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Finland – (C7) The watchdog and the media’s mission statements

Score in short:

The importance of the watchdog role is widely recognized by Finnish media organizations.

Score in detail:

The watchdog function seems to enjoy a very high level of importance in the rhetoric of the editors-in-chief. Most of the respondents considered the watchdog role to be among their main functions, if not the most important one. It was also suggested in the interviews that the importance of the watchdog function has recently become increasingly central in the Finnish media.

Most news media have a mission statement of some kind that typically contains references to the freedom of speech, political independence, pluralism, and other democratic values. According to Lehto’s (2006) study of the historical development in the written editorial principles of all Finnish daily newspapers, some changes have also taken place in the principles. The notion of “objective journalism”, for instance, has disappeared from the documents, while references to the watchdog function and the aim to criticize and evaluate official decision-making have become increasingly prominent (Lehto 2006, p. 413). overall, it is argued that the development of mission statements indicates that the newspapers have turned their allegiance from political parties and the establishment to the readers.

Most of the editors-in-chief interviewed acknowledged that mission statements have little practical meaning, but it still seems that the watchdog function is strongly entrenched in the dominant professional ideology. As an example of the watchdog role, a number of respondents referred to the ongoing attempts to uncover the campaign funding connections behind leading politicians, which have remained in the headlines of the Finnish media for over two years now and which have also led to a new campaign funding law.