Finland has been ousted from the top of the World Press Freedom Index.
The country's five-year run as the epitome of press freedom came to an end after its score deteriorated by 0.33 points and it was leapfrogged by both Norway and Sweden in this year's edition of the index published by Reporters without Borders (RSF), a Paris-based non-governmental organisation.
The top-10 of the 2017 World Press Freedom Index:
Norway, by contrast, saw its score improve 1.19 points and Sweden by as much as 4.06 points. The World Press Freedom Index ranks a total of 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists.
Finland’s reputation was dented especially by the so-called Sipilägate, according to RSF.
YLE and Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Centre) were engulfed in a scandal late last year, following the emergence of allegations that the premier had pressured the public broadcaster to temper its coverage of a possible conflict of interest involving him and an engineering company owned by his relatives.
YLE was subsequently accused of succumbing to political pressure by several members of its editorial staff, an internal crisis that culminated in the resignations of two experienced journalists.
RSF in December stated that it is “deeply concerned” about the actions taken by the public broadcaster. YLE, it said, has evidently amended its reporting practices with regard to coverage of the possible conflict of interest related to a contract awarded to the engineering company by Terrafame, a state-owned mining company.
“YLE initially reported on this evident conflict of interest, but then after personal contacts were received from the prime minister himself, further reporting on the issue was apparently suppressed within YLE,” wrote RSF.
Sipilä commented on the issue in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat on Wednesday, describing himself as a person who is prepared to both give and receive feedback.
“I’m ready to admit when I’ve made a mistake and take reparative action,” he stated to the daily. “The reparative mechanism in this case is that I haven’t been in contact with editorial teams since early December – and this is a promise that’ll be kept until the end of the electoral term.”
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Vesa Moilanen – Lehtikuva