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Russian state media aims for radio station in Helsinki – already discussing license

The Voice of Russia, the Russian government’s international radio broadcasting service, is looking into securing a broadcast license in Helsinki. However there are no free radio long-term FM broadcasting frequencies available and Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja says he’s not open to granting a license to a foreign state body. Apart from Helsinki the Voice of Russia would like to set up shop in several other western countries.

Kremlin Spasskayan torni.
Russia’s government-backed international broadcasting operations are branded as the Voice of Russia. Image: Yuri Kadobnov / EPA

The Russian state-owned international radio broadcasting service has big plans to expand the global reach of its news and radio operations. According to information obtained by Yle, the broadcaster’s initial international targets are Washington, London, Berlin and Helsinki.

Operations in Washington and London would be largest, but investments in operations in Helsinki would also be considerable. According to Yle’s information the goal would be to hire some 25 employees including journalists and other employees in Finland to produce Finnish language news from the Kremlin’s perspective.

Currently Russian government radio broadcasts targeting international audiences operate under the Voice of Russia brand. In December last year the Voice of Russia was merged with RIA Novosti to form the state-owned news agency Russia Today, which is financed by the government. No decision has yet been made on the name of the organisation planned for Finland.

Because Russia Today has been used to promote the views of the Russian leadership on issues such as the situation in Ukraine, it’s considered in the West to be a propaganda vehicle for the Kremlin.

Search on for office space in Helsinki

According to information obtained by Yle the Russian broadcaster has secured the services of a consultant to find a suitable location in central Helsinki.

The goal of the media organisation is to offer a Russian perspective on news and current events as well as to showcase Russia and its culture. China has also rolled out a similar concept in Finland, with programmes presented on commercial FM radio stations as well as via a medium wave transmitter in Pori.

No available long-term FM frequencies in Helsinki

According to Yle’s sources the Russian media company and its foreign consultant will be discussing the matter of a broadcast license with Finland’s Transport and Communications Ministry at the end of this week.

The company has already been told that Helsinki’s radio waves are already overcrowded. No permanent FM radio licenses will be granted in Helsinki but the cabinet is expected to open up bids for new frequencies elsewhere in Finland later in August.

If the goal is to set up its own radio station in Helsinki, one option would be to secure a temporary short-term FM license with very low transmission power (at most 50 watts) or a broadcast permit for medium- to long-wave or AM transmissions, which would not reach Finnish audiences.

The Russian media company is also looking to identify opportunities to cooperate with Finnish radio broadcasters to air its programmes on existing Finnish radio stations.

Online programmes also in the works

Whatever happens, the Russians will share Finnish-language news content online – and no license is required for that channel.

The broadcaster could wait a long time for its own frequency. In Helsinki radio station licenses have been granted up to the year 2019, said senior adviser Sini Wirén of the Transport and Communications Ministry.

Additionally, there have traditionally been more applicants than free frequencies in Helsinki, so even after that time a new Russian-owned radio station wouldn’t be a shoo-in. The cabinet has the final say on licenses and it evaluates applicants on criteria such as the promotion of free speech as well as offering diverse perspectives in communications.

Tuomioja: No licenses for foreign state actors

Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said matters relating to broadcast licenses are the province of the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

“I can say however that for my part I don’t see that a Finnish radio and television license would be granted to any foreign government body,” he told Yle.

Representatives of the Russia Today media company in Moscow did not want to comment on the proposed plans.

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