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Freelance journalists march for fair journalism

Finnish freelance journalists, photographers and graphic designers hit the streets in Helsinki Wednesday in a demonstration calling for fair contract agreements with big media houses and better working conditions.

By Linus Atarah

 

The protest was to draw attention to, and amend the behaviour of big media houses unwilling to offer adequate remuneration for the work of freelance journalists and yet demanding that they give away the entire copyrights to their work.

 

The demonstration was part of the Save Reijo Campaign organized by creative media profession for fair journalism and for ethical production of photographs, texts, illustration and graphics. The Union of Journalists (SJL) in Finland supports the campaign.

 

The demonstrators, made of several hundred members of the creative profession – some of who were bussed from different cities around Finland, marched through the main streets of capital Helsinki stopping at Sanoma building to register their displeasure at Sanoma News, publishers of the daily Helsingin Sanomat.

 

The demonstration then continued and ended up at the Parliament House where they presented a life buoy – symbolising the need to safe fair journalism – to two members of parliament, Maria Tolppanen of the True Finns Party and Eila Tiainen of the Left Alliance.

 

The two members of parliament, former journalists themselves, gave their full support to the demonstrating media workers.

 

A freelance journalist is the most trusted worker that any employer would dream of, said Maria Tolppanen in her address to the demonstrators.

 

“A freelance journalist and her family don’t fall ill, a freelance journalist doesn’t spend Christmas holidays or summer holidays, a freelance journalist doesn’t need to be replaced and so no need to spend two person’s salary on him or her”, said Tolppanen, in sarcastic reference to the precarious working conditions of freelance journalists.

 

The bone of contention is that big media houses are constantly piling pressure on freelance journalists and photographers in return for employment contracts, to sign away the copyrights to their work.  After that the media houses would then have the rights to transform the work in whatever way they find suitable and sell it on to third parties without additional remuneration.

 

Over the past years the Union of Journalists in Finland has been trying to negotiate with major media houses on to secure fair work agreement contracts for freelance but have met with intransigence from big media houses.

 

As an illustration of the intransigence of media houses, they all ignored requests by leaders of the journalist union for a meeting on the day of the demonstration to discuss about possible improvement of working conditions of freelance journalists, according to Petri Savolainen director at the Union of Journalists in Finland.

 

According to Minna Kontkanen, one of the organizers of the demonstrators, freelance journalists who are members of the Union of Finnish Journalists earn on the average 1,900 Euros monthly while their counterparts in the same union who have steady job contracts with media houses earn on the average 3,400 Euros a month.

 

“We are much worse off and still they want to push us down even further”, she said.

 

 “No customer could walk into a hotel and offer to pay any price for a hotel room because she has no sufficient money”, said Arto Nieminen, President of SJL. Yet in the case of freelance journalists it is the buyer who determines the price to offer to the seller, he said.

 

According to Nieminen, the unusual situation persists because freelance journalists lack a collective bargaining agreement and therefore are powerless as individuals negotiating with big media conglomerates.

 

But Kivi Larmola, a freelance cartoonist sees light at the end of the tunnel for freelance journalists and other content creators.

 

According to him, due to continuous emergence of multi-channel media, there is a constant need of content. That constant need for content, he said, provides freelancers with a weapon and therefore they shouldn’t accept poor terms of payment for their work.

 

“We shall not remain unemployed, we shall not be left empty-handed”, Larmola told the gathered demonstrators.