2nd Apr 2020

UN celebrates press freedom, but journalists under fire

  • Reporters without borders say 2016 was the worst year for free press in twelve years. (Photo: Unesco)

More than 1,000 people will celebrate press freedom on Tuesday and Wednesday, paying tribute to murdered journalists at a special conference organised by Unesco in Helsinki's Finlandia Hall.

The venue is symbolic. Finland recently topped the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) index of press freedom for the seventh year in a row.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

The country is also a pioneer in the field.

Two hundred and fifty years have passed since Anders Chydenius, a Finnish priest and liberal, authored what is widely regarded as the world’s first freedom of information law. He forced through his motion at the 1766 parliamentary gathering of Sweden, whose sovereignty at that time extended to Finland.

The act limited censorship and gave people the right to access state documents.

”Freedom for writing and printing is one of the strongest pillars of support for free government,” Chydenius wrote in 1765.

Journalism helps states to make better laws and informs subjects on the limits of authority and their own duties, he argued.

”[Without it,] learning and good manners would be suppressed, coarseness in thought, speech and customs would flourish, and a sinister gloom would within a few years darken our entire Sky of Freedom.”

Unfortunately, press freedom is still not a given 250 years later.

This year was the worst year for free media in 12 years, according to the RSF index

RSF deplored the ”deep and disturbing” decline in media freedom around the world.

“Many of the world’s leaders are developing a form of paranoia about legitimate journalism,” said RSF secretary general Christophe Deloire.

“The climate of fear results in a growing aversion to debate and pluralism, a clampdown on the media by ever more authoritarian and oppressive governments, and reporting in the privately owned media that is increasingly shaped by personal interests.”

Finnish freedom threatened

Europe remains the most free region for journalists, but it is moving downhill.

Poland recently pushed through a ”nationalisation” of public TV and radio services, which cost some 135 people their jobs after they were deemed to be disloyal to the new government.

The UK also fell in ratings after police violated the confidentiality of journalists' sources.

German chancellor Angela Merkel recently authorised criminal proceedings against a comedian who published a satirical poem about Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The move came at the request of Turkey, which is ranked 151 of the 180 countries in the RSF index. Turkey is among the world's most prolific countries for jailing journalists.

Press freedom isn't even safe in the countries that first championed it.

Sweden dropped from fifth to eighth position in the latest RSF index because of threats against journalists.

”It’s a real threat to democracy. Internet media are closing their comment fields. Many journalists say they self-censor,” Swedish media professor Ingela Wadbring told EUobserver.

Internet trolls mainly target women who take a stance on immigration or sexuality, she said.

"Actually, often it’s enough just to be a woman [journalist]," she added.

In Finland, meanwhile, finance minister Alexander Stubb recently tweeted a call to public broadcaster Yle. He urged it to hand over material linked to the Panama Papers leak to tax authorities and police.

The editors refused, saying that would create a dangerous precedent on Finland’s ability to protect sources.

Ville Vilen and Marit af Bjoerkesten of Yle told Stubb in a written statement: ”Who would involve a journalist from a country where there is a risk that officials can demand - and receive - confidential information?

"How reliable would others consider an organisation that officials could barge in to confiscate files? Could Finns themselves ever rely on journalists to protect their sources?

"The Panama Papers are important, but this is a question of even more meaningful values and principles."

Stubb stopped tweeting about the case after the world press freedom festivities began.

Finnish PM embroiled in press freedom row

Juha Sipila denies trying to pressure a journalist to stop investigating conflict of interest allegations, but a media watchdog says his handling of the issue "looks bad".


Paradox: Nordics' privileged youth feel miserable

Young people in the Nordic countries are among the most privileged in the world - yet many of them feel miserable. The Nordic Council is concerned and aims to find out why.

Denmark falls behind in gender-equality ranking

Iceland remains the most gender-equal country in the world, followed by Norway, Finland and Sweden. But one Nordic country sticks out from its neighbours with few female lawmakers, senior officials and managers.

North Atlantic mini states in geopolitical turbulence

Donald Trump wanted to buy Greenland, while the Faroe Islands have come under pressure to ditch China's Huawei for its 5G network. Both incidents reflect growing geopolitical interest for the North Atlantic countries sharing foreign and security policy with Denmark.

Nordic PMs meet youth to close climate gap

Eager to engage with climate-engaged youth, eight Nordic prime ministers met with nine young political leaders in Stockholm for the first time this week. But did the youngsters take the bite?


Record-low birth rates in three Nordic countries

The State of the Nordic Region report, published 4 February 2020, has revealed that birth rates in Finland, Norway, and Iceland are at record-low levels. Only in the Faroe Islands does the birth rate exceed the death rate.

Nordic PMs meet youth to close climate gap

Eager to engage with climate-engaged youth, eight Nordic prime ministers met with nine young political leaders in Stockholm for the first time this week. But did the youngsters take the bite?

Supported by

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Latest News

  1. Court: Three countries broke EU law on migrant relocation
  2. Journalism hit hard by corona crisis
  3. EU fighting shortages and faulty medical supplies
  4. New EU navy operation to keep migrant details secret
  5. MEP: Constituents are our window into this tragedy
  6. Without European patriotism, EU decline is inevitable
  7. EU cancels April Fool's 'fake news'
  8. A coronavirus 'Marshall Plan' alone won't be nearly enough

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us