World News

Two journalists quit Finnish broadcaster in row over coverage of PM

HELSINKI (Reuters) - (This December 14 story has been refiled to correct paragraph 6 and adds paragraph 9 to say reported order was placed before government’s funding decision, not after.)

Finland's Prime Minister Juha Sipila arrives for the European Union summit in Bratislava, Slovakia, September 16, 2016. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Two Finnish journalists quit public broadcaster Yleisradio (YLE) on Wednesday, saying the company had suppressed critical reporting on politicians including Prime Minister Juha Sipila.

The case is unusual for the Nordic country, ranked by non-profit group Reporters Without Borders as the global leader in press freedom. It follows a row over emailed complaints from the prime minister about the broadcaster’s coverage.

The two journalists, Jussi Eronen and Salla Vuorikoski, cited differences of opinion over freedom of speech and journalistic independence as their reason for leaving.

“Me and my team have been asked to cut back on any reporting that exposes abuses and misdemeanours. I cannot agree to this,” Eronen, a senior editor, wrote on his Facebook page.

“The editorial line is most cautious on politicians, especially the prime minister.”

Last month, YLE reported that an engineering company Katera Steel, owned by the prime minister’s relatives had received an order from a state-owned nickel miner Terrafame around the time when loss-making Terrafame had been granted a cash injection from the government.

Sipila, who has denied any impropriety on Terrafame, sent several emails to reporter Vuorikoski and Chief Editor Atte Jaaskelainen, complaining that he had not been given enough time to comment on the story before publication.

“I have zero respect for YLE right now, which does not differ from your respect towards me. We’re even,” said one of the messages.

According to Terrafame, the order had been placed ahead of the government’s financing decision and it would have been awarded even without extra funds.

However, the prime minister later apologised for the emails and denied attempting to suppress coverage.

YLE chief editor Jaaskelainen, who has admitted shelving follow-up stories questioning Sipila’s role in Terrafame, denied any attempt to restrict freedom of speech.

“It seems that he (Eronen) cannot accept YLE’s journalistic principles and values... Due diligence and claims based on facts are essential in investigative journalism,” he said.

Reporters Without Borders gave Finland top ranking in its World Press Freedom Index in 2016 for the seventh year running.

Reporting by Tuomas Forsell, editing by Jussi Rosendahl and Mark Trevelyan