Reporting Helsinki: What The Russian Media Says

Summit coverage from journalists comes as Finland's leading newspaper launches press freedom campaign aimed at Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

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Picture of someone reading news on Russian newspaper website / Credit: News Now Finland

International media representatives continue to arrive in Helsinki ahead of Monday’s summit between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

According to the Foreign Ministry, more than 1400 journalists have accredited to the event, including 232 from Russia.

So what sort of stories are the Russian media reporting, and how do their audiences perceive the build-up to the Helsinki Summit?

The trend in Russian media is to portray Finland, and Helsinki, as a comfortable and atmospheric meeting place for Putin and Trump.

They’re also highlighting the security measures taken in Helsinki, changes to public transport schedules, and temporary reintroduction of EU border controls are given a lot of attention in big media outlets like Rossiskaja Gazeta and Vesti.

Kommersant website reports on Helsinki’s Deputy Police Chief Heikki Kopperoinen’s advice to not to come out to balconies or open windows when the presidential motorcades drive past.

“Finland is the perfect place for the summit because many important buildings are situated by the bays or lakes, as if they are cut from the surrounding world, and from journalists who try to come up with numerous different ways to get new information about the incoming meeting” says Vesti reporter Stas Natazon in a video report.

A screen grab from a Russian TV report about the Helsinki Summit / Credit: Russia 24, Vesti

Natazon met a human statue street performer dressed in gold who sits near the Presidential Palace where much of Monday’s summit action will take place.

“It seems Donald Trump has already placed himself in front of the palace, in full gold costume, but for some reason he squeaks for every single euro” says the reporter.

Russian newspaper Kommersant reports on Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said in a statement that “it will be a success if we’ll start communicating normally” after years of “frozen” communications.

Moskovskiy Komsomolets newspaper writes about the Kremlin’s expectations for the Helsinki summit.

According to MK, the Kremlin is not expecting any any meaningful documents to be signed, but they expect the Putin-Trump talks to improve the atmosphere between the two countries.

Newspaper Argumenty I Fakty writes that the summit is regarded as the most important event in international diplomacy this summer, according to a senior Russian official; while Komsomolskaya Pravda says although it’s clear no treaties will be signed that “Putin and Trump know how to surprise”.

Journalism Restrictions in Russia

Independent journalists in Russia face daily restrictions on their work. According to the World Press Freedom Index – where Russia is ranked a lowly 148 out of 179 countries – leading independent news outlets have either been brought under control or “throttled out of existence”.

Reporters Without Borders says that Russian TV channels continue to inundate their viewers with state-run propaganda and anyone who questions “the new patriotic and neo-conservative discourse” of Putin’s government faces increasing oppression.

At least five Russian journalists are currently detained in connection with their reporting, and more and more bloggers are being jailed, says RSF.

RSF’s latest Russia report highlights that murders and physical attacks against journalists continue to go unpunished. In Chechnya and Crimea, which was invaded by Russian forces in 2014 and annexed, have become ‘black holes’ from which little news and information emerges says the non-governmental association.

Picture of billboards showing Helsingin Sanomat’s press freedom campaign during Putin-Trump Summit, Helsinki July 2018 / Credit: News Now Finland

Finnish Media’s ‘Free Press’ Campaign

Leading Finnish daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat has launched its own ‘free press’ campaign during the summit, targeting specifically Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

The paper has booked 300 billboards along roads from the airport to the city centre, and plastered them with newspaper headlines which Helsingin Sanomat says highlight press freedom issues in the USA and Russia.

“We have been using about 20 different headlines that have already been published from 2000 to 2018. Those headlines are from real stories depicting press freedom issues in both countries” Helsingin Sanomat’s Editor-in-Chief Kaius Niemi tells News Now Finland.

“Of course Trump headlines are more recent than Putin ones, ranging from 18 years of his reign, but we are using real headlines addressing them directly, and their attitudes towards the issues of press freedom”.