|Finland Table of Contents
Finland's first newspaper, the Swedish-language Tidningar Utgifne Af Et Sallskap i Abo, was established in 1771 in Turku. A Finnish-language journal, Suomenkieliset Tieto- Sanomat, was created in the same town in 1775. Neither paper survived long, however, and it was not until the next century that regularly published newspapers appeared in Finland. Still in existence today are Abo Underrattelser, founded in Turku in 1824, and Uusi Suomi, launched in Helsinki in 1847.
The latter half of the nineteenth century saw the appearance of many newspapers. All the political parties formed in these years and in the early twentieth century had their own newspapers, and, as a result, most Finnish papers were partisan until after War World II. After independence in 1917, there was another upsurge in the number of newspapers published; a high point, never since surpassed, was reached in 1930 when Finns could choose from 123 newspapers, each published at least three times a week. By 1985 there were ninety-eight such papers, a figure that has remained fairly constant since the early 1960s. Total circulation of papers of this type, twelve of which were in Swedish, amounted to about three million by the mid-1980s. In addition, there were about 160 papers that appeared once or twice a week. One United Nations (UN) study ranked Finland fourth in the world for per capita circulation, and surveys have found that over 90 percent of Finns read papers regularly, 60 percent of Finns viewing them as the most useful source of information.
Finns preferred to have their papers delivered to their homes in the early morning, and for this reason there were only two evening papers in the country, Ilta-Sanomat and Iltalehti, both printed in Helsinki. Another reason for low newsstand sales in Finland was that no taxes were levied on newspapers and magazines received via subscription.
Most localities were served by only one newspaper, but by the mid-1980s Helsinki had about a dozen, and its newspapers, which constituted only one-eighth of the country's total, accounted for one-third of national circulation. Seven of the Helsinki papers were among the twelve largest Finnish papers. Although many of Finland's papers were published in Helsinki, there was little concentration of press ownership, and there were no dominant newspaper chains, with the possible exception of the firm Sanoma that owned the two papers with the largest circulation, Helsingin Sanomat and Ilta-Sanomat.
In contrast to the other Nordic countries, the number of newspapers in Finland has remained fairly constant, and there was even a slight upturn in the 1980s. This steadiness was caused, at least partly, by the government program of general and selective support. General support was intended for the press as a whole, magazines included; it involved not taxing subscriptions and essential materials, such as newsprint, and arranging for low postal rates. Selective support, designed to guarantee the survival of the party press, consisted of partial subsidies for distribution and telecommunications costs and direct lump-sum payments to papers in accordance with the number of representatives their parties had in the Eduskunta.
Despite these efforts to encourage a varied party press, the number of independent papers rose sharply after World War II, increasing from 38 percent in 1962 to 64 percent in 1985. The number of nonsocialist party papers decreased most, but papers of this type still had more than twice the circulation of socialist papers.
Most Finnish newspapers were served by the country's principal news agency, the Finnish News Agency (Suomen Tietotoimisto--STT), which was owned by the leading newspapers and the state-run Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yleisradio--YLE). STT was connected to many of the world's news agencies, and it had an extensive network of domestic correspondents. Some newspapers, however, had direct contacts with foreign news agencies. There were also agencies, run by political parties, that supplied subscribers with political news and articles. Agencies of this type were the Kesk's Uutiskeskus (UK), the KOK's Lehdistön Sanomapalvelu (LSP), the SDP's Työvaen Sanomalehtien Tietotoimisto (TST), the SKDL's Demokraattinen Lehtipalvelu (DLP), and the SFP's Svensk Presstjanst (SPT).
By the mid-1980s, there were about 1,200 magazines being published regularly, printing a total of about 20 million copies a year. The most popular subscription magazine in the mid-1980s was Me, published biweekly in Helsinki for Finnish consumer societies, followed by the Finnish version of Reader's Digest and by numerous family and general interest magazines. The magazines with the largest printings were those distributed free at banks, retail stores, and other businesses.
Subscription magazines, like newspapers, enjoyed general support from the government in the form of lower taxes and postal rates. In the late 1970s, selective government support was introduced to assist those magazines which, without the aim of financial gain, sought to inform the public about cultural, scientific, religious, and social concerns. By the mid-1980s, several dozen of these so-called "magazines of opinion" were receiving state aid.
Finland's state radio and television company, the YLE, was founded in 1926, and it began television broadcasting in 1958. It was a stock company, with 99.2 percent of its stock owned by the government and the remainder owned by fifty-seven stockholders. As a stock company, it was independent of the state budget. It did not monopolize the airwaves, but sold a portion of its broadcasting time, a maximum of 18 percent, to a private television company, Mainos-TV-Reklam (MTV). This arrangement had been in effect since 1958, when the YLE first began television transmissions. Beginning in 1973, Finland also had cable television, centered in the major urban areas, which by the mid- 1980s reached about 100,000 homes. It was expected that Finns and the residents of the other Nordic countries would be able to see each other's television broadcasts via satellite sometime in the early 1990s.
In the mid-1980s, the YLE employed nearly 5,000 persons; each year it broadcast about 5,000 hours of television programming-- 1,000 hours of which was rented by MTV. Since late 1986, the YLE's television division has consisted of three channels (TV 1, TV 2, and TV 3). The YLE produced about 1,400 hours of television itself; the remaining time was filled by programs purchased abroad. Swedish-language programming amounted to a little more than 500 hours, about 60 percent of which appeared on TV 1.
In the mid-1980s, about 20 percent of television broadcast time was devoted to news and current events, another 20 percent to documentaries, the same amount again to sports and light entertainment, 16 percent to television serials, and 12 percent to films. Imported programs were shown in their original languages with subtitles. The YLE had coproduction arrangements with many foreign companies, mainly those of Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and the United States. Finns, 81 percent of them on a daily basis, watched an average of two hours of television a day; 28 percent held it to be their most important source of information.
The YLE's radio division broadcast about 21,000 hours annually and consisted of three sections--Network 1, Network 2, and the Swedish Program. Network 2 broadcast around the clock. The other two stations broadcast from early in the morning until around midnight. Somewhat under half of these radio programs were broadcast on a regional or local level from the company's nine local stations, eight of which sent Finnish-language programming. About 20 percent of radio programming was devoted to news and current events, another 20 percent to general cultural and public service programs, and 40 percent to all varieties of music. In addition to its national broadcasts, each year the company transmitted about 13,500 hours--in Finnish and in other languages--to listeners, abroad. Private radio stations first appeared in 1985, and they existed in a score of municipalities by the late 1980s. Finns listened to the radio an average of two hours daily, and 70 percent of them listened every day. Twenty- three percent of the population held the medium to be their most important source of information.
The YLE, having been granted its broadcasting concession by the government, was obliged to present programming that was "factual and fair," provided wholesome entertainment, strengthened popular education, and infringed on no one's rights. A committee, appointed in 1979 to study new legislation for radio and television broadcasting, concluded in 1984 that the YLE's programs should be marked by truthfulness, pluralism, and relevance to the lives of the viewers, and that it should further the basic rights and values of the country's citizens. The Administrative Council, the members of which were appointed by the Eduskunta in accordance with each party's parliamentary strength, was responsible for realizing these objectives. Three program councils, the members of which were appointed by the Administrative Council and according to the political composition of the Eduskunta, were involved in deciding what was to be broadcast. The upper management of the YLE was also somewhat politicized in the belief that this would help to guarantee that all viewpoints were adequately aired during broadcasting time. MTV's programming, including the news broadcasts that it began in 1981, was also supervised by the councils. This system of control, while occasionally subject to heavy-handed lapses of judgement, was generally conceded to have brought about programming that broadly mirrored the country's political culture as a whole.
Article 10 of the Constitution Act of 1919 guarantees freedom of speech and "the right of printing and publishing writing and pictorial presentations without prior interference by anyone." International surveys of Finnish journalism have found it to be of a high standard and wholly comparable with that of other Western nations. The desire for a press reflecting all currents of Finnish political life has been given concrete expression in government financial support for political newspapers and journals of opinion. Legislation from 1966 protected the confidentiality of sources, in that it allowed journalists to refuse to reveal the identity of sources unless such disclosure would solve a serious crime, i.e., one calling for a sentence of six or more years. In 1971 this protection was extended to television journalists as well.
Information was readily available in Finland. Ten major publishing firms, two of them specializing in Swedish-language books, and numerous smaller houses published some 8,000 new titles each year. This was an extraordinary figure for a small country, especially one the languages of which were not widely known abroad. Finns were able to buy books published anywhere in the world, and local firms that published the samizdat, or underground, literature from the Soviet Union allowed Finns to be well acquainted with the opposition groups of their eastern neighbor.
According to the distinguished Finnish journalist and former diplomat, Max Jakobson, Finnish journalism did not possess an adversarial spirit and a tradition of aggressive reporting to the same degree as the American press. Also on occasion it was noted that the politicization of YLE broadcasting meant that television journalists sometimes remembered the political party from which they came better than they did their duty to inform the public objectively. In consonance with the tone of Finnish foreign policy, press and television criticism of the superpowers' foreign policies was muted to some degree. Finnish press discussions of the failures of the Soviet Union could be frank, but they were couched in gentler tones than was true in some other countries.
A reminder of the sensitive years just after World War II, when Finland's survival as an independent nation was not assured, was a 1948 addition to the Penal Code that threatened a prison term of up to two years for anyone who damaged Finnish relations with a foreign power by means of defamatory journalism. Serious as this penalty appeared, only the president could decide if a journalist seen guilty of such defamation should be prosecuted. Although not applied for decades, the clause continued to be an embarrassment for Finns. Government officials, when called upon to comment on the clause, stressed the value of a free press and the lack of censorship, noted Finland's good relations with all countries, acknowledged that there had been in the past some "self-censorship" of the press with regard to the Soviet Union, but pointed out that the clause had not been applied for decades. Since World War II, leading Finnish politicians have also occasionally exhorted the press to be more responsible in its reporting on foreign policy issues; there were several such calls by Koivisto in his first years in office. Such political tutelage was by the mid-1980s, however, no longer viewed as appropriate for a modern democratic state.
Finnish media were also subject to some popular controls. The Press Law of 1919 gave the right of correction to anyone who held that material printed about him in a periodical was incorrect or offensive. The publication was obliged to grant the injured party an equal amount of space within two days after receipt of the statement. Failure to do so could result in a fine. Finns could also turn to the Council for Mass Media (Julkisen Sanan Neuvosto- -JSN), which was founded in 1968 to promote journalistic ethics. This body examined each complaint submitted to it and decided on its merits. Between 1969 and 1978, the council received several hundred queries; it found about a quarter of them justified and recommended to the criticized journal or station that it issue an unedited rejoinder from the injured party.
Films were subject to censorship in Finland according to a law from 1965 that had been enacted by the elaborate procedure required for legislation seen as being an exception to the Constitution. In this case, there was an exceptional curtailment of the constitutional right of freedom of information. The law dealt only with films shown for commercial purposes, and it forbade those that offended good morals, were brutalizing or injurious to mental health, endangered public order and the nation's defense, or harmed Finland's relations with other countries. The Film Censorship Board was set up to administer the law, and its decisions could be appealed up to the Supreme Administrative Court. Of 2,688 films reviewed between 1972 and 1983, some 227 were forbidden in their entirety. Of these, nearly all were rejected for reasons of morality or potential danger to mental health, and 2 percent because they could hurt Finland's external relations. The most noted of these films was the British-Norwegian coproduction, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," based on the eponymous novel by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Several films from the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) were banned after having been judged potentially offensive to the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany).
More about the Government and Politics of Finland.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress