Media leaders: Police search of journalist's home a "radical development"

Yle's editor-in-chief for news and current affairs says Sunday's police search of the home of a Helsingin Sanomat reporter is cause for concern.

Yle's Riikka Venäläinen and Kauppalehti's Arno Ahosniemi on YLE TV1 Monday morning. Image: Yle

Police on Sunday evening carried out a search of the home of Laura Halminen, a journalist involved in creating a report published by Helsingin Sanomat about the Defence Forces' Intelligence Research Centre. That article included information from decade-old classified documents. During the search, police seized cell phones, computers and thumb drives.

Finland's National Bureau of Investigation has begun looking into the matter as a breach of security secrets. Both the source of the leak and the newspaper itself are being investigated.

Reason for concern

Interviewed by Yle's morning TV show on Monday, the editor-in-chief of the business daily Kauppalehti, chair of Finland's Association of Editors-in-Chief, Arno Ahosniemi said that both the search and the specified criminal offense being investigated are exceptionally unusual.

"I don't remember that there would have been this kind of case in Finland before," he stated. Ahosniemi added that he does not see how the nation's security was endangered by the Helsingin Sanomat article. He did, however, concede that it is understandable that state leaders, up to and including the President, have reacted to the publication of classified information.

Yle's editor-in-chief for news and current affairs, Riikka Venäläinen, described the search of Halminen's home as a radical development the "we are not used to seeing in western societies".

"There is reason to be concerned," she added. 

Any debate about military intelligence and freedom of the press also has to include an examination of media practice.

"Whenever something like this is published, it has to be very carefully considered what publication will achieve. Is this something that the public needs to know? That is, of course, what is at issue here," said Venäläinen.

Looking in the mirror

Late Sunday, the editor-in-chief of Helsingin Sanomat, Kaius Niemi, published an open letter to the paper's readers saying that the rationale for publication of the report should have been made clearer to its audience.

"If the justification for a piece of news and its publication is so hotly debated afterwards, it is clear to the editorial staff that there is [good] reason to take a look in the mirror," wrote Niemi.

The editor also said that the board of his paper's parent company Sanoma had asked him for an explanation of the editorial processes underpinning the story. He did claim, however, that editorial decisions would be made by editorial staff alone.