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Tuesday's papers: Intelligence gathering, mental health, pricy pandas, rules and more rules

Changes in intelligence gathering laws, a sharp rise in demand for mental health services for teens, financial arrangements for luxury panda accommodations, and quirky alcohol sales regulations are among the items in the morning's newspaper press.

Daily newspapers.
Image: E.D.Hawkins / Yle

Parliament on Tuesday is debating provisions of controversial intelligence law reforms that would give wide-ranging expanded powers to the security services.

The daily Helsingin Sanomat reports that if the government's draft bill is passed as such, it will give license to foreign intelligence agencies to carry out covert operations and intelligence gathering in Finland.

The paper mentions a few of the organizations, the CIA, MI6 and Sweden's MUST that would be allowed to legally operate within Finland's borders, pointing out however, that these operations would be possible only to assist and with the sanction of either Finland's Security Intelligence Police Supo, or the national Defense Forces.

At present, the situation is murky, because neither Supo nor the Defense Forces have the right to gather intelligence domestically unless there is suspicion of criminal activity. Similarly, current law bans operations by foreign intelligence agencies on Finnish soil.

Helsingin Sanomat points out that if passed, the new legislation will contain safeguards. Foreign operatives will have to abide by Finnish law and work "on the responsibility, authority and under the directions of" Finland's Security Intelligence Police. The same role is assigned to the Defense Forces in cases of military intelligence gathering.

Teen mental health care needs

The Oulu-based Kaleva today present figures showing a sharp upswing all around the country in the number of 13-17 year-olds receiving specialized psychiatric care.

It reports that in the Uusimaa region in the south, nearly one-in-ten teenagers received psychiatric care services in 2017. Other areas report demand for these services shooting up over the past two years by close to 40% in some regions.

Kaleva quotes Tampere University Hospital senior physician Riittakerttu Kaltiala-Heino describing the situation as "alarming and acute".

Lacking research data, psychiatrists are baffled by the sudden upswing, although Kaltiala-Heino told the paper that she believes one reason is clearly an increase in the number of families with serious financial problems.

A new method of dealing with teens suffering from depression in schools was piloted in in the city of Espoo last year. More than 60 middle school employees were trained to provide practical, short-term therapy to teens. The method was found to be highly effective and the results described as "surprisingly positive".

Panda headache

The arrival of two giant pandas from China who have taken up residence at the Ähtäri Zoo in Southern Ostrobothnia has create a stir some have described as "panda fever". It's also caused something a headache now for the local city council.

The tabloid Iltalehti is among the papers which report that Supreme Administrative Court on Monday ruled that the Ähtäri city council was in violation of the law when it granted an 8.2 million euro unsecured credit guarantee to the zoo to build the centre now housing the pandas "Lumi" and "Pyry".

Local government legislation says that municipalities cannot provide loans, guarantees or securities to high risk ventures. The court ruled that the zoo's panda project carries a significant financial risk.

The City of Ähtäri has a majority holding in the zoo and lower court had ruled that as tourism and the zoo's operations are of significant importance to the city, the financial arrangement was business as usual. Monday's decision by the Supreme Administrative Court was much in the way of a symbolic slap on the wrist. Since the council's decision was made, the zoo has provided the city security for its loan guarantees.

Rules, rules and regulations

At the beginning of last year Finland's state alcohol Alko began demanding proof of age at retail shops from anyone who looks under the age of 30. Other retailers have had the same rule for alcohol and tobacco sales for a number of years.

Ilta-Sanomat writes that few people know, however, that Alko also requires proof of age for the purchase of most non-alcoholic products.

It relates the tale of Dr Johanna Vuorelma who went to an Alko shop recently to buy some non-alcoholic champagne and was asked to show an ID before being allowed to pay for her purchase.

After checking with Alko, the paper reports that its regulations ban the sale of not only alcoholic drinks, but also low-content and alcohol-free beers and wines to anyone under the age of 18.

Under 18 year-olds can enter Alko shops alone and purchase sodas and accessories, and are allowed to enter shops to return bottles. Buying gift cards, though, also requires that anyone who looks less than 30 years old presents an official form of identification, as well.

Slippin’ and slidin’

And finally, Helsingin Sanomat reports on the difficulties tourists have in ascending the steps to Helsinki's Uspenski Orthodox cathedral.

Unlike most pedestrian routes in the capital, the steps nearest to the city centre are not maintained during the winter months—and so they rapidly turn into an icy slope.

HS sent a camera to film the tumbling tourists, and set the resulting footage to a jaunty soundtrack.

They also asked the municipality of Helsinki about the steps: an official replied "it's such a shame".

Indeed it is. The city promised the investigate and try to ensure that "the answer isn't always that we don't have money".

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