UJF President Hanne Aho in Helsingin Sanomat 2 Feb, 2017: Being the top country for press freedom carries a responsibility. Finland must support independent media internationally.
The moment that top politicians represent the free media as the enemy, demand that the press ‘shut up and listen’, or base their speeches on ‘alternative facts’, it’s time for journalists to keep a cool head, make sure of the facts and carry on reporting.
The public need to get information. And our job in a democratic society is to present such information.
There are record numbers of journalists around the world who are imprisoned, and last year one journalist was killed every four days on average.
In Turkey, independent journalists are labelled terrorists. In wake of the recent coup attempt, 149 media outlets were shut down, and 191 journalists are now in prison. In Russia, the media is an ever-louder mouthpiece for those in power. Governments in Hungary and Poland have a tight grip on their countries’ media and are violating the fundamental principles of freedom of expression.
Hannah Arendt, the world-renowned political theorist and analyst of totalitarianism, said: “The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer.”
For the past seven years, Finland has been ranked the top country for press freedom. There are many factors behind this: Finns are avid readers, there is little corruption in government, and government itself highlights the need for transparency in access to information. Politicians favour a free press. We have a vibrant Council on Mass Media (CMM), the independent media watchdog, and a strong Union of Journalists in Finland (UJF) – both of which champion the responsibility of every journalist in guaranteeing extensive press freedom.
Although recent years have seen attempts by the authorities to curtail access to information or to violate the protection of sources, and some politicians’ relations with the media are worrying, freedom of expression in Finland has not broken down. We have a good tradition and robust laws, and these must be complied with.
Being the top country for press freedom carries a responsibility. Finland must support independent media internationally. We cannot simply follow from the sidelines as whole countries are shut off from the international community and international law.
And we must conserve Finnish freedom of expression. We must not lower our own standards. We are not afraid, and we will not give up.
Union of Journalists in Finland