Odd Situation in the “Paradise” of Press Freedom
HELSINKI, Finland, May 2 2016 (IPS) – A strange situation has emerged in Finland where some people feel that the press freedom is currently jeopardised. The small Nordic country is a press freedom celebrity leading the index kept by Reporters Without Borders since 2009 and hosting the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day on May 3.
The case is related to the so-called Panama Papers that were recently leaked by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The papers originate from the Panama based law company Mossack Fonseca and include information about over 210,000 companies that operate in fiscal paradises.
The Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) was involved in publishing the leak and fiscal authorities of Finland now insist that the company has to hand the material over to them. The dead line expired on Friday but YLE has refused.
The company is appealing the tax authorities’ decision and stating that it’s basic freedom is to protect the news sources. Besides YLE emphasised that it does not possess the material but a few journalists just have access to it.
What has most surprised both journalists and the public here is the fact that this happens in Finland while no other country whose media is involved in the Panama case has experienced same kind of threat from the authorities.
“We understand very well about why the tax office and politicians are interested in the documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca”, the responsible editors of YLE investigative group, Ville Vilén and Marit af Björkesten, said in their statement referring to the possible tax evasions and their social consequences.
They admit having partly shared purposes with the authorities but refuse to violate old principles that have been followed for decades in the European countries that respect press freedom.
“Despite their wideness the Panama papers are not a reason to endanger the protection of the news source and the possibilities of Finnish journalists to practice influential investigative journalism on a longer run,” they continue.
“Surprisingly we are not here to celebrate press freedom but instead to ponder an amazing situation”, the president on the Finnish Council of Mass Media, Elina Grundström, said Monday on YLE’s morning television.
The Council of Mass Media is an organ of the Finnish media’s self-regulation meant to supervise the ethics of the press from all stakeholders’ angle. Grundström gave her support to YLE’s decision not to give up the Panama papers to the tax authorities.
Susanna Reinboth, the law reporter of the biggest national daily, agreed while Pekka Mervola, editor-in-chief of the regional paper Keskisuomalainen, thinking that the material could be delivered with certain reservations that are meant to protect the sources.
The problem may be at least partly solved on May 9th when the ICIJ has promised to publish part of the Panama material.