Helsingin Sanomat’s much-discussed article about military intelligence unlikely contained information that poses a threat to national security, views Heikki Kuutti, the research coordinator at the department of communications of the University of Jyväskylä and former head of the information department of the Finnish Air Forces.
The article, he gauges, was an example of the fundamental responsibility of journalism to monitor the operations of authorities – in this case, the Finnish Defence Forces.
“National security is not something that belongs only to authorities but to each of us. We’re all interested in how safe we are. You simply can’t bury this whole thing under red stamps,” he stated to Uusi Suomi on Monday.
Kuutti, who in his research has specialised in the publicity act, information gathering and investigative journalism, estimated based on the debate kindled by the article that the purviews of different laws are ambiguous to the public. Some commentators, for example, have suggested that journalists are bound by the publicity act.
“But it only applies to authorities,” he said.
“What a newspaper publishes has nothing to do with the publicity act. Journalists can make independent decisions about what to do with their information. Journalists, however, are governed by freedom of speech and a handful of sections of the criminal code.”
He added that the priority of a possible trial against the newspaper should be to determine what was the objective of publishing the classified information.
“Many claim that it was to disclose a national secret, but I personally believe that what applies here are journalist’s grounds for publicly monitoring and evaluating the operations of authorities,” says Kuutti.
“I’m surprised at how freedom of speech has been forgotten in this context.”
Kuutti also reminded that the safety of citizens constitutes sufficient grounds for limiting freedom of speech, as evidenced by rulings by the European Court of Human Rights. Neither journalists nor citizens, however, should blindly trust that the decisions of authorities to classify information are justified.
“It’s smarter for the work of authorities to use the red stamp freely. If someone then submits an appeal to a court of appeal, that’s when it’ll be determined if the document should be made public or not. But at least it’s a way to buy time,” he said.
“But if you automatically trust the authorities and the media fail to monitor the authorities in the first place, we wouldn’t be far from a dictatorship. We must be able to examine these things.”
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Martti Kainulainen – Lehtikuva
Source: Uusi Suomi