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Finland – (F3) Diversity of news sources

Score in short:

The diversity of sources is seen to have increased with the Internet, but the influence of PR material and recycling of other media’s material are identified as threats in some sectors.

Score in detail:

The Finnish News Agency (STT) is a national news provider jointly owned by 41 media companies. With the notable exception of the public broadcaster YLE, which quit subscribing to the services of STT in 2006 and chose to invest more in its own news service, almost all leading news media subscribe to its services. In addition to YLE and STT, there is a smaller news service called UP News Service, which is historically associated with the Social Democratic Party and now provides news for about a dozen newspapers, and a financial news provider Startel, owned by the Sanoma Group. The leading news media also follow the main international news agencies.

The position of the national news agency in Finland is fairly dominant in defining the news agenda and providing content especially for smaller regional media, which rely heavily on wire services. In our interviews, the editors-in-chief of the leading national news media, which have more resources for their own news gathering, tended to emphasize the role of STT as a provider of background information or a baseline for their own news gathering.

It was suggested in the interviews that the influence of the national news agency has slightly diminished recently. Some of the respondents believed that the decision of YLE to quit using STT services has improved the overall diversity of sources in the Finnish media. At the same time, some representatives of commercial news media were hostile to the decision and saw it as compromising the viability of the commercial news media. Many respondents suggested that their own organizations had sought to invest more in their own news gathering instead of news agency material.

The Internet is widely seen to diversify sources, although it was suggested that the recycling of news items produced by other media has become more common in the Finnish media, as issues, subjects and points of view increasingly circulate from one outlet to another. The increasing influence of the PR material was also acknowledged by the respondents as a potential problem. According to a recent survey among Finnish journalists, 62 percent of journalists agreed that the use of PR material is increasing in the Finnish media because of decreasing resources available for in-house news gathering (Jyrkiäinen 2008, 57).

The leading national news media typically have their own network of national and foreign correspondents and a network of stringers and other freelancers. In 2010, the public service broadcasting company YLE, for instance, has a network of some 25 domestic offices, nine foreign news correspondents, and some 20 other freelance contributors abroad. The number of foreign correspondents is comparable to other leading national news media (HS, MTV3). Some of these resources are shared between multiple media organizations. The number of correspondents in all media examined has remained more or less stable in recent years. The resources available for foreign news were generally seen as adequate, although it was suggested that foreign news and EU affairs are areas where the dominance of news agency material is most evident and the diversity of sources was seen as the biggest problem.

There is a clear trend towards closer editorial cooperation and syndication within newspaper chains and even between independent newspapers. While this can be seen as decreasing the diversity of news sources, the newspapers involved are mostly regional papers with little overlap in their circulation (Finnish Mass Media 2009, p. 22). Some of the respondents thus denied the notion that the trend would necessarily diminish the diversity of sources, because co-operation can also mean greater diversity in the content of an individual regional newspaper.

A number of editors-in-chief noted that the principle of using multiple sources is mainly followed in their news gathering. Some respondents acknowledged that Finnish journalism generally tends to rely too much on elite sources, such as government officials. A number of interviewees also called for a more critical attitude toward the Finnish economic elite and big corporations. As expected, none of the editors-in-chief considered the selection (or omission) of sources on political grounds to be a problem.