holds the presidency of the council of the EU for the next six months.To find out what this means for press and media freedom in Europe, the ECPMF talked to Salla Vuorikoski, a leading Finnish journalist who reported on the "Sipilägate" scandal in 2017 and later resigned from the Finnish public broadcaster Yle after disagreements over journalistic integrity.

Finland's press freedom under pressure from politicians and lack of transparency Salla Vuorikoski. Photo: private, reproduced with her permission


ECPMF: What is it in your opinion that makes Finland one of the world's leading nations for press freedom ?

SV: It has to do with the high level of reliable and transparent public governance. And of course we made good choices as a state when we turned to the EU and more clearly to the western world in the 90's. So we have continued following the western path in journalism as well. In the past, the close and cautious relationship with the Soviet Union had an effect on the independence of journalism at least when it comes to politics and especially foreign politics. 

ECPMF: After "Sipilägate" and your involvement in the affair, does political interference continues to cause problems for investigative journalists?

SV: In Finland the situation is and has of course been much better than in many other countries. Being such a small country we have similar problems to other small countries (Iceland, for example): tight circles between politicians, journalists and other powerful people. This issue of closeness was a big topic during "Sipilägate" and my view is that things got a little bit healthier after the whole episode. And at Yle, the public broadcaster, journalists probably have a more independent attitude towards the pressure from politicians. We still have some politicians who treat Yle as their own media and make different kinds of demands on journalists there. 

ECPMF: Where do you think Finland needs to improve itself? After being ranked at first in the world in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index for six years, it has dropped back down to second place behind Norway this year.

SV: For instance, we still have a lot to do when it comes to the transparency of information. At the moment the Ministry of Justice is looking into our FOIA (law of public information) and we hope to achieve some improvements. For example, nowadays more and more taxpayer-paid activities are carried out by publicly-owned companies instead by public authorities. In many cases FOIA doesn’t apply to companies even if they are 100%-owned by the state or municipalities, and we hope to change this.  

ECPMF: The Centre for Media Pluralism and Freedom's Media Pluralism Monitor (2017) revealed that market pluralism is at high risk in the Finnish media landscape. How would you evaluate these numbers in terms of the concentration of media ownership?

SV: This is not a very active topic in Finland, probably because the owners of the media companies are either families with long-established ties to the media industry or listed companies with many different owners. If there suddenly would be some dubious operator with political intentions in this field, the situation would be totally different. This is something we have to keep an eye on and hope that politicians understand the importance of media pluralism as well.

ECPMF: How can other European countries like Germany for example learn from Finland in matters of press freedom?

SV: I am not an expert when it comes to Germany and the journalism or freedom of the press there. Probably we have a lot to learn from German colleagues. I think it would be important in general for European countries and EU to try together to find ways to increase transparency and protection of the freedom of press (and journalists as well). 

ECPMF: Can we expect Finnish influence over press and media freedom during its time as President of the Council of the EU?

SV: I would hope so. I think it is the final chance to have a serious discussion about what is going on in countries like Hungary, Poland and so on. How long will EU look at the destruction of the freedom of the press without taking some real action?