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Helsinki Day of Journalism opens with reminder on ethics

Journalists publishing the works of their colleagues without proper acknowledgement – so-called copy pasting – was the opening discussion theme in Helsinki’s Journalism Day meeting last Friday.

Linus Atarah

“The bad habit is spreading so fast among Finnish journalists that we are alarmed by it”, said Risto Uimonen, Chairman of the media watchdog Council for Mass Media in Finland (JSN).

It is widespread and increasingly so in the era of the Internet where competition to be the first with the news online has intensified so it is not entirely surprising that copy-pasting is very prominent among the websites of media organizations.

Uimonen says the Internet has changed the journalistic culture a great deal and “people are going too far” in contravention of the ethical rules of journalism in Finland.

“Some journalists quote colleagues in a proper way, but too many do not”, says Uimonen.

Ilkka Janhunen, chief editor of 7 Päivää, a weekly gossip magazine claims stories from his magazine are used every week by other newspapers without acknowledging them as the source.

The JSN provides clear guidelines on the use of other journalistic works: “It is crucial to observe good professional practice when using the work of others. The source must be mentioned when the information has been published by another party”.

Indeed every practicing journalist in principle should be aware of this basic journalistic rule but by a show of hands, less than half a dozen of the 400 participating journalists in the room indicated they had read the JSN guidelines.

Uimonen is concerned that copy-pasting would in the long-run damage the credibility of Finnish journalists but the phenomenon also carries other dangers as well. If there is an error in the original work, there certainly is going to be a snowball effect if too many media outlets use it without proper acknowledgement, making it difficult to trace the original source of the mistake. The audience would have been served with misleading information with little chance of getting a correction.

However, Uimonen is glad there is a widespread interest in the Finnish media to rectify the situation.

But while the pressure to be first online with the news is a contributory factor in making journalists ready to flaunt ethical standards, the situation is exacerbated by staff reductions in editorial offices leaving few journalists with too much work loads.

However, so far no complaints of copy-pasting have been brought to the JSN which handles cases of ethical violations in the media, according to Uimonen.

 

The Helsinki Day of Journalism is a one-day event for journalists in the Helsinki area to meet, interact and debate on issues in the field, organized in cooperation by Helsinki-based Union organisations.

During a panel discussion of the programme ”Prime Minister’s Question Hour” an old Finnish tradition, an issues came up as to whether journalists could be personal friends with politicians in their private lives. Ilkka Kanerva, a Member of Parliament and former foreign minister, who was forced to resign because of intensive media coverage over his erotic SMS-messages to an erotic dancer, said friendship didn’t compromise Finnish journalists. A majority of the journalists present were however of a different opinion.

The occasion also provided an opportunity to reflect on media coverage of election campaign corruption scandals that rocked the Finnish political establishment after the last general election.

Even though out of office, the former Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen is still haunted with a possible trial in the High Court of Impeachment because of alleged conflict of interests in taking decisions on the funding of Finnish Slot Machine Association (RAY) while being a recipient of the money in the form of campaign donations.