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PM Juha Sipilä blames media for Centre Party’s sliding voter support

Centre Party chair and Prime Minister Juha Sipilä has blamed his portrayal in local media for the party’s current low voter support of just under 16 percent. The PM took aim at the Finnish media at a party cruise during which participants discussed relations with members of the local press.

Pääministeri Juha Sipilä puhumassa Keskustan Helsingistä Tallinnaan ja takaisin suuntautuvalla presidentti- ja maakuntaristeilyllä 15. lokakuuta
PM Juha Sipilä addresses attendees at a Centre Party cruise from Helsinki to Tallinn on Sunday. Image: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva

Prime Minister Juha Sipilä found himself on a collision course with Finnish media during a party cruise last weekend, where participants raised the question of the Centre Party’s relations with the press.

Party representatives asked what could be done to prevent what was perceived as continuous attacks on the Centre by Finnish media.

Sipilä responded by saying that he personally had bad experiences getting journalists to correct factual information.

"It is the world’s most sensitive profession, it’s not worth asking them to make corrections," Sipilä declared.

Sipilä: Media portrayals affecting party

During the open discussion, the name of Iltalehti journalist Tommi Parkkonen was mentioned. Sipilä later noted that Parkkonen did not correct a clear factual error when asked to do so.

He also said that media portrayals of his personality had affected the party’s voter approval ratings, which stood at just shy of 16 percent, according to Yle's latest political barometer published in early October.

"If a party chair has suddenly become greedy and self-interested and does nothing in this job but favour his relatives, then of course that will affect the entire party," the PM told Yle during a previous interview.

Sipilä called on party faithful to discuss the situation.

"Can a chairperson with this kind of image lead this party after next summer’s party convention? That is now up to you to discuss during the winter ahead. Otherwise I won’t hang around by force, this job is too tough for that," he commented.

Journalist asks for clarification

Following Sipilä’s outburst, Iltalehti journalist Parkkonen requested the floor and called on the PM to clarify his comments about factual errors that had not been corrected.

"If I’m accused of something before such a large crowd, then I’d like to hear what I’m accused of," Parkkonen added.

Sipilä responded by saying that he would continue the discussion after the event.

Parkkonen later told the Finnish news agency STT that he had discussed the matter with the Prime Minister, who had referred to two instances where factual errors had not been addressed.

The journalist said that in one instance, a correction had already been made, while in the other, the contested claim had been written in an opinion piece. In the latter case, Parkkonen had not received Sipilä’s request for a rectification.

PM: No drama in media relations talk

The Prime Minister denied that the discussion about the party’s relations with the media involved any drama.

He said that the advertised headline in question implied that he had lied, something he said was untrue. He noted that the headline did not correspond with the substance of the story. He said that despite his request, the headline had not been corrected.

"When we speak about perception, if such a headline is visible at a petrol station, [where it asks] why the prime minister doesn’t speak the truth, then of course if the story behind it does not justify it [the headline], then one should have the right to a correction. But in this case, for example, the [request for] correction was not accepted," Sipilä continued.

The Prime Minister also commented on his discussions with Parkkonen.

"He said that for his part there was no issue. The headline claimed that I’d lied but that was not the case and Parkkonen admitted that it [the headline] did not correspond with the contents of the story," he told STT.

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