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Report slams 'arrogant' Yle response to Terrafame-Sipilä scandal

Yle has been criticised in an independent report about the company's handling of a scandal last year when editorial staff were accused of caving in to pressure from the Prime Minister over a negative story.

Image: Derrick Frilund / Yle

An independent report into Yle's management of attempts by the Prime Minister to influence its coverage has criticised the organisation's decisions and policies.

Helsinki University Administrative Law Professor Olli Mäenpää was commissioned to write the report when questions arose over Yle's independence following decisions to suppress follow-up reporting on a perceived conflict of interest involving Prime Minister Juha Sipilä.

"We believe that Yle's journalistic decision-making will stand up to scrutiny," editor-in-chief of Yle's News and Current Affairs division Atte Jääskeläinen said when Yle commissioned the report.

In December last year, Sipilä complained stridently and at length, sending multiple emails, to journalists who had reported on his relatives' links to the state-supported mining firm Terrafame.

Report: Yle gave PM Sipilä 'special treatment'

The report says that Yle gave Sipilä special treatment, caving in to pressure when the premier did not like the way he had been covered.

Yle had reported that a company owned by the PM's relatives had received an order worth half a million euros shortly after the government had granted it extra state funding.

The Prime Minister complained about the story, and senior Yle management then prohibited further coverage of the story, prompting a backlash, strong criticism from across the political spectrum, and eventually the resignation of two of the journalists involved in the story.

Yle's journalistic responsibility took a back seat, according to the report, by way of micromanagement and editing of stories that did not contain factual errors.

The report says that Yle then reacted arrogantly when it was condemned over the affair by Finland's self-regulation body, the Council for the Mass Media in Finland, and tried to play down the ruling.

Mäenpää's report also suggests Yle's social media guidelines are unclear and poorly understood, with many journalists unhappy about disciplinary action brought against them for breaches of the code.

CEO to propose remedial actions by summer

Yle's impartiality should, according to Mäenpää, be included in legislation governing the company, which would then strengthen the organisation's role in holding the powerful to account.

In response to the findings presented in the independent report, Yle's board has commissioned CEO Lauri Kivinen to draw up proposals to address the shortcomings raised in the Mäenpää report. Kivinen has been asked to hand in his proposals before the summer.

Much of the criticism in the report focused on editor-in-chief Atte Jääskeläinen and his actions in blocking further reporting on Sipilä's potential conflict of interest and the PM's response to reporting on the matter. However the board said that it did not view the issues raised in a personal light.

It added that it maintains full confidence in Jääskeläinen. "It is my understanding that Jääskeläinen has aspired to lead fact-based journalism," said Yle chairman Thomas Wilhelmsson.

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