There has been a marked increase in hate speech and vendettas directed at journalists in Finland compared to a few years ago. A survey of almost 1 400 UJF members carried out by the union magazine Journalisti on their experiences of hate speech reveals that about 40 per cent of threats and abuse leveled at the journalists surveyed concerned their coverage of immigration issues.
The increase in numbers of refugees coming to Finland and other parts of Europe, in particular, has sparked a spasm ugly extremist behaviour in many European countries.
About 70 per cent of journalists surveyed reported that their employers have a good or objective attitude to employee safety issues. But one in five said that their employers were indifferent to threats made against journalist employees. Some journalists have been subject to physical attacks.
The survey follows a report by the Ministry of Justice that found hate speech to be the most common type of discriminatory behaviour directed at minorities, including refugees and asylum seekers. Social media and anti-minority online magazines, such as MV-Lehti, are frequent platforms for racist and misogynist hate speech.
Journalisti magazine recently carried a report on journalists and writers who had been the targets of threats and intimidation.
Responding to the survey results, union president Hanne Aho called on all employers to take the problem of threats and hate speech seriously in terms of both how they affect individual journalists and the independence and freedom of the media.
“All too many [journalists] have had to stand by their articles on their own. The more controversial a matter is the more strongly an employer should support their employee. Otherwise there’s a risk that highly incendiary issues will go unreported.”
Freelance journalists, especially, often lack the support of employers when receiving threats due to their work. The UJF has been highlighting the availability of its legal services for all members who have experienced such outbursts.
The Journalisti survey revealed that the police follow up only about two per cent of cases of hate speech. Many instances of severe threats and hate speech are not even subject to preliminary investigation.
One such case stands out. In justifying the lack of police follow-up on a case brought by a journalist who had received work-related threats, the Helsinki district prosecutor said in January that since journalists are in a public profession and should therefore be able to endure threats. The prosecutor ruled that such violations made in response to “topics that arouse strong opinions” would not be subject to further action.
“The Prosecutor-General must rule that under no circumstances are threats permissible,” says Hanne Aho. “Having to endure them is not part of the profession of being a journalist. Apposite criticism is fine, but ad hominem remarks are not.”
The same line on the case concerning the district prosecutor was taken by the Council for Mass Media in Finland, the press watchdog that deals with compliance with journalistic ethical standards and defence of media freedoms.
The CMM ruled that while journalists should be prepared to face robust criticism, the hate speech and direct and indirect threats made to the journalist who reported them to the police should be taken seriously. They impinge on freedom of speech. “Threats affect the entire work community,” the CMM ruled.
Journalism plays a central role as a watchdog on power, the UJF stated. Efforts to disrupt or prevent this work are an attack on democracy.
“Other professional groups, such as social welfare officials, police officers and politicians, have long had to put up with hate speech,” said Hanne Aho. “It’s time to put an end to this. The police should investigate and the accused prosecuted.”
Link to the Journalisti survey (in Finnish)