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Media groups slam tax officials over Panama Papers pressure

Media organisations have criticised Finnish tax officials for attempting to make national broadcaster Yle hand over material from the Panama Papers data leak. The media watchdog the Council for Mass Media in Finland said that the demands are ironic given Finland’s status as a world leader in press freedom.

Mossack Fonseca.
Image: Jakob Gruber / AOP

Two journalists' associations are calling on tax officials to stop pressuring national broadcaster Yle to hand over any documents it may have implicating Finnish companies or individuals in the large-scale Panama Papers data leak.

The Association for Investigative Journalism and the Court Reporters' Association both said that Yle has a right to protect its sources and noted that it is a central aspect of freedom of speech as enshrined in the constitution.

The associations are calling on tax officials to abandon plans to conduct a raid if necessary to acquire the material. They pointed out that coercive measures against journalists could lead to a situation in which Finnish media would no longer receive similar leaked documents.

The journalist groups have pointed out that according to the law, aggravated tax fraud is not a sufficiently weighty reason to abandon the principle of confidentiality of journalistic sources. As such, they said that searches conducted on Yle’s premises or journalists’ homes would be unlawful.

Council for Mass Media: Finland supposedly a leader in press freedom

The Council for Mass Media has also criticised Finnish tax officials for demanding that Yle hand over the leaked material.

Council chair Elina Grundström noted that Finland is the only country that is pushing for such a handover. She added that Finland has been hailed as a world leader in press freedom and pointed out that Finland will collaborate with UNESCO to lead World Press Freedom Day celebrations in Helsinki this week.

"Now we aren’t really celebrating press freedom, but rather pondering a mind-boggling situation," Grundström said Monday on Yle’s Aamu-tv.

However some media professionals believe that Yle should cooperate with tax officials. Editor-in-chief of the regional daily Keskisuomalainen Pekka Mervola told Aamu-tv that Yle should hand over whatever material it has – with certain reservations.

"The way I see it, source confidentiality and the material itself should be separated. The question is whether or not all of the material would disclose information about the person(s) behind the leak," Mervola said on Aamu-tv.

Helsingin Sanomat journalist Susanna Reinboth stood by Yle’s decision not to hand over the contested material. She said that the demand stemmed from the tax officials’ desire to appear to be taking action: the actual grounds for breaching source confidentiality would be quite weak in court.

"The demand would have no chance of succeeding in a court of law. I am sure that the tax officials are also aware of this," Reinboth said.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has said that it will publicise part of the Panama Papers files on May 9.

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