Self censorship in Finnish media

Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 5:09 | Posted in censorship, Finland, Media | 3 Comments

Yesterday, on Finland’s Independence Day, the traditional military parade took place in the town of Jyväskylä. A number of World War II veterans were invited as quests of honor as usual. All of a sudden an 87 year old decorated veteran committed a suicide by throwing himself in front of a tank which was passing the tribune.

As if this was not sad enough, I learned the truth about this tragic incident through foreign media. Finlands biggest daily as well as the national broadcaster buried the incident in lengthy coverage of the festivities writing just a couple of sentences about it. They did not mention it was a suicide. If somebody payed attention at all, they would have gotten the impression that this was some sort of a traffic accident. The old man would have been hit by a tank like one gets accidentally hit by a car in a street. The incident was covered the same way in TV news.

I would like to say that this sort of news coverage is unprecedented but unfortunately I can’t. This is another example of the all too familiar self censorship in the Finnish media. It took place all the time during the Soviet era. It does not happen very often at present but it feels as painful every time as it did back then.

The only paper where I have so far seen a proper article about the suicide is the Swedish language daily Hufvudstadsbladet. They even point out that the official version of the police is essentially different from a number of eye witness descriptions. The Swedish language media used to be more upright during the Soviet time, too, probably because they realized that the unpleasent truth would have leaked in through media in Sweden anyway.

If this had just been an action by an old man tired of life, he would have been likely to kill himself in his own bedroom or at his kitchen table. The fact that he chose to do it as a quest of honor in the Independence Day parade strongly suggests that he had a message and wanted to be heard. Maybe he wanted to say that something is profoundly wrong in Finland?

We do not know what prompted the old veteran to this desperate way of action. The absense of media interest makes me feel like the media was killing him another time, thus making him more dead than he is. His last wish must have been to get his message through and now the media are denying him that.

I would be surprised if the 87 year old man had posted his reasons into a blog hosted in a foreign based server. There would probably not have been much point in posting his thoughts in a Finnish server. That would no doubt have been censored away “in the interest of the investigation” just as the German police blocked the German based web sites of the 18 year old Bastian Bosse.His LiveJournal site is still available, as well as some of his articles collected by bloggers from web buffers. His suicide letter has been published in a number of blogs.

In late October Reporters Without Borders issued their World wide press freedom index with Finland on top of it. As I pointed out back then in my Finnish blog, it would have been odd if the experts of Reporters Without Borders had heard about press being censored in Finland. Who would have told them? The journalists themselves who act under an obligation of self censorship? Not likely.

3 Comments »

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  1. Press freedom index clearly favours small countries. I think it’s absurd that Finland is in the top of that list after what happened during the Muhammad-cartoons and Kaltio and the Suomen Sisu investigation.

  2. I think that self censorship concerning suicide has something to do with Copycat suicide.

  3. Kai, some people have suggested the same. Officially there have not been suicide incidents in the Helsinki Underground although I have witnessed one with my own eyes and have knowledge of several. It is impossible to hide something which happens in a public place. The information comes out anyway. It would be better to come out with the correct info promptly rather than leave room for speculations and conflicting versions.

    In general this approach is in the genuine Soviet style. As the officials do not know what to do, they do nothing. It is just that a problem will not go away if you pretend it does not exist.


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