The latest World Press Freedom Index has been released today, and it sees Finland climb from 4th to 2nd place.
The index is compiled by the non-governmental organisation Reporters Without Borders RSF, and looks at 180 countries to see the level of freedom available to journalists.
“It is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists” says RSF.
This year Norway is ranked in first place with Finland second; followed by Sweden, Netherlands and Denmark. Estonia is in 11th place.
The new index specifically cites a Helsingin Sanomat advertising campaign during the July 2018 Putin-Trump Summit in Helsinki where billboards with headlines featuring the two leaders’ attitudes towards press freedom were displayed prominently in the capital.
RSF also cites an October 2018 court case which handed out heavy sentences to two pro-Putin activists for defaming and stalking journalist Jessikka Aro, with the prupose of trying to silence her.
The court drew a line that says extreme hate speech cannot hide behind the pretense of free speech.
Finland’s recent media freedom problems
Although Finland had been sitting on the top spot for many years in the annual Reporters Without Borders index, in the past few years it slipped down to 3rd then 4th place.
In 2016 one of the main concerns was the the case of a journalist at state-funded broadcaster YLE who was on the receiving end of a deluge of emails from then-Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Centre), complaining about her reporting of him, and his family’s involvement in a controversial business deal. A senior manager at YLE – who was previously a leader of the youth wing of Sipilä’s Centre Party – then spiked stories and discussion topics critical of the Prime Minister.
YLE casts the story as an editorial disagreement between two reporters and editors. But three journalists involved in the scandal, including the senior manager, all quit their jobs.
An independent investigation into what became known in Finland as ‘Sipila-gate’ slammed YLE for its “arrogant” attitude in the case.
In 2017, Finland was criticised by RSF over the case of a Helsingin Sanomat journalist charged over a story she wrote based on decade-old documents about Finland’s intelligence gathering capabilities.
Police raided her home and seized computers, phones and memory sticks. A court case has found the search and seizure were carried out lawfully, and a wider investigation is looking into the legality of publishing the classified documents in the first place.
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