Editor-in-chief Atte Jääskeläinen departs Finnish public broadcaster

Yle editor in chief and head of news and current affairs Atte Jääskeläinen has left the national broadcaster after assuming the lead role in a story that originally centred on reporting of Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s potential conflicts of interest. Yle said in a press release that Jääskeläinen’s departure took effect immediately on Monday.

Image: Derrick Frilund / Yle

In a press release issued Monday afternoon, Yle announced that the company’s board, chief executive Lauri Kivinen and editor-in-chief Atte Jääskeläinen had agreed that Jääskeläinen would leave his job at the national broadcaster with immediate effect.

The release stated that Jääskeläinen "no longer had the prerequisite to successfully manage his role" as editor in chief and head of news and current affairs.

The board has named Svenska Yle director Marit af Björkesten as director and head of news and current affairs with effect from 1 June, while editor Riikka Venäläinen will temporarily hold the editor-in-chief position until the beginning of June.

The company said it will begin the search for Jääskeläinen’s successor immediately. The board discussed the matter on Monday and stressed that Yle’s journalism will continue to be based on the truthful, relevant and diverse communication of information.

"I believe that Yle's role in society is more important than my role in Yle. My aspiration to lead Yle's news and current affairs department in responsible journalism has come under suspicion. I hope that our decision helps restore a stable working environment," Jääskeläinen said on Monday.

Lead role in "Ylegate"

Jääskeläinen became the lead figure in a series of media reports about freedom of speech at the national broadcaster - dubbed "ylegate" - after claims that the editor-in-chief had bowed to political pressure when he muzzled reports on stories about potential conflicts of interest by Prime Minister Juha Sipilä late last year.

These claims were later backed by an independent investigator commissioned by the company to review the circumstances around the case.

In March, the self-regulating Council for Mass Media ruled that Prime Minister Juha Sipilä had curbed freedom of speech when he bombarded journalists with emails complaining about an Yle conflict-of-interest story. Subsequently Atte Jääskeläinen made the decision to scale back Yle's coverage of the story.

After journalists resigned over what many saw as censorship, Jääskeläinen refused to step down and Kivinen affirmed his support for the editor-in-chief.

The public broadcaster's management has since had to contend with added criticism for their initial response to the ruling. "The JSN interpretation does not correspond to our understanding of the editorial decisions," Kivinen said at the time.