The media are free in Finland, where the world’s first law prohibiting censorship was passed in 1766, when Finland was under Swedish rule. However, state secrecy lawsuits against Finland's leading newspaper have created a climate of uncertainty in the profession.
A small population with a distinct dominant language, Finnish, sustains a relatively small market and a fairly concentrated media system. But the news media are diverse, with a strong public broadcaster (Yle) that has almost half of both TV and radio audiences, some privately owned domestic broadcasters, an increasing number of online news outlets, and many regional and local newspapers. Media content in the Swedish and Sámi language minorities is also available.
Most media outlets are totally independent of political parties and politicians. The only exception is the Finnish national broadcaster Yle, which is owned by the parliament. However, politicians play no role in appointing or dismissing its journalists. Attempts by politicians to influence media content are rare and not tolerated.
Press freedom enjoys strong constitutional guarantees in the country where the world’s first censorship ban was adopted under Swedish rule in 1766. Limited legal sanctions can be ordered by courts in cases of defamation, extreme hate speech or high treason. The confidentiality of sources is protected by law and can be suspended only by courts under limited conditions. But the January 2023 conviction of two reporters with the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper on charges of revealing state secrets had a chilling effect on journalists covering national security issues.
The media are mostly privately owned and the number of media outlets relative to population size is one of highest in the world. Social media are undermining the business model of the mainstream media with the result that media ownership, which is not specifically regulated, is increasingly concentrated. The authorities are not allowed to favour any particular media. No case of corruption of a journalist or editor has been reported.
Despite relative gender parity in society, female journalists are most at risk of online harassment and intimidation. While journalists are rarely subjected to physical violence, the threats they sometimes receive increase the risk of self-censorship. Ethnic minorities are under-represented among journalists, which impacts journalistic work and content diversity.
Journalists can suffer psychological stress as a result of harassment on social media and lawsuits known as SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation), which are designed to intimidate, and to which the legal system has yet to respond appropriately. Freelance journalists are especially vulnerable. Finland’s journalists’ union has created a support fund to cover loss of income, therapy and other expenses that can result from stress of this kind.