Prime Minister Juha Sipilä held a press conference on Wednesday afternoon to address accusations that he tried to pressure public broadcaster Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle) over its coverage of news that a company owned by his relatives landed a plum contract from state-owned mining firm Terrafame, which took over the failed Talvivaara.
The PM was due to speak to reporters at 2:05 pm on the sidelines of Parliamentary question time on the government's climate and energy policy, but appeared about 15 minutes later.
"Confidence in Yle quite OK"
Sipilä denied that he tried to influence Yle's news coverage. He said that he had not been given enough time to comment on the Terrafame story.
"I wanted to intervene regarding the issue that I was not given a fair chance to comment on the story. There was not the slightest intention at any stage to limit the freedom of the press or to influence what Yle says or does not say," Sipilä said.
In an email sent to an Yle reporter late Friday evening, Sipilä said that his confidence in Yle was "zero". On Wednesday he said that "my confidence in Yle is quite ok".
On Wednesday morning the newsmagazine Suomen Kuvalehti reported that Sipilä sent dozens of emails to an Yle journalist responsible for last week's scoop that the former Talvivaara mine spent 500,000 euros on an order from Katera Steel, which was founded by his grandfather and is now owned by his children and uncles. Sipilä himself worked for the firm as a youngster.
The company signed the deal soon after the Sipilä government approved an extra 100 million euros in state support for the mining company.
Yle director calls for perspective
SK claims that Yle managers shelved follow-up stories over the weekend following Sipilä's intervention, and then this week asked discussion programmes not to focus on Sipilä's difficulties. One presenter was, according to SK, given a written warning after planning a programme with Sipilä-related content--but that warning was later rescinded.
Atte Jääskeläinen, Yle's head of news and current affairs, issued a statement noting that the Sipilä story led Yle's news agenda across all platforms for four days, and that by Monday it was time to put the matter in its proper perspective, suggesting that Yle had already covered the story more than other news outlets.
Yle decided that stories on whether Sipilä should have recused himself should wait until after the Chancellor of Justice rules on the case, as legal experts would then have more information to form an opinion, writes Jääskeläinen.
The PM's emails did not play a part in Yle's decision-making, writes Jääskeläinen, and the story will be followed to its conclusion.
SDP leader Antti Rinne has said that Sipilä should publish the emails he sent to the Yle journalist, and explain his actions to the country.
Late Wednesday evening Yle published a summary and excerpts of the emails between the prime minister and an Yle reporter on Friday.
Yle asked the PM to comment for the story around noon, but about two hours passed without reply so Yle published the story shortly after 2 pm. About an hour after that, Sipilä began sending a series of some 20 emails that went on until after 11 pm. The last one included the following comment: "My respect for Yle is now exactly zero, which of course does not differ from yours for me. So now we're even."
The 3:05 pm Yle News TV1 broadcast was pre-empted on Wednesday by Parliamentary question time on the government's climate and energy policy.