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Media watchdog reprimands public broadcaster for violating journalistic guidelines

The CMM also ruled that Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s conduct had curbed freedom of speech. The council found that Yle changed tack after Sipilä made contact, killing follow-up stories and changing others. A hard-hitting and historic decision, says UJF president Hanne Aho.

The Council for Mass Media issued its ruling, 22 March, on the situation at the public broadcaster concerning a news story about a company owned by relatives of the Prime Minister, which had been given a contract from a state owned firm.

The CMM found that Yle had violated articles 2 and 3 of the guidelines for journalists in its handling of the issue, following complaints from the Prime Minister about the story.

Article 2 of the guidelines states that decisions concerning the content of media must be made in accordance with journalistic principles, and that such decision-making must not be surrendered to any outside party.

Article 3 states that journalists have the right and obligation to resist pressure or persuasion that attempts to steer, prevent or limit communications.

Yle journalists had come under pressure from within the organization in the wake of the news story to scale back coverage of it. Newsroom decision-making on the matter was taken over by Yle management.

This, the CMM stated, resulted from the Prime Minister sending numerous negative text messages and emails to the chief editor and to the journalist who worked on the story.

The CMM stated that while the Prime Minister is entitled to express his views on the content of a story and its angle, his actions had curbed freedom of speech.

“In this case, the volume and tone of the messages the Prime Minister sent can be seen to have been so exceptional that it is possible to interpret them as an attempt to exert pressure.”

It said that such actions could be seen as an attempt to restrict freedom of expression in particular when they involve a government minister.

The CMM expressed its concern that this sort of curtailment of freedom of expression has become more widespread.

“At ministerial level, politicians have started selecting media by giving interviews and comment only to media whose journalism pleases them. The Council stresses that this sort of circumscription of media erodes democracy.”

Responding to the CMM ruling, UJF president Hanne Aho said she hoped that there would now be a debate clarifying the role of journalists, and politicians. She said that the decision of the CMM was hard-hitting and historic.

“It is a very heavy censure, if the CMM considers that decision-making has been assigned outside the newsroom.”

“We should respect the decisions of the CMM. When you get a ruling like this, society and in particular journalists, chief editors and politicians should stop and think about what sort of society we want to have.”