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Finland – (F5) Company rules against internal influence on newsroom / editorial staff

Score in short:

The autonomy and independence of the newsroom is generally regarded as a central value in the Finnish journalistic culture.

Score in detail:

The ethical guidelines for journalists, published by the Council for Mass Media in Finland (2005), state that: “Decisions concerning the content of communication must be made in accordance with journalistic principles. The power to make such decisions may not, under any circumstances, be surrendered to any party outside the editorial office.” All leading news media are committed to these guidelines, and according to the interviews with the Union of Journalists as well as editors-in-chief, the principle of journalistic autonomy enjoys high esteem not only among journalists, but even among the publishers and owners of media companies.

Some problems and causes for concern did surface, however. In some cases, the posts of the editor-in-chief and publisher have recently been combined, which has raised some public concerns about the blurring of journalistic and financial decisions. The new editor-in-chief of Helsingin Sanomat also acts as the publisher of the paper. Similar arrangements apply for the tabloid Iltalehti and the local newspaper Borgåbladet. The dual roles were seen as potentially problematic, for instance, when making financial decisions that affect the work of the newsroom. However, in all cases, the editors-in-chief assured that the management and owners never interfere with individual news items or editorial decisions.

The practical organization of the separation of the newsroom from the ownership largely depends on the type of media organization in question. In some cases, such as the commercial broadcaster MTV3, the separation is explicitly mentioned in the company values or other formal documents. In many cases, however, there are no formal rules on the separation of the newsroom from the management, outside of the general professional code-of-ethics.

Most editors-in-chief acknowledged that they have regular discussions with the management, but that both sides have equal respect for the principle of journalistic autonomy. There are still known cases within the profession where the owners have exerted at least indirect influence on the editorial line of a newspaper in individual cases. While influence from the ownership is considered an exception in the Finnish media, it cannot be ruled out.

A study conducted on the corporate correlation between Finnish television and tabloid papers also found some indirect corporate influence. The tabloid newspaper owned by the Sanoma group produced more positive publicity to its own television channel, while the tabloid paper owned by Alma Media slightly privileged MTV3 in these sections of its tabloid paper (Herkman 2005). The corporate correlation, however, applied only to the entertainment sections of the papers, and not the core journalistic sections.

There is generally no formal representation of journalists in the board of media companies. of the sample media corporations, none had journalists on the board of the company. Advertising departments are, as a rule, strictly separated from the newsroom and do not interfere with the journalistic work. However, in the case of the local newspaper examined, the small number of personnel made it evident that there is contact and even co-operation between the newsroom and the advertising department.

In the case of public service media, the independence from the state owner is a permanently contested question in terms of both organizational structures and individual news issues. The independence from the government and political parties is emphasized on all levels of the legal definitions, company values, and internal editorial guidelines of YLE. In practice, YLE continues to enjoy a high level of political independence in its editorial decisions, and there is no evidence of any direct influence by the government.