The ECPMF had earlier published a story on the assessment of the Finnish media market by a previous working group also formed by Berner. On that instance, the setting up of a parliamentary working committee to conduct further investigation was noted.
The committee was to assess Yle's tasks and financing, the scope of the public service remit, as well as the meaning of Yle in the Finnish media market and in relation to democracy, free speech, pluralism, and independent communications. Moreover, corporate governance was to be gauged. For this, the parliamentary working group was to hear stakeholders on a wide basis.
Many experts and leading media professionals alongside the Minister of Transport and Communications were heard. Among them was Hannu Nieminen, Professor of Media and Communication Policy and current Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Helsinki. Statements were also given by the Union of Journalists in Finland (UJF), among many others. (See Report, Annex I.)
The working group was led by Member of Parliament Arto Satonen (National Coalition) and included numerous members from other political parties. Originally, the group was to last until the end of May 2016, but an extension was given.
In mid-June, the working group presented its results and recommendations. In its Annex 2, the report includes proposals for amending the Yle Act (1380/1993) regulating the national PSB company. In addition, a background survey on Yle’s functional efficiency accompanied the report. By including elements such as resources, operations and structures, it aimed to provide material for fact-based decision-making and policy.
Recommendations for Yle by the parliamentary working group
The report recommends changes to the definition of the public service remit so that content services should be provided in public communications networks nationally and regionally (§ 7(1) Yle Act) whereas they currently may be, and whereas ‘regional’ would be defined in a way that refers to a wider level than currently.
Furthermore, while the duties of Yle currently included in Section 7(2) of the dedicated act refer to “support[ing] tolerance and multiculturalism and [provision] of programming for minority and special groups” the report proposes an amendment whereby the primary task is promotion of Finnish cultural heritage alongside tolerance, equality and cultural pluralism. (p. 1-2)
With regards to financing, the working group deems it necessary to safeguard Yle’s independence. Yle has been funded by a dedicated public broadcasting tax since 2013, and this should not change. However, the index reviews should be frozen also during the next couple of years – as they have been since 2015. Annual reviews pursuant to the Act on the State Television and Radio Fund (745/1998) would take place from 2020 onwards, but possibly already in 2019.
The report further recommends strengthening the position of Yle’s Administrative Council and the introduction of a permanent procedure for hearing experts. The Council would decide on Yle’s strategy and include representation for each political party with at least three parliamentary seats. For their part, experts should be heard, for instance, on issues related to ex ante evaluations, strategy and market effects. (p. 2-3)
Among the recommendations is an increase of 30-35 percent in the amount of program purchases from independent producers. This should be executed by 2022. In tendering, attention should be paid to fair practices in employment, among others. Cooperation in the media market should also be increased.
Dedicated provisions in the Yle Act would include obligations to foster media pluralism and quality journalism. Moreover, Yle could share its content with commercial media companies and be involved in safeguarding a basic national news service. Moreover, Yle will implement changes in its regional news provision to the benefit of print media.
Finally, and like the earlier working group assessing the media market, this parliamentary working group deems it necessary to adjust the value added tax rate for digital media content so as to correspond with print. The issue is on the EU agenda. It also notes a need for a separate working group which would map ways to safeguard the continuity of commercial TV activity (p. 3-4)
Implementation and reception
The recommendations will most probably be implemented during the fall and take effect by the beginning of next year. Those implying amendments to law must still undergo a legislative process.
The results and recommendations received somewhat of a mixed reception according to media coverage: Consensus was praised on the part of Yle, in particular due to its significance for the company’s independence.
The rest of the media sector alongside the Federation of the Finnish Media Industry (Finnmedia) and the Finnish Newspapers Association expressed dissatisfaction especially with Yle’s funding remaining untouched. Then again, the move towards increased cooperation and new responsibilities for media pluralism was deemed beneficial for the media market as a whole.
The press also noted the situation with value added taxation – even if the overall results were deemed minor in significance.