News / 16.03.2011

Finnish journalists jump into politics

Altogether 93 candidates with journalist background are standing as candidates in the coming parliamentary elections. At the requests of Journalisti, political parties sent a list of candidates who, according to them have journalist background.

Among them are professional journalists as well as those working in information-related professions. It includes sitting members of parliament and candidates who have long ceased from working as journalists.

A professional journalist going into politics means a change of roles from the one posing the questions to the one answering them. Pekka Niiranen, television news journalist at YLE got into the baptism of fire for a beginning politician in Kuopio’s market square in January.

Being the one, who for many years drank coffee as a journalist in different occasions, he was this time “the one offering the coffee” and answering people’s questions at the market square.

“One man asked all questions about the entire universe, including the gross domestic product of India. But if one wants to go to parliament he or she should have the courage to answer all kinds of questions. And television journalists as we know have a lot to say. It has become a skill to encounter people”, says Niiranen.

The television journalist from Kuopio is a candidate of the conservative National Coalition Party. He believes that producing stories has brought him recognition in the area. He is photographed in his campaign poster as if he was presenting news.

The candidates will receive their identification numbers by lot on March 17. It is going to increase the election fever also in the media.

The spring elections mean quarantine for the journalist candidates. In practice it means changed assignments.

“YLE already placed me in quarantine on January 21 and an earlier story of mine was left unaired when I declared my intention to stand for elections. I did paid work but as a wire reporter”, says Niiranen.

Pasi Toviainen, is a well known environmental journalist in YLE running on the ticket of the Green Party but during the elections he is not allowed to produce stories in his area of expertise. Also stories related to the elections is an area out of bounds for him.

“Now I produce inserts for the documentary programme, Prisma. The subjects have been among others, improved breeding of dogs and sports fanaticism”, says Toviainen.

According to Niiranen, taking him out of his task is de-motivating and frustrating.

“If I had declared as a candidate in October, what would I have been doing all this time?”

Many journalist candidates have resolved the problem by taking their annual leave during the elections. Others have also taken unpaid vacation because of their campaign work.

A journalist aiming for political career becomes the subject of attention in his workplace. There is hardly a journalist candidate who would not have reflected on the attitude of his colleagues towards campaign work.

The choice of political party already arouses passion. Going into politics can also be viewed as betrayal of colleagues.

“I was excited at what they will say about me abandoning journalism, says Niiranen, with a laugh.

He was however, positively surprised at his colleagues’ attitude, even though others were wondering why the cobbler does not stick to his last.

News anchor for TV4, Jesca Muyingo, standing on the ticket of the Social Democratic Party says some must have had a clue of her decision to stand for election.

“My party affiliation however, may have been a surprise to many. I am a very business-minded person”, says Muyingo.

A few colleagues of Pasi Toivianen’s “even claimed they voted for him in the European election”.

“It is a pity that I am a candidate in the Uusimaa region and the biggest majority of my work colleagues live in the Helsinki area”, says Toviainen.

He was requested twice to stand and now he decided to go for it this time. The motive is simple: “I want to give my own imprint on where we could have our planet saved”.

Other journalist candidates also have the wish to make an impact. Sani-Grahn Laasonen who had earlier worked in Iltalehti left her position as news director already in 2009 and moved to become the press secretary of current Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb. Her decision to stand for election was taken a year ago.

“There are also problems because I feel embarrassed to push myself into the limelight. I have reflected on all what I should give of myself because a parliamentarian’s job is the most public. Have to live in a way that one’s life can stand public scrutiny. Politicians generally deserve the publicity they receive”, says Grahn-Laasonen.

All the candidates agree that to have a journalist background also has advantage in the elections: as a media professional one knows how the publicity game works. As a journalist also, one knows how to seek information, evaluate it and write sensible text.

Many journalists trying to enter parliament have also sought experience in municipal politics. Iisakki Kiemunki, who works as a journalist in Hämeen Sanomat is the Chairperson of Hämeelinna’s city council. He is making a second attempt to enter parliament and the pressure is great: he has taken unpaid leave during the elections.

“The work of a member of parliament would be a dream job”, says Kiemunkki who is running on the ticket of the Social Democratic party.

The attempt to resolve the double role of Kiemunki in Hämeen Sanomat as a journalist and a local politician is done by transparent rules: he doesn’t write anything about the decision-making of the city or issues related to the organization. In spite of that, part of the readership views the situation with suspicion.

I have received comments that a news medium cannot be trusted when a politician has something to do with it. That is why it was reasonable for me to withdraw during the elections – I could not stand listening to such murmurs”, says Kiemunki.

He admits that it is difficult to restrict the limits of a politician’s and a journalist’s work but “one has to live with something”.

Being active in politics can also be beneficial to the journalist, remarks Vuokko Lahti. She works in the local newspaperPerhonjokilaaksoas a journalist and at the same time in the municipal council and board of government of Veteli. She is running on the ticket of the xenophobic right-wing True Finns Party.

Being involved in the communal politics has helped with my work as a journalist since one gets an understanding of the legal domain of decision-making”, she says.

Pekka Niiranen also rejects ideas that a professional journalist would allow his world view to colour his journalism.

“I have nothing to be ashamed of. I would like to see the one who finds my political leanings in my stories”, says Niiranen.

Translated and edited by Linus Atarah

Original story:

List of the candidates

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