The International Press Institute (IPI), a Vienna-based global press freedom organization, today launched a new report on online abuse against journalists in Finland. The report emphasizes that while authorities are aware of this growing phenomenon, journalists still lack confidence in efforts to investigate threats against them.
IPI conducted a fact-finding mission to Finland from June 4 to 8, as part of its Ontheline project, which aims to explore and share best practices implemented by newsrooms in Europe to tackle online harassment against their journalists. The project also includes visits to Spain, Poland, Germany, Sweden and the UK.
In visits to newsrooms of various sizes in Helsinki and Turku, IPI found a growing level of understanding and awareness among management, especially in those media outlets that have been deeply affected by cases of harassment. Successful strategies carried out by Finnish newsrooms to prevent and protect journalists from these attacks will later be shared together with models from other European news outlets on a new Ontheline web resource platform.
Levels of harassment against journalists on social media and online forums have reached now reached a steady drum in Finland after two years of rapid increase that coincided with growing numbers of refugees. Though asylum seekers and Russian meddling remain the two topics most likely to prompt hate campaigns against journalists, many of the journalists IPI interviewed emphasized that once a reporter is marked in certain circles – especially those on the far-right – he or she becomes a target of harassment no matter what the topic.
In Finland, as elsewhere, online harassment takes a professional and emotional toll on journalists. None of the journalists IPI interviewed said they had resorted to self-censorship, but most confirmed carefully measuring their words when writing about “hot” topics so as to avoid an avalanche of threats and insults on social media. In extreme cases, journalists step away from covering certain topics for a short period of time.
Worryingly, the chilling effect has extended beyond the frontiers of the newsrooms, with journalists reporting that even some interviewees are now reluctant to be quoted to the potential abuse.
IPI also observed that online harassment in Finland has a gendered aspect. Although male and female journalists have been found to receive a similar number of attacks, the intensity and rawness of messages directed at female journalists is striking.
Javier Luque, IPI Head of Digital Communications
Phone: +43 1 512 90 11
The production of this report was supported by Adessium Foundation, the OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media and the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation.