Finland

last updated: May 29, 2020
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RSF ranking: 2nd out of 180 (RSF, 2020)
Population: 5.5m (Worldometer, 2020)
Percentage in the capital: 24% (1.3m; World Population Review, 2020)
GDP: 252.75bn USD (Statista, 2019)
EU member: since January 1, 1995 (EUROPA, 2020)
Official languages: Finnish 88.3%, Swedish 5.3%, Sámi 0.036%; other: Russian 1.4% (Manninen, 2018: 2)
Press council: Julkisen sanan neuvosto (The Council for Mass Media)

Press freedom environment: Freedom House classes Finland as a “free” country with a total score of 100 out of 100 (Freedom House, 2020). This score is split 40/60 for political rights and for civil liberties (Ibid.). At the time of writing, Freedom house did not have a “narrative report” for 2020, and the most recent one is from 2019. This report shows that the parliamentary system runs well across parties and with elections free from corruption (Freedom House, 2019). Although women and minority groups are able to exercise equal rights, minority groups can be targeted with racists or verbal attacks (Ibid.). With regard to political influence on private life, a constitutional amendment was passed in October 2018, which allowed intelligence gathering in the interest of national security, meaning that if a subsequent intelligence bill is approved, the government would have increased surveillance capacities (Ibid.). In the “Civil Liberties” section of the report called “Freedom of Expression and Belief”, the freedom and independence of the media is protected by the constitution, but the Union of Journalists in Finland has filed complaints with the public prosecutor due to its hesitation to press charges against individuals who harass journalists, particularly those journalists that report on immigrants and immigration issues (Ibid.).

Media landscape

Newspapers and market

In 2016, Finland had a total of 174 paid-for newspapers, 39 of which are daily newspapers and 135 weeklies (Harrie, 2018: 24). Finland has 1 free daily and 55 free non-daily newspapers (Ibid.: 67). Since 2000, Finland has had the most newspapers either being consolidated or being shut down out of the three Nordic countries in this study; with local newspapers being most affected (Ibid.: 23). The number of newspapers in 2000 was 213, making it a drop of 39 newspapers (Ibid.: 27). Print readership in 2011 was at 60%, in 2016 at 42%, with print readership persisting mainly with older age groups (Ibid.: 48). Like all the Nordic countries, online readership is high, with Finland having 80% of its population reading newspapers online (Ibid.).

The top five newspapers in 2016 were: Helsingin Sanomat (broadsheet, quality), Aamulehti (broadsheet, quality), Turun Sanomat (quality, regional), Kaleva (quality, regional), and Keskisuomalainen (quality, regional; Harrie, 2018: 76). Each of these newspapers are over a hundred years old. Keskisuomalainen is the oldest and was founded in 1871 (Pasanen, 2018); Aamulehti in 1881 (Ellilä, 2016); Helsingin Sanomat and Turun Sanomat in 1905 (University of Jyväskylä, 2019; Encyclopædia Britannica, 2019); and Kaleva in 1899 (Kaleva Media, 2019). Competition between daily newspapers is low and most cities and towns have their own newspapers (Jyrkiäinen and Heinonen, 2012: 172). The five largest newspapers, by circulation, for 2018 were: Helsingin Sanomat (332,717), Turun Sanomat (76,291), Keskisuomalainen (71,282), Savon Sanomat (57,429), Kaleva (55,305; Statista, 2020).

Media in Finland are described as consisting of a combination of subscription regional daily newspapers and robust radio and television provided by the public service broadcaster, Yleisradio (YLE; Manninen, 2018: 2). Established regional newspapers, from both towns and geographic areas, mean that the newspaper media are less focused on national quality newspapers (Manninen, 2018: 2), however, one daily, the Helsingin Sanomat is considered to be a key newspaper, along with two evening tabloids (Reunanen, 2018).[1] Newspapers have seen a consolidation process and Finns are resistant to shifting to paid-for online content as newspapers seek to establish themselves online (Manninen, 2018: 2). Newspapers are addressing this by offering other forms of engagement online, such as classified spaces, real estate ads, and employment ads (Reunanen, 2018).

Media ownership in Finland is mostly unregulated (Manninen, 2018: 2). The Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority administers radio and television licenses, and in 2017, legislation was passed that allowed parliament to have more authority over the YLE (Ibid.). Media companies in Finland have managed to maintain both audience trust as well as deflect the influence of foreign media (Reunanen, 2018). Perhaps this is due to Finnish being a niche language (Ibid.), but also the insulating nature of circulated culture through the strength of local and regional press.

Internet penetration in Finland is high at 93% (Newman et al., 2018: 75), however, as noted above, aside from Finns reading news online, engagement with news using other digital means is relatively low. For example, MSN News, providing content in both Finnish and English, saw a small weekly increase in audience reach in 2017 from 6% to 7% (Reunanen, 2018). Low engagement is perhaps influenced by a current limbo-status on VAT, where Finnish media entities are awaiting a decision from the EU to allow member countries to establish their own VATs, so that they can then lower the 24% VAT for digital media to the 10% for print subscriptions (Ibid.).

Key digital entrants include Uusi Summi, which is a national news and blog website, maintained its 9% weekly reach in 2017 (Reunanen, 2018). The national broadcaster, YLE, remains the top source for obtaining news online, and evening tabloids also offer free content, leaving a wealth of online content accessible to audiences, in addition to subscription packages offered by newspapers (Ibid.). Furthermore, YLE offers content without ads and is subscription-free, which competitors cite as being unfair, and is something that is currently under review by the EU Commission via the Finnish media body Medialiitto (Ibid.).

Audience news consumption

The 2019 Reuters Digital News Report combines results of weekly usage across television, radio, and print, as well as online in Finland (Newman et al., 2019: 82). The main public broadcaster, YLE ranks at the top at 68% for tv, radio, and print, and 35% for online; and MTV3 News at 55% for tv, radio, and print, and 23% for online. In terms of the top four newspapers, Ilta-Sanomat (tabloid, popular) was at 56 % for online and 18% for print, Iltalehti (tabloid, popular) was at 54% for online and 16% for print, Helsingin Sanomat (broadsheet, quality) was at 27% for online and 17% for print, followed by regional newspapers (titles not specified) at 15% for online and 23% for print, and local newspapers (titles not specified) at 13% for online and 19% for print. It is interesting to note here that out of the sixteen types of brands listed, aside from the local broadcaster, the regional and local newspapers are the only ones to have higher percentages for print over online.

Public service media

The major Finnish public broadcaster, Yleisradio Oy (YLE), is 99.9% state-owned and funded via a named tax (YLE, 2019a). YLE was founded in 1926 for radio, and in 1958 for television (YLE, 2019b). It has four television channels, six radio channels, 24 regional radio stations, as well as additional broadcast services (YLE, 2019a). It reaches 76% of the population daily, and 93% weekly (Ibid.). In 2017, it had a turnover of €472.3m (Ibid.). Its website states:

The public considers Yle to be a reliable source of news and current affairs. The company plays a major role in producing and presenting programmes dealing with national arts, educational programmes and children’s programmes. Yle’s services to the public also cover special and minority groups. (Ibid.)

Public trust in the press and media

According to the 2019 Digital News Report, overall trust in Finnish news was at 59%, with Finland ranking 1st out of the 38 countries in the study (Newman et al., 2019: 83). The most trusted sources of news are YLE News (public broadcaster) and Helsingin Sanomat (broadsheet, quality), and the least trusted are Ilta-Sanomat (tabloid, popular) and Iltalehti (tabloid, popular; Ibid.). On a scale of 1-10, the most trusted brands for news are public broadcaster YLE News (7.77), and the top five newspapers following these are Helsingin Sanomat (7.27; quality, broadsheet), Kauppalehti (7.25; financial news/broadsheet, quality), unspecified local newspapers (7.21), Suomen Kuvalehti (7.19; weekly magazine), and Taloussanomat (7.16; online/daily; Ibid.).

In 2016, 1,000 Finnish participants took part in Special Eurobarometer 452, titled Media pluralism and democracy (Eurobarometer, 2016). Here, 85% of participants thought that the national media represented a “diversity of views and opinions”, and 78% thought that the media  were“free from political or commercial pressure” (Eurobarometer, 2016: Country Factsheet: Finland). Likewise, 65% thought that public broadcasting services were free from political influence (Ibid.). General trust in media was at 88% (Ibid.), reliability in television was at 90%, radio at 93%, and newspapers (both print and online) at 88%; however, trust in social media platforms was low at 68% (Ibid.). A low number of participants were aware of regulatory bodies at 15%, with 76% thinking that they were free from political or commercial influence (Ibid.). In the study, 22% of Finnish respondents thought that journalists, bloggers, and social media users were the targets of hate speech and abuse (Ibid.).

Online only/digital entrants

In terms of online-only brands, the Reuters Digital News Report for 2019 lists the following as the most-used sources of news “used last week”, the only one listed was MSN (8%; Newman et al., 2019: 83).

In terms of digital entrants that publish longform news stories, a new digital entrant to the Finnish news market is Longplay.fi, which was created as a start-up by eight freelance journalists in 2013 (Longplay, 2020). Longform articles are sold to readers using a direct reader funding model, as “an experiment that aimed at creating a reader-funded publishing model for serious, high-quality journalism” (Ibid.). There are currently collaborations with Zetland in Denmark, and The Correspondent in the Netherlands (Ibid.; see also: Bartlett, 2013a; 2013b). Another digital entrant, the alt-right website MV-Lehti, saw a rebranding and restructuring in 2018, after proceedings related to incitement to hatred (Reunanen, 2018; Leppänen, 2018). A former print paper, Uusi Suomi, re-launched online in 2007 and is widely accessed (Fielden, 2012: 36).

Current studies and context: digital engagement

Hallin and Mancini’s model of media systems (2004), describes Finland as having a Northern European or Democratic Corporatist Model, which is “characterised by a strong mass press, a high degree of political parallelism, professional journalism, and strong public service” (Harrie, 2018: 13). In many ways this still holds true today.

Recent data on risks to media pluralism in Finland point back to 2016, as there were few changes in 2017, showing that Finland has mixed rankings with “high risk” to market plurality (68%), “medium risk” to social inclusiveness (50%) and political independence (44%), and “low risk” to basic protection (23%; Manninen, 2018: 3-8). Interestingly, the high risks have to do with lack of government controls on media and media content, with problems in the Finnish media market mainly related to falling profits, a concentrated market, and lack of representation for minorities (Ibid.: 3). In summary, the report highlighted the following in its conclusion regarding each category (Ibid.: 9):

Basic Protection: The legal framework for free and pluralist media is strong in Finland. There are still blemishes, most notably the non-existent protection of whistleblowers and heavy punishments for defamation. The legislative branch should consider revising the legislation to meet international standards. Furthermore, all public officials should be trained to uniformly implement the freedom of information legislation.

Market Plurality: The Finnish media market is highly concentrated. It is unclear, however, how many competitors the relatively small market could support. New anti-concentration measures are not advisable with current knowledge, but it is recommendable for the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority to regularly monitor the situation. Before implementing any new regulation, an analysis should be conducted to determine the amount of competition the market is capable of supporting.

Political Independence: Most Finnish media are politically independent, and the identified risks stem from lack of compelling legislation. New regulation should not be introduced as long as the desired outcome is reached without. Thus, Finnish media’s political independence should be monitored and nascent issues tackled through self-regulation before legal intervention is required. Preferably, this monitoring should be conducted multilaterally between the media industry and academia.

Social Inclusiveness: Finland has an extensive framework for promoting media access for various social groups. Small niche audiences are still persistently underserved. The public service broadcaster should strive to better engage neglected groups, and the Finnish state should consider improving the support schemes available to minority, local, and community media.

In short, the risks to media pluralism are less direct and formal risks, and more potential threats that need to be considered (Manninen, 2018: 9), which is perhaps unsurprising, given the strength of freedoms in the Finnish context. Although Finland is a safe country to be a journalist, 2018 saw coverage of the conviction of “right-wing, anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic, pro-Russian” website MV-Lehti for trolling award-wining YLE investigative journalist Jessikka Aro, due to her research into online Russian propaganda (BBC, 2018), which eventually caused her to leave her job and become an independent author (Heikkilä and Väliverronen, 2019).

In terms of the current RSF rankings, Finland is ranked as 2nd (out of 180) on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, the same raking as in 2019 (RSF, 2020). According to the 2019 Digital News Report, overall trust in Finnish news was at 59%, with Finland ranking 1st out of the 38 countries in the study (Newman et al., 2019: 83). Internet penetration in Finland is at 94% (Ibid.: 82).

Regulatory environment

The press council

Finland has been described to be the “founding father” of press councils, with the Court of Honour of the Finnish Press being established in 1919 (Jones, 1980: 19). In 1968, the Council for the Mass Media was established, addressing newspapers, magazines, radio, and television (Ibid.), as well as new media in recent years (Fielden, 2012: 16). The Finnish press council context is unique to the other Nordic countries, in that it came about during post-war years where the Soviet Union still had much influence, including journalists engaging in self-censorship (Ibid.: 20), having undergone a process of “social democratisation” (Esping-Andersen, 1990: 92). Party-political press in the 1950s gave way to news-based commercial press, followed by “yellow press” (gossip) in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly on the intimate lives of politicians; eventually leading to the 1974 Lex Hymy privacy law in the Finnish Criminal Code (Fielden, 2012: 20). Around this time was the “Finlandisation” debate, which “refers to a foreign policy strategy where a smaller state adapts its policy to the interests of a bigger neighbouring country, typically a Great Power”, which in this case was the Soviet Union (Forsberg and Pesu, 2016: 474).

Finland’s press council works on a model of self-regulation, where anyone can present a complaint (Fielden, 2012: 8,9). In terms of sanctions, corrections must be published in the case of all media (Ibid.). The council is partly funded by the State (30%), the rest by the Council’s Management Group, which consists of organisations including the Union of Journalists, the Finnish Periodical Publishers’ Association, and the YLE (Ibid.: 16, 110; organisations’ names are the current ones).[2] Recently the Finnish press council has faced challenges in having its verdicts and moral authority recognised by companies (Ríos et al., 2018: 225) However, the same study found that the Finnish press council had a perceived impact on journalists’ behaviour (Ibid.: 237).

Looking directly at the source, the Council for Mass Media has basic information on its model and practices available in English. Starting with the frontpage, it describes itself as follows:

The Council for Mass Media (CMM) is a self-regulating committee established by publishers and journalists in the field of mass communication for the purpose of interpreting good professional practice and defending the freedom of speech and publication. The Council also addresses the methods by which journalists acquire their information. The Council does not exercise legal jurisdiction or public authority. Its decisions are, however, closely followed and observed. This is also true in other countries that have media councils that serve a similar function to the CMM. (Julkisen sanan neuvoston, 2020a)

Anyone can file a complaint with the CMM for a “breach of good professional practice by the press, radio or television”, in addition to published content on online media (Julkisen sanan neuvoston, 2020a). The complainant can be an indirect party. However , consent must be obtain from the affected person for that complaint to be carried forward (Ibid.). Once a decision has been passed, it must be published on the offending party’s platform, and if not, it will “be otherwise made public” (the website does not specify how; (Ibid.). Although the website does not specify which media, it states that the “majority” of the country’s media has signed the “Council’s Basic Agreement”, which means that they will adhere to and honour the procedures of the CMM (Ibid.). If a situation requires it, where “important principles” need to be revisited, the CMM is able to also independently investigate an issue or topic (Ibid.).

The CMM acknowledges that it is regarded as an example or model for other countries, as to how an independent press council should work and function (Julkisen sanan neuvoston, 2020e). It cites the reason for this being that it covers Finnish media, including news media, women’s magazines, radio stations, children’s magazines, and political party newspapers; and due to this encompassing reach, the media context creates the setting for Finnish media to “operate freely and responsibly at the same time” (Ibid.). Another reason is the relatively low number of decisions (“verdicts”) that it passes, with only 38 decisions issued out of 468 complaints in 2016 (Ibid.). A last reason it cites for the high standard is because the standard of journalistic practice is high, where mistakes are acknowledged and corrected and promising to honour the CMM’s Guidelines for Journalists, which has clauses like a commitment against propagating misinformation, which means that “when the media regulate themselves, the authorities and the courts do not need to intervene” (Ibid.).

The CMM meets once a month with all fourteen members of the council (Julkisen sanan neuvoston, 2020b). The Chairman is the first member, followed thirteen members, all of whom serve a three-year term (Julkisen sanan neuvoston, 2008). The Chairman is selected by the Managing Group of The Council for Mass Media, and the thirteen members are split between eight members representing different areas of the media (selected by the Managing Group_ and five members represent the public (selected by the CMM; Ibid.). The CMM takes around five months to handle each case, and the complaint must be registered within three month of the alleged infraction (Ibid.).

A typical complaint to the CMM is with regards to advertising, where ads resemble journalistic content in both print and online materials; the latter meaning that the CMM also takes complaints about blogs (Julkisen sanan neuvoston, 2020c). A “Statement on marking news automation and personalization” was approved by the CMM at its meeting from October 30th, 2019, which aimed to “define the use of algorithmic tools as part of journalistic work and to assure the public that media outlets act responsibly and transparently while using algorithms”, where “media outlets use algorithmic tools in a manner that safeguards the public’s access to diverse information about the world” (Julkisen sanan neuvoston, 2020d). Very briefly, the Danish press council meets every other year with the other Nordic press councils from Finland, Norway, and Sweden (Pressenævnet, 2016). The Finnish press council will host the next meeting of Nordic press councils in 2020 (Pressenævnet, 2018). Further details about the press council can be reviewed on the webpage called “Basic Agreement”, which was signed by the CMM’s Managing Group consisting of eight major organisations (Julkisen sanan neuvoston, 2015).[3]

Recent press council report/cases

The annual reports are only available in Swedish and Finnish.

Other bodies and codes of ethics

Journalists in Finland follow the Council for Mass Media (CMM) guidelines, called “Guidelines for Journalists and an Annex” (Julkisen sanan neuvosto, January 2014).

Other bodies aside from the CMM include the Union of Journalists in Finland (UFJ), which was established in 1890 (Suomen Journalistiliitto, 2020b). The Union’s structure is composed of seventeen member associations, including two national ones, which are the Radio and TV Journalists Union (RTTL), and the association for Finnish freelance journalists (Suomen Journalistiliitto, 2020c). Under the section of its website in English called “Ground Rules”, various aspects of journalist ethics are covered. Here it describes itself as a “key stakeholder” in the CMM, where it is “involved in the CMM’s work to safeguard the development of self-regulation in the media” (Suomen Journalistiliitto, 2020a). The UFJ does not have its own code of ethics, instead, it has the CMM’s code of ethics, called “Guidelines for Journalists” posted on its website (Suomen Journalistiliitto, 2014).

Journalism culture

The Finnish media market has a strong level of journalist professionalisation, where public media are highly valued, and media and politics are separated (Ríos et al., 2018: 228). Finland has a strong tradition of professional culture in journalism, with an emphasis on objectivity and independence (Reunanen, 2018). Journalism in Finland is not regulated (Manninen, 2018: 4), and most journalists are educated at university level in journalism or communication (Väliverronen et al., 2016: 1).

In the Worlds of Journalism Study for Finland (n=366), Finnish participants had worked an average of 17.27 years as journalists, with 47.9 % respondents working at specific desks like politics, local news, or sports (Väliverronen et al., 2016: 1). In general, Finnish journalists adhere to a value of factual and objective reporting (Ibid.). In the study, the categories that most participants responded to in terms of values (i.e. more than 50% responding “extremely” and “very important”) were: “Report things as they are” (91.5%), “Be a detached observer” (91.5%), “Provide analysis of current affairs” (85.8%), “Tell stories about the world” (76.9%), “Let people express their views” (69.1%), “Promote tolerance and cultural diversity” (67.5%), “Monitor and scrutinize political leaders” (63.8%), “Provide information people need to make political decisions” (62.3%), “Monitor and scrutinize business” (55.8%), and “Educate the audience” (50.4%) (Ibid.: 2). With regards to professional ethics, almost all of the participants in the study “strongly” or “somewhat agreed” that they must respect codes of professional ethics in every instance (97.8%), and less than half thought “what is ethical in journalism depends on the specific situation” (36.2%), a small number thought that “it is acceptable to set aside moral standards if extraordinary circumstances require it” (15.6%), and a quarter thought that ethics came down to the individual’s judgement (25.8%; Ibid.: 3). Most respondents in the study are members of professional associations (91.3%; Ibid.: 1), and journalism in general is “practiced in a typically Western European framework in both political and economic terms” (Jyrkiäinen and Heinonen, 2012: 171). Political journalists in particular, are representatives of the “most ‘sacred part’ of journalism” (Neveu, 2002: 23), citing them as being “elite” journalists that “stand out from others by endorsing the role of analytical independent watchdogs and by maintaining more distance to audiences and commercialism”, and are more ethically “cautious” when using practices that may raise ethical questions (Väliverronen, 2018: 51).

The media are mainly governed by the 2014 Exercise of Freedom of Expression in Mass Media Act (Jyrkiäinen and Heinonen, 2012), however, there have been recent studies and discussion of a “growing concern about anticipated deterioration of journalism’s quality and working conditions” (Ibid.: 173). In terms of education, journalism programmes are offered at three universities, providing both training from practitioners as well as instruction on theoretical foundations, and added topics from the social sciences; however journalists do not have to be formally trained to work in the profession (Ibid.: 176-177).

In summary, the Finnish media ecology is relatively stable, and this is due to the strength of local and regional press, which provides a balancing effect. Based on the Media Pluralism Monitor for 2017, there are certain threats that need to be addressed, such as protections of whistle-blowers and need to enforce freedom of information laws (Manninen, 2018: 4), as well as well as concerns about the decline in the quality of Finnish journalism (Jyrkiäinen and Heinonen, 2012). It is interesting to note, in particular, digital entrant Longplay’s collaboration with Danish and Dutch peers, which suggests that with a stable news environment and a saturated news environment, digital entrants must diversify and innovate by looking further afield, both to how news content is produced but also consumed. At the same time, recent studies have indicated a shift in trust in news, where newsrooms are appearing to become more insular, where “rather than promoting accountability to their audiences through interaction and dialogue, news organisations often appear to work to make their staff more anonymous to their audiences”, which protects journalists from harassment, but shifts the nature of media accountability and the production of news (Heikkilä and Väliverronen, 2019).

Other information

Governing framework
Republic (sovereign) (Comparative Constitutions Project, 2018)

Parliament
Riksdag (Harrie, 2018: 58)

Seats in parliament
200 (Harrie, 2018: 58)

Last election
2019 (BBC, 2020); next election 02.04.2023 (Oikeusministeriö, 2020)

Seats held by women
47%  (The World Bank, 2020)

Ruling party
Social Democratic Party; led by Prime Minister Sanna Marin, Finland’s youngest prime minister at 34 years old (BBC, 2019).

Populist party
Perussuomalaiset (Finns Party, formerly True Finns), established in 1995 (Herkman, 2017: 435)

Origins of key minority groups in 2017
Former Soviet Union, Estonia, Iraq, Somalia, former Yugoslavia (Statistics Finland, 2019)

Constitutional text on freedom of speech/expression/the press

  • Everyone has the freedom of expression. Freedom of expression entails the right to express, disseminate and receive information, opinions and other communications without prior prevention by anyone. More detailed provisions on the exercise of the freedom of expression are laid down by an Act. Provisions on restrictions relating to pictorial programmes that are necessary for the protection of children may be laid down by an Act (Comparative Constitutions Project, 2018).

Media model (Hallin and Mancini, 2004: 67)
Northern European or Democratic Corporatist Model

Key events
2017: A Moroccan asylum-seeker kills two women and injures 8 in the country’s first terrorist attack at the main square in Turku (YLE, 2018).
2017: Finland celebrates 100 years of independence (YLE, 2017).
2018: Helsinki hosts the Trump-Putin summit (Zurcher, 2018).
click here for the BBC’s recent articles on Finland.
click here for The Guardian’s recent articles on Finland.

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[1] These tabloids were not specified in the report.
[2] The Finnish Union of Journalist was founded in 1921 (Suomen Journalistiliitto, 2019).
[3] These organisations are: Finnish Association of Magazines and Periodicals, Finnish Association of Local Periodicals, Finnish Newspapers Association, Union of Journalists in Finland (Finnish Association of Radio and Television Journalists), RadioMedia, MTV3, Sanoma Entertainment, Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle).

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