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Thursday's papers: A free and independent Yle, graduate test results and imminent summer weather

Thursday's newspapers in Finland respond to a Wednesday night talk show discussing "Ylegate", and talk about graduation exams and the weather.

A-teeman vieraat studiossa
Yle's A-teema 17 May 2017 Image: Pekka Suvinen / Yle

The newspapers all have something to say this Thursday about last night's panel discussion that aired on Yle's channel one. It asked the question: is the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle an independent media house? The talk show covered the Terrafame conflict-of-interest story that raised the ire of Prime Minister Juha Sipilä and discussed chief news editor Atte Jääskeläinen's controversial decision to pull graphics and follow-up stories in response to the premier's feedback.

Two of the three Yle reporters who wrote the abandoned stories and later resigned in protest, Jussi Eronen and Jarno Liski, appeared on the programme, along with Jääskeläinen and other Yle representatives, two politicians and various members of the media.

The Yle news director was in the hot seat, as most of the other panel members pressed him on why he stifled the reporting. Jääskeläinen stuck by his explanation, saying that his rationale was founded on journalistic principles and not pressure from the prime minister.

Tabloid Ilta-Sanomat reports that Jääskeläinen admitted that he and Eronen hadn't seen eye-to-eye for several months before the "Ylegate" incident took place and that the Yle audience expects reporting based on facts from the public broadcaster.

Eronen replied heatedly that he had been responsible for a team of 15 very competent reporters at Yle, and was "insulted by the accusation that the facts in the edited and shelved stories would have been questionable".

Critical feedback

Finland's second major tabloid Iltalehti covered Jääskeläinen's promises on the live broadcast to take the resulting criticism of his actions seriously.

"If (Yle's) board is of the opinion that I'm not up to the task, then I will leave without delay. But I won't resign just to make it easier on myself," the Yle boss told the panel. "Everyone understands that it would have been a much easier option for me to leave Yle long ago."

Helsinki University Administrative Law Professor Olli Mäenpää, author of an independent report on the scandal released on Monday said that Yle employees provided him with "critical or very critical" feedback on news and current affairs management at the broadcaster, IL reports.

Politician's problems with a free press

And the country's leading daily Helsingin Sanomat features an editorial from Jaakko Lyytinen titled "How Sipilä put Yle's house 'in order'". Lyytinen writes that Prime Minister Sipilä has made it clear that he has a mission to get Finland back on track and his zeal has extended to everything under the auspices of the state, including Yle.

He quotes a recently-published exposé about Yle, Ylegate, written by ex-employees Jussi Eronen and Salla Vuorikoski along with Jarno Liski, that retraces Sipilä's antagonistic relationship with Yle back to 2013, when the broadcaster first aired a critical story about a Solitra plant Sipilä owned during the 1990s. Shortly afterwards, Sipilä wrote his first blog making a case for cutting Yle's funding.

Lyytinen says that most politicians in the current government share the premier's frustration with Yle. He pointed to reporting on the 'lumber pile' scandal involving ex-PM Matti Vanhanen from 2009, which he says is still not forgotten among other Centre Party members. He adds that the centre-right National Coalition Party is resentful about Yle's public funding, and the populist Finns Party holds a grudge about how they feel Yle has represented them badly.

He says interviews he has conducted in the parliament building indicate that many MPs are no longer able to differentiate between Yle's public mandate and its journalistic policies. He quotes one politician as saying, "Many of my colleagues say 'take the money away', after Yle publishes a sh** story."

Refresher course on journalism

Lyytinen continues by saying that Yle has indeed demonstrated that its journalistic backbone can bend. More important, he says, is the apparent inability of "smaller wielders of power" to accept the significance of an independent media as a central pillar of democracy and a transparent society.

Olli Mäenpää's report calls for extensive efforts both inside and outside Yle to safeguard a free and independent media, he says, and agrees that the expert's recommendation to make all attempts by politicians to interfere public in the future would be a good first step in this direction. 

But the HS editor has one more suggestion: Make the MPs who decide on Yle matters attend a course in the basic principles of journalism.

Spring graduates

In other news, Etelä-Suomen Sanomat from southern Finland reports that the official results of the nationwide matriculation exams will be published today. Over 40,000 upper secondary school students are expected to graduate this spring, and a full list of the successful new white-cap holders will be published on the Matriculation Examination Board's website on May 29.

Here comes the sun

And finally back to the tabloid Ilta-Sanomat that says that while today will still be cloudy, meteorologists predict a glorious Friday with clear skies and warm summery temperatures. Friday's forecast predicts over 20 degrees Celsius in the south, with a chance of a rain front moving over the central part of the country and Lapland during the day. Temperatures tomorrow in Lapland will be between 5 and 10 degrees.

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