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Yle discriminated against participant in election debate, authority finds

The Non-discrimination Ombudsman found that the Finnish Broadcasting Company was guilty of discrimination when it banned candidates from wearing face masks in an election debate.

Yle paid the person in question some 3,000 euros in damages as part of the settlement agreement. Photo is of Centre Party Leader Annika Saarikko, who is unrelated to the case. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle
Yle News

The Non-discrimination Ombudsman has found that Yle's face mask ban at a televised election debate was discriminatory.

One of the invited party leaders, who is at elevated risk of serious Covid due to disability, filed a complaint over the decision.

The programme took place when national guidelines still recommended the use of masks indoors.

Yle prohibited debate participants from using masks and also refused to make alternative arrangements that would allow the party leader to attend, according to a press release by the ombudsman.

The politician in question was at risk of serious coronavirus infection and was unable to represent their party at the debate as a result.

"Everyone has a constitutional right to participate in political life and a person with a disability should be able to participate in political elections on an equal basis as others," Head of Office Rainer Hiltunen said in the release.

Yle leadership admitted that the decision to ban the use of masks was wrong.

"Our guidelines for the election debate were based on equal treatment of parties and clarity of communication - also in terms of accessibility. We also took serious coronavirus precautions at the studios," director of the Finnish-language news and acting editor Jouko Jokinen said.

He added however that "banning the use of masks was the wrong decision from us."

The Non-discrimination Ombudsman facilitated a settlement on the case. Yle paid the person 3,000 euros in compensation and committed to providing training on how to enable better equal participation for its staff as part of the settlement agreement.

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