By Mark Waller
The UJF has welcomed the report by the Ministry of Transport and Communications that proposes support for the media in light of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as on a more permanent basis.
The union has frequently argued that Finland should support the media in much the same way as is done in other Nordic countries. With the Covid-19 crisis the need for this has rapidly escalated. UJF president Hanne Aho has warned that unless emergency relief is forthcoming, provincial and local newspapers in particular will go to the wall. There have already been substantial layoffs of journalists. Freelancers have also been hard hit.
The union president has stressed the importance to democracy of ensuring that the media is able to operate unimpeded. Support for the press and media is not a matter of aiding business but of supporting democracy.
The measures proposed by the ministry include ensuring the weekday delivery of newspapers throughout Finland and news agency support.
The report, authored by the journalist and writer Elina Grundström, notes that the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of journalism to society. Journalism and the media are an indispensable source for people to access accurate, factual information.
“To ensure that the right of people to access information is not compromised, it is necessary, in this acute situation, to urgently examine how journalism could remain functional,” said the Minister of Transport and Communications Timo Harakka on the release of the report.
The report contains four main recommendations. They cover discretionary support during the Covid-19 crisis, non-selective support along the lines of Nordic practices, an examination of the scope for permanent support for journalism, and an examination of whether platform companies could be taxed.
Discretionary support would support media companies that have been hit by the Covid-19 crisis. Support would be available for projects that aim to strengthen high-quality local and regional journalism, investigative journalism, the production of more in-depth reports, and the delivery of journalistic content to digital platforms.
Non-selective support would be in line with media support we see in other Nordic countries, which in this respect have been more advanced on the policy front. The report proposes that there would be percentage-based support proportionate to the revenues of the media from subscriptions and single copy sales in 2019.
Concerning permanent support for journalists, in addition to rapid support, the report suggests that a study be made on sustained support for journalism to ensure the vitality of local and regional journalism and support the digital transition of the media.
On platform company tax, the report states that even the highest-quality Finnish journalism cannot easily be made profitable as long as international social media platforms and search engines share journalists’ work free of charge.
For this reason, the report proposes that a more detailed investigation be launched on how the taxation of platform companies could be increased in Finland and how they could be obligated to pay the media for the material that they share to the media that produces the content.
The next step is that the ministry will examine the proposals made in the report and from the perspective of national legislation and EU state aid legislation. This will be done in cooperation with other ministries, such as the Ministry of Finance, which is responsible for taxation. The aim is that Finland’s third supplementary budget, due later this year, will include the appropriation for the support of journalism.
The UJF has said that the level of crisis support and any future permanent support must be sufficient to have a real impact. Even before the crisis brought on by Covid-19, the media was struggling to survive and in massive financial straits.
“The loss of newspapers and merging of others has been most pronounced in the provinces,” said Hanne Aho. “Local media and news production are of great importance in terms of information and regional policy significance. The whole of Finland needs to be kept informed”.