Wille Rydman (PS) was sworn in as the minister of economic affairs in the Government Palace in Helsinki on 6 July 2023. Rydman on Monday alleged to YLE that various researchers, social media activists and even journalists are feeding erroneous information about the Finnish government to international media. (Eelis Berglund – Lehtikuva)

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MINISTER of Economic Affairs Wille Rydman (PS) has stated that some actors are feeding false claims about the Finnish government to the international media.

“If you go on Twitter and look at the activity of various researchers, social media activists and even journalists, you don’t have to look too long to find these kinds of cases,” he alleged on YLE A-studio on Monday.

Rydman declined to mention anyone by name, citing a desire not to be accused again of targeting after facing such accusations over his comments about a journalist at Iltalehti.

“This government has been branded with one inappropriate and unjustified claim after another. We’ve seen things as crazy as claims that someone’s tie choice could convey some kind of crazy message to a secret audience. If you look at this through a slightly more critical lens, these kinds of interpretations don’t withstand any kind of critical evaluation. It’d be good if also the media demonstrated some self-criticism,” he stated to the public broadcasting company.

He argued that such claims compare mostly to “peculiar conspiracy theories” that have spread also among “established researchers and media outlets”. As an example of a newspaper that has published such stories he pointed to Süddeutsche Zeitung, a daily newspaper published in Munich, Germany.

Rydman was referring to reporting concerning former Minister of Economic Affairs Vilhelm Junnila (PS) and Minister of Finance Riikka Purra (PS).

Junnila received publicity for wearing a tie with a raccoon print on the day that he received the confidence of the parliament and a talking-to from Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP). The choice of attire prompted speculation about a possible nod to far-right circles due to, for example, the fact that raccoons were introduced to Europe under the Third Reich.

The raccoon is defined as an invasive species in Europe. In the US, where the mammal is indigenous, the name is sometimes shortened to 'coon,' an offensive word for a black person.

Junnila rejected the speculation, saying the tie was a gift from his better half who happens to like raccoons. “It isn’t a covert message. I wanted to go into the toughest spot of my life with a tie I got from my partner,” he wrote on Facebook on 30 June.

Helsingin Sanomat, though, argued in its report that he has tweeted enough about the animal to suggest it has some significance to him.

Minister of Finance Riikka Purra (PS) sparked similar speculation by comparing the honey badger, an aggressive mammal found in Africa, Asia, India and the Middle East, to herself and the Finns Party. Honey badger is the mascot of Breitbart News, the US alt-right news and commentary site co-founded by Steve Bannon, one-time advisor to Donald Trump.

Bannon characterised Trump’s brazen performance in an election debate against Hilary Clinton as “classic honey badger”.

Purra has denied engaging in any kind of doublespeak: “I’ve told before the elections that the honey badger is one of my favourite animals. We’ve watched as a family a video that has received millions of views on Youtube. I didn’t have the slightest knowledge that someone else has used it inappropriately or for politically dubious purposes,” she retorted to Helsingin Sanomat on 12 July.

Johanna Vuorelma, a political scientist at the University of Helsinki, on Tuesday denied the allegation made by Rydman.

“Now it’s been hinted that researchers are actively contacting international journalists. I haven’t met a single colleague who has done so. On the contrary, I’ve had to turn down quite a few interviews because this is such a rapidly moving news event,” she stated to STT.

Vuorelma estimated that international news outlets may be interested in Finnish politics because of the contrast between the current government and that of Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP).

“Many journalists have pointed to that they can’t understand how such a major change can have taken place in Finnish politics,” she said. “You can no longer think that you could control what kind of story you’re telling about us internationally. Lies are also spreading, but journalists at international media houses don’t publish anything that hasn’t been confirmed and verified. The picture they paint reflects the current reality in Finland.”

Martin Scheinin, a Finnish research professor of law at the British Academy, on Tuesday argued that Rydman himself appears to be presenting a conspiracy theory and owes an apology.

“Rydman seems to have presented a conspiracy theory according to which ‘various professors’ are spreading ‘false information that’s harmful to Finland to international media’,” Scheinin commented on Twitter.

Scheinin said he has responded “carefully and truthfully” to questions from Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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