Finland’s free speech watchdog, the Council for Mass Media, has received a more complaints concerning breaches of good professional practice or freedom of speech so far this year than in all of 2014 combined. Some of the complaints are about the restriction of free speech in chat and comment forums. The Council’s media researcher Nenne Hallman says moves to restrict news commentary only serve to increase incidents of hate speech.
People filing complaints demand freedom of expression in online comment fields.
Freedom of expression is guaranteed in the Finnish Constitution and includes the right to express, disseminate and receive information, opinions and other communications without prior prevention.
However, according to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, freedom of speech can be limited to prevent disorder or crime or protect the rights and reputations of others.
The Finnish press currently enjoys extensive freedom. In 2015, Reporters Without Borders listed Finland at the top of their annual Press Freedom Index for the fifth year in a row. The country has no system of pre-emptive censoring in place, but unlawful topics can be addressed after the fact.
The 14-member Council for Mass Media is a self-regulating committee established in 1968 by Finnish publishers and journalists to interpret good professional practice and defend the freedom of speech and publication.
Moderate rise this year
News coverage and online discussions linked to migration and asylum seekers has generated an uptick in the amount of complaints to the Council. By mid-October, 347 complaints had been registered in 2015, already more than the total number of complaints in 2014. How many of the complaints are linked to the European migrant crisis is still unclear.
Council Secretary Nenne Hallman says it is apparent from the stream of complaints that not everyone is familiar with the law concerning freedom of speech in Finland.
“Some people filing complaints think that the media systematically omit certain types of opinions, when in fact it is the opinion pieces that violate the freedom of expression statutes that are not published,” says Hallman.
Hallman says that some of the complaints may also originate in so-called troll factories, where hundreds of bloggers are paid to flood forums and social networks with political propaganda. Some Finnish media outlets have recently decided to limit or halt online commentary related to immigration issues.
Three types of complaints
The Council for Mass Media has mostly received three kinds of complaints related to migrant issues.
The first demands justice for alleged breaches of freedom of expression. The second accuse journalists or online discussion forums of offending human dignity with their content. The third kind of complaint is filed over language used to refer to asylum seekers in various forums.
The last case examined by the Council took place in August, after a complaint about an advertisement that asked “Why are Somalis rapists?” for MTV3 TV programme Enbuske & Linnanahde Crew on the online Katsomo service. The investigation resulted in a reprimand for violating good journalistic practice.
The Council’s rulings do not have any judicial authority. Member media organisations that receive reprimands are obliged to publish or broadcast them in their own media.