In headlines now / 14.04.2019

UJF president: Vehkoo court ruling disproportionate

Johanna Vehkoo, the journalist at the centre of the defamation case brought by Oulu city councillor Junes Lokka, has been found guilty of defaming Lokka and slapped with a 15-day fine. The sentence was handed down Oulu District Court, 12 April. Vehkoo had referred to Lokka as a “racist” and “Nazi clown” on her Facebook page, a closed group.  The Oulu councillor, who has a history of making far-right extreme pronouncements, including referring to himself as nazi and racist, filed a criminal compliant. The court also ordered Vehkoo to pay Lokka damages for the suffering he has endured and to foot his €6 000 legal bill. Vehkoo has earlier said that she considered Lokka’s criminal complaint as a way of harassing her, because of her journalistic work, much of which has focused on exposing fake news. Vehkoo’s lawyer told the press that she was stunned by the verdict and intends to appeal. Vehkoo has repeatedly been the target of Lokka's remarks and YouTube broadcasts. The court referred to his habitual videoing at public events despite prohibitions as “annoying”. Responding to the outcome, UJF president Hanne Aho said that the judgement could encourage online abusers to use the courts as an instrument of harassment. “There needs to be a wider awareness in society about what online abuse is and how extensive the means of doing it are.” Aho said, "Bullying journalists and making their work harder by pressing charges against them is an international phenomenon that with this judgement has now come to Finland”. The court argued that Vehkoo’s characterisations of Lokka as a racist and Nazi clown were aimed at him as an individual and not at his politics. Commentators have been quick to draw comparisons between the Oulu District Court verdict and a ruling by the state prosecutor concerning offensive comments made on the page of a police Facebook closed group in 2018. In that instance, the prosecutor decided that charges would be unwarranted because the posting was to a closed group, which at the time had 2 800 members. Vehkoo’s Facebook group was also a closed one and had only 300 members. Despite this the decision to prosecute went ahead. The UJF has supported Vehkoo from the outset and views the case squarely in the context of the mushrooming of the persecution of journalists by online harassment and trolling. Aho said that the union would continue its work to identify those perpetrating online abuse and to provide assistance to victims. “Both as a union and a society we have been lagging behind and have woken up to how extensive and concerted the issue is.”  

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