MEDIADEM panel at the ‘Speaking is silver’ conference – Freedom of expression in Finland depends on the media

Finland has no real problems with the freedom of expression and media freedom. Instead, and the future of these freedoms and the public trust of the media very much depend on the media’s own willingness and ability to produce high quality journalism and to maintain ethical responsibility.

These were the observations of the MEDIADEM seminar which took place on December 13-14 in Hanasaari, global burden of disease
Finland. The seminar was arranged by the University of Jyväskylä in cooperation with the Finnish National Commission for UNESCO and was held within the international two-day conference ‘Speaking is Silver’.

Professor Epp Lauk introduced the MEDIADEM project and presented some key findings concerning Finland. Her conclusion was that Finland differs from the other MEDIADEM countries because of its ‘mild’ media policy, ailment which is generally directive rather than restrictive. Finland also stands out for its high level of journalistic professionalism and the relatively high job security conditions that journalists enjoy. While the protection of privacy appears to be a problematic issue in most of the countries, in Finland privacy is highly valued and respected by the media.

Dr. Heikki Kuutti, the scientist in charge of the Finnish MEDIADEM team, presented the recommendations for the development of free and independent media in Finland with emphasis in four issue areas: a) the implementation of the freedom of expression, b) the improvement of the general trust in the media, c) maintaining high quality journalism, and d) evaluating the role of the public broadcasting company (YLE) in competition with the commercial media.

Professor Hannu Nieminen of the University of Helsinki, who was invited to comment on these recommendations, talked about the citizens’ point of view in the freedom of expression. This refers to the role of the media in general in giving voice to the people and the responsibility of YLE to produce relevant content, among others. Mr. Risto Uimonen, chair of the Council for Mass Media, supported Nieminen’s remarks by underlining the danger Finnish media may face because of rapid technological changes. Conveyor belt-like production of news may weaken journalists’ ability to react to important issues, while the media’s ambition for higher profits pushes down editorial resources, eventually leading to poor journalism.

Mr. Juha Rekola, head of international affairs of the Finnish Union of Journalists, shared the view that the public role of journalism is currently under commercial pressure. Increasing work load and time pressures have a negative impact on journalists ability to actually do their job.

Associate Professor Paivi Tiilikka of the University of Helsinki expressed doubts that updating regularly the Finnish translations of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) online database would be enough for promoting domestic judicial interpretations more favourable for the freedom of speech. According to her, the ECtHR’s interpretations are not always unambiguous and, hence, they are difficult to apply to the Finnish court practice. Often, they do not specify what the aspects that should be taken into consideration by the Finnish courts are.

Mr Mikko Hoikka, director of the Federation of the Finnish Media Industry reminded that media houses do not anymore compete with each other only. Instead, the media have fragmented with new players and techniques and competition is now about getting the public’s attention first. Concerning YLE, Mr Hoikka raised the question whether public service media should complement the current output of commercial channels or they should bring something new to the market. YLE, for instance, should not copy the ways in which the commercial channels are trying to attract young audience .

Director Juhani Wiio from Wiio Co. criticised the commercial media for considering that YLE is only a marginal actor who patches up what the commercial media are not interested in. According to Mr Wiio, YLE should not be seen as a competitor to commercial media. As regards the evaluation of YLE’s new services, parliamentary control would be the best way to go.

The agenda of the conference ‘Speaking is silver’ is available here (in English).

Video recording of the 2nd day of the ‘Speaking is silver’ conference is available here.

For more information you may contact Heikki Kuutti.