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Lutheran Bishops propose national action plan to tackle hate speech

Report urges sweeping legislative changes as current measures are deemed unsatisfactory.

musliminaisia kadulla
Incidents of hate speech against minority groups have been on the rise in Finland. Photo: AOP Image: AOP

Efforts to eradicate hate speech from Finnish society have been fragmented and poorly coordinated , according to a report commissioned by the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Education and Culture.

The report, entitled "Words are deeds" (Sanat ovat tekoja), was compiled by a working group of Lutheran bishops and makes a number of recommendations on how Finland can take effective action against hate speech.

Arkkipiispa Kari Mäkinen.
Archbishop of Turku Kari Mäkinen led the research working group. Image: Kalle Mäkelä / Yle

The report's first, and main, recommendation is for the establishment of an anti-hate speech Action Plan. Archbishop Kari Mäkinen, the spokesperson for the group, described hate speech as a problem that not only affects the direct victims, but society as a whole - and is therefore the responsibility of all of society to tackle it.

"Hate speech is a symptom. We need to find the background to the social issues that are causing it", Mäkinen said. The group has also recommended the establishment of a centre of excellence for investigating hate speech.

Freedom of speech does not justify hate speech

Incidents of abusive or threatening speech or writing against minority groups, otherwise known as hate speech, have been on the rise in Finland in recent years. Last November, Finnish police reported an 8% year-on-year increase in the number of crimes motivated by discrimination and ethnic hatred.

Finland also compared very poorly in this area to other western European countries in a 2018 report by the EU's Agency for Fundamental Rights, which found perceived racial discrimination, harassment speech and gestures to be most prevalent in Finland.

The issue of freedom of speech often arises when hate speech is discussed, and the group researched this area too. Mäkinen emphasised that while freedom of expression is an inalienable right, it does not entitle anyone to insult or denigrate another person or group.

"In society, people have freedom of movement, but that does not mean that they do not need to comply with traffic rules", Mäkinen said.

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