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Yle denies claims of Defence Forces influence over journalists

Presenting perception as fact is very damaging to responsible journalism, says Yle editor-in-chief Jouko Jokinen.

Jouko Jokinen
Jouko Jokinen Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

Yle head of news and current affairs Jouko Jokinen has rejected claims that the Defence Forces have influenced the organisation's news reporting.

Jokinen was responding to debate that arose over assertions made in a book by a senior crime reporter, Päivi Happonen, who said that she felt the Defence Forces attempted to influence her reporting on secret guidelines on hiring Finnish-Russian dual citizens in the service.

Media coverage of the book seemed to suggest that apart from Happonen, the Force had influenced another Yle journalist during Happonen's reporting on the secret directive.

In a review of "Front page crimes", a collection of chapters by crime reporters gathered by their professional association, Helsingin Sanomat suggested that an Yle reporter had been used as part of a campaign by the Defence Forces to influence Yle's reporting, a claim that Yle said it had previously denied.

In an article published on Tuesday, Helsingin Sanomat said that Happenon had been interviewed for background before the review was published, and even read the review before publication.

According to Jokinen, Yle has also communicated its position directly to Helsingin Sanomat, but the paper refused to retract its reporting.

"The claim is serious and wrong. Yle categorically denies that has been any reporter controlled by the Defence Forces working in the department," he said in a statement on Wednesday.

The editor-in-chief said that presenting perception as fact is extremely damaging from the perspective of responsible journalism.

Newspaper review raises questions

On Tuesday HS wrote that in her book, Happonen recounted receiving a phone call from the Defence Forces, in which she was asked "How long Yle planned to go on with this." The paper said she wrote that she got the impression that an attempt was being made to scare her into doubting the veracity of her reporting.

Happonen's impression was reportedly further compounded by the fact that unbeknownst to her, another colleague had been assigned to get a response from the defence forces for a follow-up story. The other journalist sent the results of her work to Happonen via email and phoned the duty editor to point out aspects of Happonen's story that conflicted with her information, and ask that the story not run in television broadcasts that evening.

On Monday, Happonen took to Twitter to issue an apology for opening up internal editorial procedures in the book, which social media users apparently interpreted as attempt to backtrack on her claims of feeling pressured during her reporting.

"In hindsight, opening up internal matters in the book was a mistake. I am sincerely sorry for any consternation caused by what I wrote," she tweeted.

However she also tweeted that she stands by the assertions in the book that she felt pressured. Riikka Venäläinen, interim editor-in-chief at the time of Happonen's reporting on the Defence Forces, told the weekly Suomen Kuvalehti that there had been a lapse in internal communications, which led to Happonen not being aware of her colleague's assignment and caused her to express confusion over her colleague's actions in the book.

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