Finland has ranked second place in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), but the NGO warned that Finnish media is increasingly under threat by online hate speech.
This was especially the case on social media platforms, which "amplify disinformation", RSF's summary on Finland found.
"Without taking appropriate, responsible measures, they [social media platforms] tolerate users who pursue and target journalists with hate speech. Many of their users share false information and conspiracy theories, and attack the traditional media with the aim of discrediting them in the eyes of the general public," it said.
The report revealed that violence against journalists has increased during the coronavirus pandemic on a global scale. RSF also noted that although freedom of expression in Europe is still the best in the world, the spread of misinformation and its negative consequences for journalists have increased alarmingly.
"Alarm bells" should be heeded
The index divides countries into five groups based on qualitative factors such as media independence, self-censorship and legislative framework as well as quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists. This year, only 12 of the 180 countries surveyed, or 7 percent, were found by RSF to offer a "favourable environment for journalism".
This is the lowest number of countries in the top tier of press freedom since 2013, when the current evaluation model was first used.
Germany was one of the countries to drop down in ranking, due to attacks on journalists "by supporters of extremist and conspiracy theory believers" during protests against coronavirus restrictions.
RSF further noted that, in addition to Germany, serious problems have also been evident in Greece, Italy and France.
"Alarm bells should now resonate in the EU," chair of the RSF Finland branch Jarmo Mäkelä wrote in a press release. "Misleading information is increasingly believed in EU countries, and in addition, countries such as Hungary and Poland have directly used the pandemic to tighten their grip on the media."
Mäkelä added that "even in Finland, journalists are not safe" even though the Nordic nation placed near the top of the rankings.
Press freedom has been the subject of much debate in Finland over recent months, in particular following the resignation of Terhi Pirilä-Porvari as editor of regional newspaper Ilmajoki last summer. At the time, Pirilä-Porvari cited the newspaper board's attempts to influence editorial policy as the reason for her resignation.
The case of journalist Johanna Vehkoo, convicted of defamation for calling an Oulu city councillor a "racist" and "Nazi clown, has also sparked discussion. Vehkoo has since been granted leave to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.