Finland’s news media environment features a strong regional press, a strong PSB (Yle), one widely read national daily (Helsingin Sanomat), and two popular evening tabloids, both reaching over half of the adult population. There is a relatively high level (21%) of paying for online news and Finnish news remains the most highly trusted among the countries surveyed.
Finnish news media’s recovery from the hit caused by Coronavirus looked less assured in the second half of 2022 as energy and paper costs increased and accelerating inflation hit spending. Newspaper advertising (print and online, free city papers included) decreased 3.3% from 2021 to 2022 after an increase of 8.6% from 2020 to 2021 and a COVID-linked decline of 21% from 2019 to 2020.
The economic uncertainty has some of its roots in the war of Ukraine, which stayed in the headlines, along with the process of Finland and Sweden joining NATO. Some Finnish news media had their own reporters on site and used Ukrainian correspondents to describe people’s everyday life and attitudes under the war. Helsingin Sanomat also regularly publishes reports by Meduza, an independent Latvian-based news service specialising in Russia.
One of the smaller TV news channels, AlfaTV, that had been strengthening its audience position in the last few years, was also very active in reporting on the Ukraine war, with plenty of on-site reporting. However, its parent company went bankrupt and closed the channel at the end of November 2022. Even though AlfaTV had less than 2% share of television viewing,1 its volume of current affairs programmes was comparable to that of Yle. AlfaTV had secured additional investment in 2021 but didn’t win enough advertising revenue to survive. The channel had a rather conservative slant and had sought to broaden the range of perspectives on Finnish TV.
Yle, for its part, was obliged to limit its online news in text after a change in the law came into force in August 2022. The origins of this lie in the Finnish Media Federation’s 2017 complaint to the EU claiming that Yle’s online news in text form contravened EU state aid legislation. The law restricts such content online to that related to their audiovisual content or covered by specific exceptions. It seems though that the restrictions have not had much impact on Yle’s online offering. The change in regulation may turn out to be just another incentive for increasing and developing audiovisual content online, which Yle and its commercial competitors might have done anyway.
Yle also faced new threats when the then main opposition parties (National Coalition Party and Finns Party) proposed cuts of roughly a quarter in Yle’s funding. Both parties emerged in the lead in April 2023 elections and may become members of the next government. Yle’s half-billion-euro budget is funded mainly by annual Yle-tax of up to €163 collected from Finnish taxpayers. In our Digital News Report survey, 71% of Finnish respondents said that publicly funded news services, such as Yle news, are important to them personally and 79% said they are important to society. These figures are high compared with those of other countries. The proposed cuts may reflect increased criticism by private media companies who blame the PSB for unfair competition in the digital world, combined with a more politically driven right-wing criticism targeted at Yle’s news.
Government plans for a long-term direct subsidy mechanism for news media have not proceeded. The current system still depends almost solely on the indirect subsidy provided by a reduced 10% VAT rate for newspapers, books, and magazines, both online and print. However, in 2023 there will also be a one-off direct subsidy of €7m for journalists’ salaries. The aims are to prevent so-called local news deserts, support the plurality of news content, and promote informed public debate. The industry welcomed these aims even though it would have preferred a more comprehensive, generous, and long-term media policy programme.2
In January 2023, two Helsingin Sanomat journalists were sentenced for a 2017 article which revealed classified information about a Finnish military signals facility, used to gather intelligence.3 The court could have imposed a four-year prison sentence, but was more lenient, requiring the lead author to pay an income-related fine (less than one month’s net earnings), with no action taken against the other journalist. The case generated debate about the limits on journalists’ right to publish on issues related to national security and the verdict may be appealed.
Tampere University, Finland
The use of online news sources and television news remains largely unchanged. The printed press, however, continues its slow decline, with the exception of the evening tabloids, which increased their readership slightly this year.
Pay for online news
Listen to podcast in the last month
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Contrasting with most other countries surveyed, Finland has maintained its trust levels after the COVID-19 bump, and brand-level trust shows a small increase for the television news channels and the evening tabloids. The Ukraine war and the process of Finland joining NATO may have increased the majority’s trust in experts, institutions, and indeed the news media.