The trial which opens today of the editor of the extreme right-wing online magazine MV-lehti is the first time that a fake news outlet is being prosecuted in the Finnish courts.
MV-lehti, which started in 2014, specialises in anti-immigrant fake news and targets journalists who attempt to present unbiased reporting on refugees and immigration. Until this year it was run offshore, from Spain. Its editor, Ilya Janitskin, was extradited to Finland from Andorra two months ago and has since been in police custody.
He and two others who produce MV-lehti face over twenty criminal charges. They include including aggravated incitement against an ethnic group, aggravated slander, money laundering, gambling offences, issuing illegal threats, breach of confidentiality, and copyright infringement.
The majority of them relate to the prolonged persecution and defamation of journalist Jessikka Aro, who is claiming €100 000 damages from MV-lehti.
Janitskin and his co-accused deny any wrongdoing.
The UJF has assisted the police with investigating MV-lehti’s journalistic malpractices, including lifting material protected by copyright, and has provided legal advice and support to Aro and other journalists defamed and hounded by the website or as a result of its fake news.
Hanne Aho, the UJF president, told the Finland’s Swedish language daily Hufvudstadsbladet that the hate and persecution of journalists who cover stories involving refugees and immigration has led to a situation where more and more journalists avoid such themes. “It’s a problem for press freedom.”
Aho said, “the trial of Janitskin and MV-lehti is massively important because it will reveal the boundaries of freedom of expression”.
As with other fake news outlets, MV-lehti has taken the line that it can publish whatever it likes with impunity. Aho said that main problem with the magazine’s journalism is that “it has not based its stories on facts and it plucks its claims out of thin air”. Aho said that digitisation made it easy for anyone to publish online magazines, but that apart from some websites that publish spurious articles on health MV-lehti was in a league of its own in Finland.
“It is a very interesting and extremely important issue for all of Finnish society,” Kimmo Nuotio, professor of criminal law at the University of Helsinki told Lännen Media, 12 June. “The court ruling will define how fake news operations and freedom of expression relate to other rights in society.”