The International Press Institute (IPI) Finland National Committee has granted its freedom of speech award to former STT journalist Johanna Aatsalo and former STT editor-in-chief Kari Väisänen on World Press Freedom Day. The award is given in recognition of their work in 1998 investigating doping use in Finnish cross-country skiing and defending the public’s right to know uncomfortable truths.

Aatsalo and Väisänen demonstrated exceptional courage and rare backbone in publishing information about unauthorized substance use in cross-country skiing at a time when the law of silence and the imperative to succeed protected the entire sport, its doping users, and the Ski Association. Both Aatsalo and Väisänen paid a heavy professional, legal, financial, and personal price for the revelation, with some of their colleagues turning their backs on them.

In her acceptance speech, Johanna Aatsalo reveals that neither hate speech nor vilification have silenced her yet. Aatsalo emphasizes the responsibility associated with freedom of speech.

“We must be courageous and express ourselves even more clearly when we talk about issues threatening our society and democracy. Even our society is not immune to developments that weaken democracy, although we may think as Finns that we are somehow superior to others, especially in nurturing democracy. The watchdog of power must be even more vigilant today. We must not become cynical in the face of events.”

The IPI Finland National Committee thanks Aatsalo and Väisänen for enduring years of painful legal proceedings. Their fate serves as a cautionary tale of how lawsuits may be used to intimidate and silence the media and how long it can take for the truth to emerge even in a model country for freedom of speech. Above all, IPI congratulates Aatsalo and Väisänen for their work in opening Finns’ eyes to the fact that winning should never take precedence over the truth, that idolizing does not belong to the job of a sports journalist, and that national heroes are not above the law in a democracy.

The IPI Finland National Committee’s freedom of speech award is granted annually to an individual or entity that has extensively promoted the realization of freedom of speech and the press, as well as the operating conditions of journalists and the media, and the openness of society.