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Friday's papers: Help for Syria's wounded, Ex-Yle boss tells all, drug use, and charity giving

Friday's print press in Finland looks at the toothless response from EU leaders on Syria, Yle's hard line on pressing politicians, an alarming jump in drug use in mid-sized cities and record-breaking Christmas donations.

Pelastusarmeijan joulupata Kotkan Pasaatin seinustalla.
A Salvation Army kettle in Finland. Image: Yle / Raine Martikainen

The leading newspaper Helsingin Sanomat features an article on the EU ministerial summit, which wrapped up last night in Brussels. With Aleppo burning, the European leaders were under pressure to make a more substantial stand on the Syrian war.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested that the EU member states take on wounded Syrians fleeing the country to Turkey, and Finland’s Prime Minister Juha Sipilä, who sat next to her at the meeting, said that Finland would be prepared to do its part.

“Why not? Finland looks on the decision positively,” Sipilä said to the media. “This is the kind of concrete action that is needed right now.”

The civil war in Syria has continued for over five years and hundreds of thousands of people have died. The EU has largely watched from the sidelines as the US and Saudi Arabia supported the rebels and Russia and Iran provided assistance to the Syrian government, and the prolonged struggle has become more and more bitter, HS writes.

In their meeting conclusions, the EU leaders decided to “strongly condemn” the actions of Russia, Iran and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops in Aleppo. The statement also points out that the attacks on Aleppo’s citizens fulfil the definition of war crimes. The summit chairman, Donald Tusk, said the EU would exploit every diplomatic channel so humanitarian aid could reach the 50,000 people still trapped there.

The paper writes that the wording of this latest conclusion hardly differs from the EU’s previous statements on the war, leaving some to wonder whether the EU opinion has any weight in Syria any more.

Sipilä said late last night that the EU’s senior representative for foreign policy Federica Mogherini is working tirelessly via diplomatic channels to help the Syrian people.

Handling politicians with kid gloves

And the Yle tempest continues as the tabloid Ilta-Sanomat interviews Jussi Eronen, who resigned from his position as a current affairs news director for the public broadcaster on Wednesday. The paper asks him to shed more light on the stories that have been shelved at the request of Yle senior management.

He says that Atte Jääskeläinen, chief editor of the news team, was exceedingly careful with any news items that covered Finland’s Centre Party, for example, and lists a few such stories that were abandoned. Eronen said that the Finnish-language Yle reporters were given strict instructions, while the Swedish-language news team and the investigative journalism programme MOT were able to freely cover the issues. This led to confusion and contradictions, he said.

But Eronen’s interview reveals that he was more bothered by the work atmosphere at Yle than the actual censuring of some stories: “Hard-hitting journalism targeting politicians was frowned upon. This policy line came across both implicitly and explicitly.”

The paper reports that Eronen has been overwhelmed by the signs of support he has received from the public and his former colleagues. He says the message from everyone has been the same: Thanks Jussi, for showing some backbone and flying the freedom of speech flag high.

Ecstasy use up in the east

Savon Sanomat, a newspaper out of Kuopio, runs a follow-up story to a November feature about drug crimes being on the rise in the east. Now analysis of wastewater in the area has confirmed that the use of the drug ecstasy in particular has grown alarmingly in every mid-sized urban area of the country.

The paper reports that a THL wastewater analysis released this week indicates that ecstasy use has doubled or tripled in the cities of Kuopio, Jyväskylä, Joensuu, Tampere and Vaasa in the two years since the last analysis.

The city with the largest ecstasy increase was Savonlinna, where in a better development, the use of the stimulants amphetamines and methamphetamines was down.

Analysis of the faeces and urine in wastewater does not reveal the number of drug users, only changes in overall drug use levels. The technique cannot detect cannabis use, as the content cannot be isolated from the organic waste. The increasingly popular opioid Subutex is also impossible to measure, as it mixes with legal drug residue. 

The latest analysis shows the cities with the most drug use in Finland are Helsinki and Espoo, where the use of cocaine and ecstasy are on the rise. In terms of methamphetamine use, the biggest spike was recorded in Jyväskylä and Kuopio wastewater, putting them just behind Finland’s two largest cities.

Data on drug use in Finland is culled from the European-wide EMCDDA report, which takes care to note that despite the growth, “problem alcohol use is a much greater problem in Finland than illicit drug use.”

Holiday charities expect to raise record amounts

And to end on a bit of good news, the Vaasa-based paper Pohjalainen has a story on charity donations in Finland, which are expected to reach record levels this Christmas season. The annual Christmas Spirit (Hyvä Joulumieli) campaign has set a 2.1-million-euro goal, an all-time high, and expects to reach it. The campaign is run by the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare and the Finnish Red Cross, together with the assistance of the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle.

The Finnish Red Cross’s Regina Laurén says company gifts average 1,000 euros these days, with over 400 businesses donating 1,500 euros last year. If the goal is met, the campaign will be able to distribute 30,000 gift vouchers to needy families with children who are, for instance, having a hard time due to unemployment, illness, debt, low income or some other kind of crisis. One voucher is worth 70 euros, and has no negative effect on other possible forms of assistance.

Finland’s Salvation Army will also start its 110th Christmas kettle appeal in the next few days. The organisation has added the possibility to donate online to its traditional on-the-street kettle fundraising. A few years ago, the Salvation Army launched an online option allowing anyone to set up their own kettle and collect donations for charity, the paper reports.

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