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Thursday's papers: Shirking responsibility, disinformation, no to meatless meatballs

Many morning papers delved into calls for an official plan to repatriate Finnish citizens from Syria.

Pouttu muu burger
A ban on packaging describing contents as vegetable-meat products is likely to be challenged in court. Image: Heini Holopainen / Yle

Both Yle and Helsingin Sanomat have reported on documents showing the existence of a draft plan to repatriate Finnish nationals who wanted to return to Finland from the al-Hol refugee camp in Syria.

The tabloid Ilta-Sanomat writes that a decision on such a plan is needed, but that no one wants to take responsibility. Leading government ministers have avoided questions about making a political decision, and the issue became further clouded on Wednesday.

This is the case now, notes Ilta-Sanomat, even though President Sauli Niinistö stated on Tuesday evening that the government should make a decision.

During the day Wednesday, Centre Party leader and finance minister Katri Kulmuni told this paper that she backed the president's call. Later during an interview with Yle, she denied any knowledge of a plan and stated that it is her party's position that the adult Finnish nationals in the al-Hol refugee camps should not be repatriated.

Kulmuni added that responsibility lies with Green League Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto.

Social Democratic Prime Minister Sanna Marin stated Wednesday that the issue of the repatriations had been discussed at informal government sessions and that Haavisto’s policy had the government’s "tacit approval".

But she as well denied any knowledge of an operational plan, dates or personnel who could be involved.

Also in an Yle interview, Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo, who chairs the Green League, stated that she could not comment on confidential matters that involve the safety of individuals.

Ilta-Sanomat writes that a 15-minute press conference by Foreign Minister Haavisto did not address many questions and did not clarify who is carrying responsibility in the affair and denied knowledge of a repatriation plan.

"If it were possible to carry out a concrete operation, I'd be the first to know. At present, there is no such thing," Pekka Haavisto told the media.

Disinformation frenzy

Helsinki’s Iltalehti reports that a long-planned crisis exercise organized by Finnish Customs and eight other public agencies at Helsinki Airport on Tuesday and Wednesday aroused a deluge of misinformation and disinformation on social media.

The exercise brought various response units together to practice dealing with a toxic biological threat at the nation's main airport.

Speculation, and then a flood of social media messages tagged the exercise as a cover-up for the arrival of a flight carrying Finnish nationals from the al-Hol refugee camp.

The director of communications at Finnish Customs, Mika Parkkonen, told the paper that there were thousands of postings claiming the exercise was a diversion.

"As a whole, this can certainly be called disinformation," said Parkkonen, who has been in his post since 2014. "Indeed, this is the largest campaign of disinformation Finnish Customs has been subjected to since I've been in the job. In fact, it's the first major case of disinformation."

"Finnish Customs is not directly involved in immigration or repatriation, but the discussion on social media linked Customs to those in what we think is an odd way," Parkkonen added

From strikes to lockouts

A three-day strike by around 100,000 employees in the industrial sector wrapped up on Wednesday, but now about 4,300 workers in the mechanical wood processing industry find themselves locked out, reports Helsingin Sanomat.

Companies, including UPM, Stora Enso, Metsä Group and Versowood, on Thursday began a lockout at more than 30 facilities, sawmills and board mills, around the country.

The employer's grouping Finnish Forest Industries is using the lockout to pressure union negotiators at the bargaining table. The dispute centres on efforts by the Industrial Union to eliminate extra working hours that were part of a 2016 pact aimed at improving Finland's competitive position in international markets.

Talks between the two sides are scheduled to resume on the 17th of this month. Finnish Forest Industries members estimate that the lockout will cost them a total of 5-10 million euros in losses a day.

Dutiful taxpayers

Kuopio's Savon Sanomat carries a STT news agency report of a survey showing that nearly all Finns are dutiful in paying their taxes on time, and in the words of the paper "paying with pride".

The survey of 1000 taxpayers, commissioned by the Finnish Tax Administration, found that 95 percent said that they pay their taxes on time.

Also, at 98 percent, they were all but unanimous in agreeing that taxation is important in maintaining a welfare state, while 96 percent see paying taxes as a civic responsibility.

The lowest positive response was to the question of whether or not people think they get full value for their taxes - 80 percent said they think that they do.

No, again, to meatless meatballs

The Pouttu food products company is heading to court in an effort to keep the meat in its meatless meatballs - at least on the packaging, that is.

The farmers' union daily Maaseudun Tulevaisuus reports that on Wednesday the environmental health board of Central Ostrobothnia rejected an appeal to change a decision banning Pouttu from selling prepared foods as "vegetable meatballs" and "vegetable hamburger patties"

The company claims that objections to using the terms on packaging and in marketing are no more than its competitors' opposition to its new products. Pouttu says that consumers are savvy enough to understand that packages also carrying the words "vegan" or "other ingredients" do not contain meat.

The board of health says that the law requires that information on food packaging must be accurate, clear, and easily understood. In its view "vegetable meatballs" don't make the grade.

The online edition of the news weekly Suomen Kuvalehti tells us that the complaint was filed thanks to machinations by Pouttu's rival food manufacturer Atria. Pouttu CEO Mikko Karell now plans to challenge the board's ruling in an administrative court.

Back in 2015, Finnish food giant Kesko renamed a meatball product containing only machine-recovered meat, essentially scraps, which are not defined as meat in Finnish law. The product was subsequently marketed on the company's website as "pyöryköitä" - or "balls" in English.

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