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Finnish media companies, unions establish journalist support fund to counter harassment

Reporters in Finland who are targeted by trolls, defamation campaigns and hate speech may find it easier to seek redress.

Yle CEO Merja Ylä-Anttila Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

Finland's top media houses have joined with the Union of Journalists in Finland and several other representative organizations working in the media sector to create a fund to support reporters who find themselves subject to persecution or threats.

In an interview on Yle's morning programme on Saturday, the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle's CEO Merja Ylä-Anttila announced that the new support fund is intended to assist journalists with legal costs, for example, in seeking redress in courts of law.

The fund will be officially launched on Monday, she reported, and will be available to all journalists - contract workers and freelancers alike.

The fund will be financed by five of Finland's leading media companies: A-lehdet, Alma Media, Keskisuomalainen, Sanoma Media and Yle.

In addition to the Union of Journalists in Finland, the support fund will also be financed by the Foundation to Promote Journalistic Culture, the Finnish Media Federation, the Finnish Periodical Publishers' Association and the Finnish Newspapers Association.

"Anyone who is interested in joining and supporting the fund is welcome, no matter whether they are businesses, foundations, unions or private individuals, with large or small donations," the Union of Journalists in Finland's chair Hanne Aho said in a press release.

The support fund idea was founded to provide people working in the media sector with the means to respond quickly to unexpected attacks or problems.

Many professions at risk

Yle's Ylä-Anttila says that the most significant threat to freedom of expression in Finland is pressure from the realm of social media. She says journalists, researchers and even judges are now vulnerable to aggressive online behaviour.

"People are singled out and then persecuted and made subject to hate speech. It is a blatant attempt to silence people, because they could start to think twice about having to deal with the backlash. In my opinion, it poses the biggest risk to freedom of speech we have in Finland," she said.

The head of the country's public broadcaster was asked how journalists can be protected from this kind of pressure.

"It's important to maintain an open workplace atmosphere, so concerns can be aired freely. Reporters must also feel as if they have the full support of their supervisors. They can't be shy about reporting cases to the police, either," she says.

Ylä-Anttila said she believes that the threat of a police investigation could reduce attempts to influence content in many cases.

She said that there is a tendency in Finland to take freedom of speech for granted.

"If we don't take care, it could be chipped away insidiously, before we even know it. It’s a good thing if the media keeps up an active discussion about freedom of speech and looks after it," said Ylä-Anttila.

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