National Coalition Party chair Petteri Orpo is seen during his press conference at the Finnish Parliament in Helsinki, Finland, on June 20, 2023, after the parliament. LEHTIKUVA

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The Finnish Journalism Union (Suomen Journalistiliitto) has publicly called for respect towards press freedom, specifically addressing Finnish political parties in government. The statement followed instances of targeted criticism by politicians from the True Finns (Perussuomalaiset) and National Coalition Party (Kokoomus), directed towards Iltalehti journalist Ida Erämaa.

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, has also expressed concern over the online smear campaign against Erämaa. ”After publishing a column critical of the government, Erämaa faced extensive online abuse, including threats of physical and sexual violence,” statement by Mijatović says. Mijatović underscored that hate speech is not protected speech and that public figures have an obligation to refrain from it. She called for the Finnish authorities to unequivocally condemn the smear campaign, investigate the incident, and provide any necessary assistance to Erämaa.

Among the critics o Erämaa were True Finns MP Sebastian Tynkkynen, who along with others, strongly criticized Erämaa in a manner that was deemed personal. Such actions were met with disapproval by the Journalism Union, which emphasized the importance of press freedom as a cornerstone of democracy.

Hanne Aho, chairperson of the Finnish Journalism Union, described the targeting of journalists, especially by government party members, as particularly alarming and problematic. She expressed concern about the potential long-term impacts of such behaviors on democracy.

“Already, we see that some journalists avoid writing about certain topics. Systematic targeting may lead to real suffering for democracies. For example, journalists might become reluctant to critique the government's actions," Aho warned.

In response to the situation, the Association of Editors-in-Chief (Päätoimittajien yhdistys, PTY) also issued a statement calling for the defense of journalists' working peace. The organization underscored the necessity to uphold press freedom, highlighting that the extensive, orchestrated harassment of individual journalists was an attempt to restrict freedom of speech and interfere with editorial independence.

Ida Erämaa has written pieces critically analyzing the True Finns and their government program. Recently, her work has included examination of the True Finns' attempts to limit press freedom when media exposes their links to extreme right-wing organizations. She voiced concern about the party's intentions to restrict press freedom and highlighted links between some members of the True Finns and far-right movements or neo-Nazi groups.

In addition to the local criticism, international attention was also drawn to the issue. The Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ), a US-based organization supporting female journalists, condemned the attack on Erämaa’s credibility and urged politicians to respect press freedom.

Press freedom in Finland, as in many other democracies, is considered a fundamental right and a vital component of a functioning society. This recent controversy underscores the importance of upholding these principles and the critical role journalists play in fostering informed and healthy public discourse.

HT

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