Finnish editors speak out against defamatory 'fake media'

by Michelle Trimborn
Twenty-one editors-in-chief of the main Finnish media outlets have released a joint statement against so-called fake media. On first of March, the statement was released all over Finland in the name of "media we can trust", including the most important newspapers and broadcasters like YLE, Helsingin Sanomat and Hufvudstadsbladet.

Finnish editors speak out against defamatory Finnish editors speak out against defamatory "fake media" (photo: pixabay)

The editors speak out against the rise of what they call fake media: several new online media outlets, like MV-Lehti and Uber Uutiset (even though they are not explicitly named in the statement) gained popularity during the last months as an alternative to mainstream media. For example, MV-Lehti's Facebook fan page has now more than 50.000 followers. The reason for this: they accuse mainstream media of lying and intentional false reporting to deceive the public in the name of the government, for example. The most common accusation is biased reporting on migrants and minorities – it is claimed that mainstream media report too positively on these groups, trying to hide the potential criminality they bring to the country.

As a result of those claims, which are widespread especially among right-populist groups, the new media outlets present themselves as "the trustworthy alternative", informing the public with the true news and exposing the mainstream media's "fraud". With this strategy, they are able to attract a big audience.

Alternative media as "danger to society"

The media in question appear as normal news websites and can easily be confused with regular media outlets by an uninformed audience. They publish articles, photos and videos in sections labelled "Homecountry", "Foreign countries" and "Opinion", like other news websites do. But they also present news on "Mainstream Media" or "Criminals". From the choice of headlines, it is obvious that the websites have two topics of interest: mainstream media and refugees or other minority groups. "A new Swedish law forces municipalities to take refugees in", "Oulu's police to investigate drug consumption in reception centres" and "Guards threatened with kitchen knives in Malmö reception centre" are only three of the many articles on migrants MV-Lehti publishes – from only one day. Also, negative news are often illustrated with pictures of dark-skinned people without any connection to the actual content of the article.

The editors of Finland's biggest media outlets see these "alternatives" as a real danger – and so they take a stand against them. In the statement they accuse the new media of not only intentionally misleading their audience, but also poisoning the social atmosphere of communication with their statements against some groups in society. "Pluralism and freedom of speech allow different opinions", the editors write. But: "This does not mean that everyone can spread the word about whatever without any interference." The journalists claim that those alternative media outlets do not act according to the moral and ethical standards of journalism, but instead publish strongly biased information.

Good journalism can't be silenced

In addition, the signatories demonstrate a strong solidarity – not only among each other but also with individual journalists. Recently, some of them were victims of defamation and libel campaigns led by the alternative media outlets. Pictures were posted of them, labelling single journalists as liars, clowns, devils or propaganda machines. The editors announce that these journalists will continue to work and won't be influenced by such obstacles: "We do not allow that journalists are silenced." They stress the media's role as a pillar of democracy and important part of the civil society - "even during such hard times".

Who reads such "alternative" media that is accused of biased and undemocratic reporting? The websites are a welcome alternative for those people who do not see their views properly reflected by regular media and the government. But the alternative is dangerous: it fosters a radicalisation of the public, especially in terms of taking stronger positions against refugees during the current crisis. The websites make them responsible for all kinds of crimes – and the readers believe them, not being able to expose the propaganda-like intention.

However, currently the case of MV-Lehti is being investigated by the police as the owner of the website was accused of allowing and promoting racism and hate speech because he is not deleting defamatory reader's comments from his website.

Not just a Finnish problem

In Finland, the joint statement by the editors is viewed as extraordinary sign. The signatories to the letter are usually perceived as strong rivals, competing for the audience. This clearly shows the urgency with which they felt they had to intervene – and the real threat that they feel those alternative media outlets are posing to the Finnish society. First reactions to the statement already appeared on the alternative media sites, referring to the group of journalists as "propaganda-media editors-in-chief".

Not only Finland is facing this phenomenon: ECPMF is currently carrying out an extensive study in Germany on attacks on journalists. They are often accused of being part of the so-called lying-press, the big media outlets. In Germany, this did not only lead to the existence of doubtful alternative media, libel and hate speech against journalists, like in Finland - but also to violent attacks against members of the mainstream media. Read about ECPMF's research "The Concept of the Enemy" here.

Creative Commons LicenseThis article is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.
Source information: This article was originally published by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom –