According to the UJF president Hanne Aho, it is hardly surprising that Finland dropped from the top position in the World Press Freedom Index.
“It would have been more of a surprise if it hadn’t dropped down,” said Aho.
Finland ranked top in the annual Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index for six years in a row since 2010. The index, which is based on monitoring the situation of the press in the preceding year, sees Norway in the number one spot. Finland has also been surpassed by Sweden this year, and is now ranked third.
The secretary general of Reporters Without Borders Christophe Deloire attributes Finland’s fall from the top of the index to the intervention by Prime Minister Juha Sipilä in the work of the Finnish Broadcasting Company, Yle.
Deloire considers the so-called Sipilä-gate affair the single most significant event of the year in the international review. He said that what makes the case extraordinary is that journalistic proficiency did not prevent freedom of expression being subverted.
“Sipilä-gate not the only worrying case”
Sipilä-gate was certainly not the only worrying event of 2016, according to UJF ombudsman for international affairs Juha Rekola.
“Online hate speech has got out of hand due to the passivity of politicians and the authorities. Last spring, the tax authority threatened to search Yle’s premises unless it was given information it wanted from the ‘Panama papers’. In the autumn, the Prime Minister’s Office threatened one of its photographers with prosecution for taking photographs of top politicians at an open information briefing that of a different than usual style,” said Rekola
But Reporters Without Borders did not mention these incidents as the reason for Finland’s drop in the press freedom rankings, which was attributed in particular to the efforts by the Finnish prime minister to pressurize the public broadcaster.
“It’s also about the public’s right”
Hanne Aho pointed out that in many other countries situations like the Sipilä-gate affair are commonplace.
“In Finland they are a scandal. It shows the massive differences between countries. But the debate around the case has been good. There can’t be a single politician in Finland who remains uncertain about how to deal with the media.”
Aho said that Finland has every opportunity to regain the number one position in the next World Press Freedom Index.
“This requires that those in power respect our press freedom.”
Aho noted that Finnish press freedom is not simply a matter of the latitude accorded journalists.
“It’s also to do with the public’s right to access the world’s most reliable information.”