Freedom of the Press
Finland continued to rank among the freest media environments in the world in 2015, with a variety of editorially independent print, broadcast, and online news outlets.
- The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in June that the Finnish courts had violated a journalist’s rights by convicting him of defamation for criticizing the work of a fellow journalist.
- In another ruling in October, the ECHR’s Grand Chamber upheld the Finnish courts’ conviction of a journalist for disobeying police orders to disperse during a demonstration.
Legal Environment: 4 / 30
Freedom of expression is protected by Article 12 of the constitution and the 2003 Act on the Exercise of Freedom of Expression in Mass Media. Although journalists and media outlets are generally allowed to operate freely, defamation is considered a crime, and the government actively pursues incidents of defamation of religion or ethnicity.
In 2014, the penal code was amended so that only aggravated defamation—defined as offenses causing considerable or long-lasting suffering—would be punishable with imprisonment. According to the Finnish Union of Journalists, defamation cases against journalists are fairly rare, with only 11 reported in the last five years.
Finnish courts have traditionally treated defamation cases as a dispute between the journalist and the subject, without taking into consideration the public’s right to receive information on matters of public importance. This practice has been repeatedly contested by the ECHR, and the Finnish courts are beginning to adjust their rulings accordingly. However, in July 2015 the ECHR agreed with the Finnish courts that the media companies Satakunnan Markkinapörssi and Satamedia had been wrong to publish the taxation data of a large number of individuals, since the public’s right to information in this case did not override the need for privacy.
In a separate case that dated to 2002, the ECHR ruled in June that Finnish courts should not have convicted journalist Mikko Veli Niskasaari of defamation for accusing a journalist at the public-service broadcaster of lying and producing faulty statistics in documentaries on forestry. While Niskasaari was not able to prove his accusations, the ECHR found that the Finnish courts had not struck a fair balance between freedom of expression and the right to reputation, and noted that television journalists who engage in investigative reporting should be able to tolerate even severe criticism of their work as an element of their profession.
The constitution provides for the freedom of access to information, and the 1999 Act on the Openness of Government Activities created mechanisms for the granting of access to information in the public domain, setting a timeline of two weeks for government bodies to respond to requests. The act includes restrictions on access to information related to foreign affairs, criminal investigations, and national security.
The self-regulatory Council for Mass Media (CMM) is responsible for upholding ethical standards across print, broadcast, and online media. The CMM, which is empowered to accept and adjudicate complaints, consists of representatives of the media as well as the public. The maximum sanction in its power is a reprimand that must be published or broadcast immediately. Participation in the CMM is voluntary, but all major media outlets have signed on. Annual membership fees are the basis of CMM funding, although the body may also accept government subsidies to support its operations.
The Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority (FICORA), a branch of the Ministry of Transport and Communications, monitors radio and television companies, grants broadcasting licenses, and supervises compliance with regulations. The Information Society Code, which took effect in January 2015, unified and updated a number of existing laws governing the media and telecommunications markets. It contains provisions for the promotion of competition in the media sector, as well as for more efficient and secure telecommunications systems, and expands the powers of FICORA to grant licenses to radio and television stations; under previous legislation, the government held the bulk of responsibility for issuing licenses.
Political Environment: 3 / 40
Media outlets in Finland are typically independent and free from political pressure or censorship.
Journalists generally enjoy freedom of movement and physical access to news events. However, a final judgment in the case of Markus Pentikäinen, a photojournalist who was arrested in 2006 while covering a demonstration that had been dispersed by police, upheld his conviction for disobeying police orders by remaining in the demonstration area. The Finnish Supreme Court had confirmed the 2007 conviction in 2009, and the ECHR ruled in favor of the Finnish authorities in 2014. Pentikäinen was granted a further appeal, but in October 2015 the Grand Chamber of the ECHR endorsed the original ruling.
Physical harassment of or threats against journalists are extremely rare.
Economic Environment: 4 / 30
Despite recent decreases in the circulation of print media, Finland maintains high newspaper readership. Most newspapers are privately owned. Media ownership became concentrated after several mergers in the late 1990s, with Sanoma and Alma Media controlling the majority of newspaper distribution. Sanoma owns the largest daily newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, and the tabloid Ilta-Sanomat, as well as a number of television channels and dozens of periodicals. Alma Media’s portfolio includes the major daily newspaper Aamulehti and the tabloid Iltalehti. The government grants discretionary subsidies to newspapers and online publications written in minority languages.
The switchover to digital television broadcasts was finalized in 2007. The transition was accompanied by the removal of a frequency restriction that had limited the number of available channels, and the television landscape has since expanded. There are more than 50 commercial channels in addition to four public channels operated by Yleisradio Oy (YLE), the public-service broadcaster. YLE is funded by a special tax, must be accessible to all Finnish citizens regardless of income or place of residence, and provides broadcasting and internet services in the minority languages of Romany, Russian, Sámi, and Swedish, as well as in Latin. In addition to six public radio channels with a national reach, YLE operates 28 regional stations, and there are dozens of commercial radio stations with national, regional, or local reach.
Decreasing advertising spending continues to pose a challenge for the media sector, especially for print publications. In 2014, the government announced a three-year funding program to help media outlets adapt their practices and services to the digital age. For 2015, the budget allocated by the parliament was €19 million ($21 million).
The internet is open and unrestricted, and nearly 93 percent of the population had access in 2015. Legislation approved in 2010 gave every Finn the right to a 1 Mbps broadband internet connection. In 2008, the government launched the Broadband for All 2015 project, with the aim of expanding internet access in Finland, particularly by extending coverage to people living in remote areas. Financial difficulties made reaching the coverage target of 99 percent by the end of 2015 impossible. In March the Ministry of Transport and Communications proposed a long-term goal of 10 Mbps by 2021.