The news media environment in Finland is characterised by a strong regional press, a strong public service broadcaster (Yle), one widely read national daily (Helsingin Sanomat), and two popular evening tabloids, both reaching over half of the adult population. Despite financial pressures, Finnish news media have an above average level of paying for online news and remain the most trusted among the countries surveyed.
Coronavirus hit the Finnish news media hard. Advertising for newspaper publishers declined by one-fifth from 2019 (free sheets and online website included) and layoffs increased. Journalists largely moved to working from home, with reporting dominated by the infection rate and other COVID-19 developments. News organisations with online paywalls frequently lifted them for COVID-19 news.
Figures for news sources used generally show little impact from the pandemic, despite some significant increases in use of broadcast brands online, with increases of five and seven percentage points for Yle and MTV online respectively. However, changes in trust are more pronounced, with trust in news overall increasing 9% points from 56% to 65%, increasing Finland’s trust lead over most other countries even as their trust figures often rose too. The pandemic also seemed to increase people’s trust in democratic institutions in Finland more generally.1
In addition to temporary COVID-19 support for all businesses, the government created a one-off subsidy scheme to support journalism during the pandemic. Grants totalling €7.5 million were awarded to 97 companies, on the basis of €3,700 per working journalist, up to a maximum of €800,000 per company.
There are also plans to introduce a more permanent direct subsidy mechanism for news media, which currently is based on the indirect support of the reduced 10% VAT rate applied to newspapers, books, and magazines, both online as well as in print. If realised, the new scheme would bring Finland somewhat closer to the other Nordic countries with more generous subsidies.
The longstanding debate about the position of the public service broadcaster (Yle), moved forward when the government introduced a bill restricting Yle’s right to publish online news in text form if unrelated to their audiovisual content. The bill’s origins lie in the Finnish Media Federation’s 2017 complaint to the EU Commission claiming that Yle’s online news in text form contravened EU state aid legislation and could undermine plurality. After consultations with the Commission, the government proposed a change that restricted Yle’s text-based content online to that related to their audiovisual content or covered by specific exceptions. For example, short text-based updates on fast-moving news events would be allowed even if unrelated to Yle’s video or audio content.
The proposed changes in the Yle law have met with criticism. Commercial news companies would like a stricter definition of text-based content’s relation to Yle’s audiovisual content and fewer exceptions. Others complain that restricting Yle’s offerings undermines citizens’ rights of equal access to quality journalism and that restrictions based on distinguishing text, audio, and video content are outdated. In March 2021, the bill was still moving through Parliament.
The two biggest private Finnish media companies, Alma Media and Sanoma, refocused their strategies in February 2020 when Sanoma announced that it would buy 15 regional and local newspapers and the regional printing operations from Alma Media for €115m, with 365 staff transferred to Sanoma. Alma Media retained its national papers and magazines, including the evening tabloid Iltalehti and the economic newspaper Kauppalehti, but welcomed the opportunity to divest from a declining regional print business to focus on digital services. A year later Alma bought Nettix, a provider of several online marketplaces and the news aggregator Ampparit.
Sanoma, for its part, gained new digital subscribers, which gives it economies of scale both in developing digital journalism and in advertising markets. Sanoma also strengthened its position compared to Keskisuomalainen, another company that has expanded its network of regional newspapers in recent years. Now Sanoma and Keskisuomalainen account for over half of the subscription and advertising revenues of the Finnish newspaper publishers.2
Sanoma’s acquisition of Alma Media’s regional titles marks another move towards increased concentration of Finland’s regional press. In the longer term, given rising delivery costs (most print subscriptions include home delivery) and declining population outside the largest cities, the trend may lead to merging or closing titles. In January 2020, the Ilkka-Yhtymä group provided a foretaste of future trends by merging its two regional newspapers, Ilkka and Pohjalainen to create the new regional paper Ilkka-Pohjalainen.
Tampere University, Finland
One year after the COVID-19 crisis began, our survey shows limited impact on the sources of news or the mix of devices. However, during the first half of 2020, the daily time used for reading newspapers and magazines online was over one-third higher than a year earlier.3
Pay for online news
Listen to podcast in the last month
Share news via social, messaging or email
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Trust in news in search
Trust in news on social media
Overall trust in news has increased by nine percentage points, reversing the decline of recent years. However, the trust figures in individual news brands have stayed more or less flat. Public broadcaster Yle remains most trusted, along with local newspapers. The two evening tabloid newspapers and their websites are widely used but have lower levels of trust.
2 Suomen Lehdistö, 2/2020.