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Report: Stories on immigration, Russia most often trigger harassment of Finnish journalists

Finnish journalists are increasingly subject to online harassment, especially if they cover immigration or Russian meddling, an international press group finds.

Sormet tietokoneen näppäimistöllä.
Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

News articles related to immigration, asylum seekers and Russian interference prompt the greatest number of online attacks on journalists, according to the International Press Institute's (IPI) analysis of harassment of journalists in Finland.

IPI is a Vienna-based global press organization which says it defends freedom of the media and the free flow of news. In June, the group visited Finland as part of its OnTheLine project, which aims to identify best newsroom practices for improved prevention of - and responses to - online harassment of journalists.

Over the course of five days, the IPI delegation organized focus groups and visited the newsrooms of several Finnish media outlets.

The resulting report used data from a survey on journalist harassment carried out by the Union of Journalists in Finland (UFJ) and the union magazine Journalisti in 2016.

Out of 1,400 respondents, one-sixth reported having received some form of threat as a result of their stories. Some 40 percent said the threats were related to articles that dealt with immigration and asylum.

The report says that online harassment of journalists covering immigration and asylum rose as the same time that numbers of asylum seekers arriving to Finland rose during 2015 and 2016.

It says that many of the online hate campaigns against reporters were aided by the fake news MV-lehti website. The site was founded by Ilja Janitskin who is awaiting a verdict in his trial on charges of ethnic agitation and defamation, related to his activities with the site.

The report also said that in some instances, those hate campaigns were also supported by far-right politicians.

"Almost all of the journalists IPI met during the visit reported that MV-lehti had played some part in their harassment cases," the report reads.

Female journalists bear brunt of abuse

The harassment of journalists in Finland was also determined to be very gender-biased.

"IPI also observed that online harassment in Finland has a gendered aspect. Although male and female journalists have been found to receive a similar number of attacks, the intensity and rawness of messages directed at female journalists is striking," the report states.

The report mentions that none of the journalists IPI interviewed said they had resorted to self-censorship in response to the often hurtful feedback, but most said they carefully measured their words when writing about “hot” topics to avoid potential threats and insults on social media.

"In extreme cases, journalists step away from covering certain topics for a short period of time," the report said.

The media outlets which IPI queried included: the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat and tabloid Iltalehti, national public broadcaster Yle, regional newspapers Maaseudun Tulevaisuus and Turun Sanomat, south-west paper Turkulainen, and the regional Swedish-language newspaper Åbo Underrättelser.

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