Written by Randa Romanova

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  • Area: 304.466 square kilometres
  • Population: 5.5 Mio. (2017)
  • Capital: Helsinki
  • State form: Unitary parliamentary republic
  • Official languages: Finnish, Swedish
  • Religion: Evangelical Lutheran Church (72 per cent)
  • Flag of Finland

    Although Finland is rather a young country, its press market is considered to be one of the best developed in the world. A strong press freedom tradition brought Finland to the first line in the world press freedom rating. Moreover, Finland ranked top four countries in Europe for newspaper circulation in 2014 (World Press Trends 2014). An independent press and a literate and well-informed society gives us a reason to sort Finland in the Liberalism type of the typology.
    The Finnish media system involves strong press freedom tradition regulated by the Council for Mass Media (CMM). The CMM enjoys great authority among Finnish journalists and it is actively developing following the modern media tendencies. The newspaper business in Finland can be considered partly monopolized, as it is managed by the two largest companies – Sanoma Oyj and Alma Media Oyj. Despite the strength of national monopolies, regional newspapers’ subsidies allow them to keep the position in the Finnish press market. Finnish public broadcasting service is represented by the public-private duopoly of YLE and MTV Media, which hold more than a half of market share. Despite the fact that Finnish media system can be defined by political parallelism, well-educated journalists, limited state influence and strong self-regulation tradition, new trends in media policy, in particular, the introduction of economic and liberal foundations, suggest that Finnish media system is moving towards the liberal model of media system, inherent in the USA (Hallin&Mancini, 2004: 295).
    Communication policy and regulations
    The modern regulation system of Finnish journalism is based on two aspects: state regulation and institutions of self-regulation. Guarantees of freedom of speech and the press are specified in the 12th article of the Constitution of Finland: “Everyone has the freedom of expression. Freedom of expression entails the right to express, disseminate and receive information, opinions and other communications without prior prevention by anyone” (The Constitution of Finland, 1999). The freedom of the press is also regulated by the Freedom of Expression Act, the Criminal Code, the Law on the Prevention of Indecent Publications, the Law on the Protection of Secrecy, and the Consumer Protection Law. The Law on Non-interference in Privacy prohibits wiretapping or other methods of obtaining confidential information. The information held by state bodies, according to the law, is considered to be open to the society, only if it does not belong to the state secret. Information that may harm national security is prohibited for dissemination. The Finnish court may require a journalist to disclose the source of information if the informant violates the law in any way. Additionally, confidential information can only be disclosed by a court decision. Journalists must provide articles and photo materials if they contain any useful data (The Constitution of Finland, 1999). Since Finland is a member of the Council of Europe, restrictions on freedom of speech fall under the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.
    Thus, the Constitution of the country has standard mechanisms for media regulation. There is no censorship in Finland, as in other democratically oriented countries, and the control over the placement of material is carried out through laws relating to the freedom and dignity of Finnish society (The Constitution of Finland, 1999). In other words, the Finnish media do not have any significant restrictions, in the legal sense.
    The main source of journalistic ethical regulation is the Council for Mass Media. The self-regulatory council is responsible for upholding ethical standards across print, broadcast, and online media. The CMM’s task is to develop good journalistic practice, which is based on the public’s right to have access to facts and opinions (Guidelines for Journalists, 2014), and to defend the freedom of speech and the press. However, the CMM does not exercise legal jurisdiction. Journalists and other media workers engaged in the CMM are committed to promoting and upholding the ethical principles of the profession. Officially, not only printed publications, television and radio are under the action of CMM, but also Internet content, if it is considered to be published in the media.
    Any person may bring a complaint before the institution on their own. After the CMM determines that the professional ethics has been breached, it issues a notice that must be published within a short time span. Time for consideration of each complaint, as a rule, depends on the complexity of the situation, but it does not exceed 5-6 months. Under certain circumstances, which involve an interest of the CMM, it can initiate an investigation without using of third-party appeals and complaints.
    For example, in April, 2018 CMM published a decision concerning an issue of network archives in Helsingin Sanomat. The complaint concerns two issues published in the printed version of Helsingin Sanomat in 2015 and Helsingin Sanomat’s Facebook and Twitter links. The complaint did not come within a three-month time-limit, but the chairman decided to take the matter because of its great importance (The Finnish Council of Mass Media, 2014: In this case, the newspaper reported on the dispute between the housing company and the resident. The address of the resident in the security ban came out of the jute. The newspaper removed information from the website but not from the printed version. The Council’s decision-making practice in the public word is based on the fact, that the media correct its mistakes in its new releases and does not overwrite its publication history. This process has reminded the proper journalistic behavior and a right for decision-making within media organizations.

    Finland in the media freedom rankings
    From 2010 to 2016 Finland has been ranked first in Reporters Without Borders press freedom rating seven years in a row. For the first time, Finland has been displaced from the position in 2017 and moved to the third place in the ranking. The Sipilägate became a stumbling-stone in media since the conflict led Finnish journalism to the third position in Press Freedom Rating. According to Reportes Without Borders, “the image of Finland’s flagship public broadcaster YLE was dented in December 2016 by “Sipilägate,” in which Prime Minister Juha Sipilä reportedly pressured YLE to modify its coverage of a possible conflict of interest involving him. Two YLE journalists said they were the targets of political pressure that constituted a violation of freedom of information”. According to Freedom House, Finland has the freest media environments in the world with a variety of editorially independent print, broadcast and online news outlets. The country feels free from political pressure and threats against journalists are extremely rare here.
    Media offers
    From the late 1990s until the end of 2010s, the Finnish media market grew from 3.7 to 4.4 billion euros (Statistics Finland, 2015). At the same time, the greatest growth was observed in electronic media. In 2014, the value of the media market in Finland decreased by 14 per cent compared to 2013 and amounted to 3.9 billion euros. In 2015, the value of electronic media went down by 1.5 per cent. The media market share of electronic media has, however, doubled in this millennium from around one fifth to nearly 40 per cent. In addition, the rapid growth was shown by web advertising, whose share grew by 11 per cent. The position of the media network is lowering: the position of radio has deteriorated by 11 per cent, daily newspapers by 4 per cent. In 2011, there were 183 paid-for newspapers, 48 of which were daily (published 4-7 times a week) and 135 non-daily (published 1-3 times a week). At the same time, the number of daily newspapers accounted 71 per cent of the entire print media market.

    Sanoma Oyj is a leader in the Finnish media market. It is also defined as the second largest media group throughout Scandinavia and one of the leading publishers in Europe (in particular, it is one of the five largest European magazine publishers). This media group produce printed, multimedia and audio-visual content. Now it owns the largest Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, as well as the newspapers Nyt, Kuukausiliite, Metro, Urheilusanomat and 17 online media. The second major Finnish media company Alma Media Oyj was founded in 1998. Nowadays, it focuses on online publications and print media production. It includes large Finnish newspapers such as Aamulehti, Iltalehti, Kauppalehti, as well as digital services,, and others.
    Thus, the modern Finnish media system is characterized by a horizontal ownership concentration typical for Scandinavian countries. Current challenges of economic crisis and technological progress caused the media market to abandon the democratic direction, which has been carried out since the late 1940s, towards commercialization and tabloidization. At the same time, large Finnish media companies became increasingly competitive and they try to keep their audience by switching to online formats.
    Although online media has shown a big growth for the last decade, the readership of print newspapers is still constant for the past few years. 96 per cent of the population older than 12 years prefers to read print newspapers. In 2015, the value of the mass media market amounted to around EUR 3.7 billion. This was around EUR 100 million or about three per cent less than in the year before. According to Mikko Gronlund (2016: 61), “given the country’s historical geography, many towns and their environs are wedded to particular papers, so national monopolies have not formed despite the small size of the country’s media market”. An interest in regional newspapers is represented by 14 from 20 of all newspapers, measured by circulation.

    Radio and TV
    The audio-visual market is still concentrated for such a small country as Finland. The national company YLE serves as a national public broadcaster and dominates the radio market with a total share of approximately 55 per cent. Now, YLE owns six national channels, 26 regional channels and two digital radio channels.
    The first radio station emerged in Finland in 1921. In order to ensure control over the national broadcasting market Helsinki journalists’ Union founded a radio commission and gave the government an authority to operate transmission stations. In 1985, when the Council of State allowed obtaining the first commercial and non-commercial licenses, private broadcasting system started to operate in Finland. In 1997, the first national commercial radio station became Radio Nova. In 2010, there were 57 private commercial radio stations in Finland (Eli M. Noam, 2016).
    Broadcast Television system in Finland is represented by the national public broadcaster YLE, the commercial broadcaster MTV Media and Nelonen Media, which is part of Sanoma Oyj holding. YLE is prohibited from advertising or sponsoring its radio and TV programs. YLE offers services in the Swedish, Saami and other minority languages. 57 per cent of all television programs were produced on the domestic market in 2001. About half of the television programs are produced by foreign companies from other European countries and about 30 percent from the United States. Programming of foreign television is displayed with subtitles. In 2001, when the number of TV users began to increase, terrestrially distributed digital TV was introduced in Finland. Nowadays, over 30 channels are distributed terrestrially and about 15 are free-on-air.

    In 2009, the Communications Market Act was amended to enshrine universal Internet access for all Finnish citizens. In 2015, nearly 93 per cent of the population had access to Internet. Recently, the role of Internet media in the Finnish market has strongly increased. Despite the fact that, according to statistics, 35 per cent of respondents still consider TV the most important source of news, but other 38 per cent give the first place to the Internet and online media (Eli M. Noam, 2016). Those who chose the Internet as the most important source of news prefer to read news on the websites of newspapers held by Sanoma and Alma Media companies.
    Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) appeared in Finland in 2005 and although the number of users is relatively small, it continues to grow year by year. The largest servers in the Finnish market are KotiTV, ElisaViihde, American Netflix and HBO Nordic.
    Journalists' autonomy
    Journalistic education and working conditions
    In 2016, the estimated amount of working journalists was 7726. According to the Worlds of journalism study, “a typical journalist in Finland is likely to be female in her early forties with a university degree from journalism or communication.” A country report made by Jari Väliverronen, Laura Ahva and Reeta Pöyhtäri from the University of Tampere showed more interesting statistics (Jari Väliverronen, Laura Ahva & Reeta Pöyhtäri; 2016):

    • 30.9 per cent of journalists are contributed to daily newspapers, 27.3 per cent to magazines, and 11.2 per cent to weekly newspapers.

    • In broadcasting, 12.8 per cent of the journalists worked for private or public service radio, 10.7 per cent for private or public TV.

    • Only 2.7 per cent work for news agencies.

    • 3.8 per cent reported to work for online newsrooms of traditional media, and 0.5 per cent for stand-alone online news sites.

    The proportion of freelancers increases. Currently around 12 per cent of the members of the Union of Journalists are freelancers. In general, short-term contracts, internships and freelance contracts are still the only way of entering the profession in Finland, although, using of short-term contracting varies between types of the media.
    The higher education system is represented by two parallel sectors: universities and professional institutions. Professional institutions, as a rule, are regional diversified universities. In universities, in addition to general educational disciplines, elective courses are offered. General educational disciplines include an introduction to philosophy, the basics of statistics, an introduction to sociology, and sociological research methods. Knowledge of the language implies the skills of written (print media) and oral speech (radio and TV), knowledge of the Swedish language (in case Finland is a bilingual country), knowledge of one or two foreign languages (in addition to Swedish).
    As in Germany, large media companies are training their specialists (Mapping Media Freedom: Germany). For example, Sanoma Media and Yleisradio Public Broadcasting Corporation have their own schools of journalism: The School of Journalism of Sanoma and the Institute of Radio and Television respectively. In some European universities, the practice of supplementary education is applied, what allows the journalists to focus on a certain area of knowledge. So, media workers can become a specialist in a certain field, and be more competitive in general. Most journalists note acceptable working conditions and do not feel any pressure from the employer or the state Jan Fredrik Hovden, Gunnar Nygren & Henrika Zilliacus-Tikkainen (2016).
    In 2015, a group of media researchers led by Dortmund University’s Professor Susanne Fengler conducted a media research that considered that even though journalists across Europe unanimously support the statement ‘Journalistic responsibility is a prerequisite for press freedom’, their actual support for the concept of media self-regulation is rather weak in most countries. Journalists noted the average or even weak influence of the Press Councils, media critics, ombudsmen and other self-regulatory bodies. An exception was Finland, whose indicator reached a maximum level in comparison with other countries.
    After analysing particular self-regulatory bodies, the researchers also concluded that most European countries feel the influence of editorial codes and legislative acts even more than general codes or specialized organizations. Finland became the exception again: the country showed the highest level of influence from the professional code of journalists (Guidelines for Journalists).
    Moreover, Finland showed the highest score in terms of influence of almost all the self-regulatory bodies mentioned in the research. At the same time, the results stood in sharp contrast even with countries with the same media system model, according to Hallin and Mancini’s classification. For example, comparing Finland’s and Germany’s indicators, researchers considered that Finland, along with law and journalistic education, gives preference to the Council for Mass Media and the professional code, whereas for Germany the most important thing is legal regulation and education. Hence, the self-regulation bodies have not lost their credibility in the eyes of the Finnish journalistic community, which continues to observe the ethical standards of the profession.

    Self-identity and role transformation
    According to Dr. Saakari Huovinen, the modern Finnish system of self-regulation suffers from a crisis, in particular, caused by changes in the principles of journalistic work. For example, a journalist and a reader in a liberal model are now perceived more as a producer and a participant, what radically changes these “classic” traditional views on the role of a journalist as a detached observer (Jari Väliverronen, Laura Ahva & Reeta Pöyhtäri; 2016). This is justified, since the journalistic profession today includes bloggers, multimedia reporters, talk show hosts, in other words – everyone who produces journalism for modern platforms. On the other hand, it leads to a loss of journalistic identity on a global scale, and therefore undermines the foundation of good journalistic practice and ethics even in the Nordic countries.
    Kaarle Nordenstreng (professor of the University of Tampere), also raised the issue of social responsibility of journalists. He noted that despite the democratic orientation of self-regulatory bodies, we should not forget that this is one of the types of control: “Self-regulation is a part and parcel of an overall system of media regulation in the sociological sense whereby everything in, society is regulated at one level or another and nothing is absolutely free” (Nordenstreng; 2006). Exactly this approach to self-regulation, in Nordenstreng’s point of view, must be considered realistic.
    The researcher also considered media field too self-centred, as it relies on the constitutional rights to freedom of expression caused by the current trend of the media. Journalists understand the media’s central role in politics and culture, and it causes an anti-intellectual reaction to media criticism and encourages the protection of their colleagues as guardians of the truth. According to Nordenstreng, such a mentality tends to forget the words of the founding fathers of the Finnish Council for Mass Media: “The media do not own the freedom of information – it is the right of everyone on society.”
    • Hallin, D. & Manchini, P. (2004). Comparing Media Systems. Three Models of Media and Politics. Cambridge University Press.
    • Hovden, Nygren & Zilliacus-Tikkainen (2016). Becoming a journalist: Journalism Education in the Nordic Countries. (January 18, 2018)
    • Karppinen K., Nieminen H., & Markkanen L. (2011). High professional ethos in a small, concentrated media market. The Media for Democracy Monitor. (January 18, 2018)
    • Kuutti H., Sokka R. & Nevalainen P. (JYU) (2010). Media policies and regulatory practices in a selected set of European countries, the EU and the Council of Europe: The case of Finland. (January 18, 2018)
    • Noam, E. (2016). The International Media Who Owns the World’s Media? Media Concentration and Ownership around the World. Oxford University Press.
    • Nordenstreng K. & Heinonen A. (2006). Finland: High Season for Self-regulation. (January 18, 2018)
    • Nordenstreng K. (2010). Self-regulation: A contradiction in terms? Discussing constituents of journalistic responsibility. (January 18, 2018)
    • Päivi Korpisaari (2014). The Finnish Model of Media Self-Regulation and Freedom of Speech from the Legal Point of View. (January 18, 2018)
    • Statistics Finland (2016). Mass media market contracted – a good year for cinemas. (January 18, 2018)
    • The Council for Mass Media in Finland (2008). Self-regulation by publishers and journalists. (January 18, 2018)
    • Timo Harjuniemi Press (2013). Self-regulation in Finland: A Functioning System under Pressure. University of Helsinki.
    • Weaver, D. & Willnat, L. (2012). The Global Journalist in 21th century. New York: Psychology Press
    • Worlds of Journalism Country report (2016). Journalists in Finland. (January 18, 2018)
    Related Links
    Recommended citation form
    Randa Romanova: Finland. In: Michael Meyen (ed.), Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich: Department of Communication Studies and Media Research 2017. (access date).

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