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Lauri Kivinen: Complex world needs freedom of speech

Lauri Kivinen
Lauri Kivinen Picture by: yle lauri kivinen

There is more information than ever before in history in the hands of mankind today, but freedom of speech is facing real threats at the same time. Plentiful information does not guarantee its quality.

This is due to the old truth that knowledge is power. People want to control it. There are various obstacles to open flow of information; there are many who want to guide our thinking and influence our attitudes. And because the world is complicated, simple solutions are wanted to explain it. Yet they do not exist.

Openness and tolerance are sacrificed to get easy answers. Easy answers are sought by referendums on difficult subjects that require great involvement, and the options offered are yes and no.

Less decreases, bubbles grow

The antidote to these aspirations is a free and independent press and media. Freedom of press is realised only with a diverse and independent media landscape. Unfortunately, the development is worrying. In its recent survey, the American think tank Freedom House states that the freedom of press sank to its lowest level for 12 years last year. And you do not need to go far to find serious examples, they are found almost on our doorstep.

The other side of the coin is associated to the all of us as recipients of information. Because of the same reason – because understanding the world is increasingly difficult – we protect ourselves by choosing what to read, watch and listen to. We pull a protective cape over us ensuring nothing inconvenient bothers us. A bubble is created, with no incentive to take a peak outside.

Fortunately, there is an antidote to this as well: media literacy. Earlier, only literate people were able to educate themselves and build democracy. Today's literacy is the ability to read the media, interpret it and understand what is true and what is essential. The society can support the possibility to learn to use and understand the media.

Free media and citizen's ability to read it – there two together lay a strong foundation for freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech has always been at the core of public broadcasting service. Yleisradio has always aimed to offer diverse, educational, direct, bold and independent content that challenges both the public and the powers that be. Yle also takes care of citizens being able to read the media.

Openness creates well-being

Openness, and free media alongside it, has built mankind's well-being more than ever during the past decades. The divided Europe has been rebuilt. China has opened up, and the countries of the world are more dependent on cross-border commerce than ever. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty.

All this good should not be destroyed with models of closing and introversion, which are now offered around the world with easy solutions. We must not turn the wheel back, being afraid of strange and discriminating minorities. This is a real threat. As the world is complex, not easy.

We will need free media, the ability to read it and also the courage to question it, as the world is facing transformation. Yle is celebrating its 90th anniversary. It is a public service owned by Finns, and proudly one of the builders of freedom of speech in Finland.

It is valuable that we also have other media with a long-term perspective in Finland. Several newspapers and magazines have already been published for over a century.

With age, it is easier to see beyond current phenomena and distinguish what is significant and lasting. When new media emerge, people always think whether they will replace the old ones. Will newspapers make books unnecessary, will radio become a thing of the past due to home television sets? Will people continue to go to the movies when they have the internet?

All this should be considered also now that the media is changing into bits and going anywhere in its different forms online. We are undoubtedly facing major disruption. A single device can reproduce images, text, audio and video, connect them with each other and even offer a feedback channel. Language barriers are breaking and the publisher's role changing. Will the old media sustain this, or are its days over?

All of the strong online actors are young. Google is 18, Facebook barely a teenager, being 12 years old. Amazon is 22, Yahoo 24 and Twitter 10 years old. All those combined are younger than Yleisradio. There is strength in youth, but our mind-set in our work is that Yleisradio will be there and be strong also 90 years from now.

Yle reforms, again

Our strength cannot be built on success in the past, but it can be built on us having experience and insight. We have seen a lot of changes and have been able to develop our operations in them so that we have redeemed our position in the everyday lives of Finns.

The key is the ability to develop and change. Now, at the time of our 90th anniversary, we have the support of both citizens and the powers that be. This obligates us to hold on to an Yleisradio owned by Finns and ensure that it is set to face future challenges as well. Therefore, we have decided at this time of celebration that our opportunities are in change. We have launched a development programme that we call "Let's Make a New Yle".

The name illustrates our will to change and take Yle to a new level so that Finns can be proud of it in future as well. The decision on the reform has been made, as have some guidelines based on our strategy. We are currently complementing the plan with actions and further specifications. Competence, or intent, will not be a problem. Yle has a team of extremely committed, ambitious and skilled professionals who understand that one has to run all the time to remain at the front.

Yle will continue to invest in reliable and strong news journalism and serving all Finns. We will be producing a lot of drama and children's programmes, in other areas we will invest even more strongly on quality rather than quantity. In the future, we will do less ourselves and obtain both programmes and services from our partners more. We will continue to broadcast major sporting events, but more selectively. We will tighten our cooperation with other media companies. We will reform television and take radio to the web. We will shift our focus from conventional distribution channels to new ones. We will develop strong adolescent media so that tomorrow's Finnish generations can grow up to understand that public service belongs to them as well.

The plans for the reform will be specified further in the coming months and years, and we will be taking Yle to a new era with these policies. An old one can be bold and a big one agile, too. That is what 90-year-old Yle is, belonging to all Finns.

Lauri Kivinen is the Chief Executive Officer of Yleisradio