Finnish national broadcaster Yleisradio supports the creation of a preventive censorship system – stopped by court

Three Finnish journalists: Ms Jessikka Aro (center), Mrs Tiina Keskimäki (left) and Mr Panu Huuhtanen.

A notable court order was handed out on January 10, 2020 by the Helsinki district court for a restraining order application, filed in November 2019 by a Finnish national broadcaster Yleisradio (YLE) journalist Ms Jessikka Aro. The application was filed against two alternative media journalists, Mrs Tiina Keskimäki and Mr Panu Huuhtanen, both members of the Union of Finnish Reporters. The applicant demanded the court to prohibit the defendants from mentioning the applicant in their broadcasts or in social media, i.e. the creation of a system of preventive censorship.

The story began already in 2016, when the leading Finnish alternative media publication MV-lehti published a critical story about the drug conviction of the investigative journalist Jessikka Aro. She was convicted of drug crime, involving long-term usage of amphetamines, drug distribution and possession of significant amount of amphetamines, in 2004. The case was highly politicized from the beginning, as earlier Aro had caused indignation by claiming most of the alternative media and patriotic movements in Finland were ”Putin’s Trolls” and that the populist Finns Party lead by Jussi Halla-aho was backed by Russia.

As a result, during 2018-2020, YLE and other Finnish corporate media launched a campaign against MV-lehti and other alternative media in Finland. Several leading journalists of the Finnish alternative media and members of the Finns Party have been convicted of libel and other crimes, and court proceedings still continue. Many are under the impression that this is political persecution aimed at diminishing the political influence of the Finns Party, which has grown to be the biggest party in the country. The party is however currently isolated in opposition.

Aro also launched an international campaign in which she claimed being a victim of ”Putin’s trolls” and that Putin is backing the Finns Party. The Finnish mainstream media has become increasingly skeptical of her views.

Aro, who has openly admitted of being against the Finns Party, has filed approximately 10 cases against alternative media and their journalists, and her lawyer Mrs Martina Kronström has charged up to 350.000 euros for representing her in various cases.

Last year the alternative media journalists Mr Panu Huuhtanen and Mrs Tiina Keskimäki, both members of the Union of Finnish reporters, launched a series of YouTube streaming broadcasts titled ”Reform Studio”, in which they investigated the activities of Ms Aro and YLE. Huuhtanen and Keskimäki also reported from courtrooms which handled cases concerning Ms Aro.

In November 2019, Ms Aro filed for a restriction order against the journalists Huuhtanen and Keskimäki. Ms Aro demanded, that Huuhtanen and Keskimäki should be prohibited from mentioning Ms Aro in any of their broadcast or on social media in general and that the journalists also should be barred from reporting from court hearings related to Ms Aro. The demand was supported up by YLE, as the Head of Security and Risk Management of YLE, Mr Marko Lavikkala, testified and argued for ruling in favor of the applicant.

The Helsinki district court ruled on January 10 that Finland does not have preventive censorship and rejected all demands of Ms Aro. The court ruled as follows: ”Restriction order cannot include rulings on preventive censorship.” Article 12 of the Finnish Constitution stipulates: ”Everyone has the freedom of expression. Freedom of expression entails the right to express, disseminate and receive information, opinions and other communications without prior prevention by anyone. ”

The critics say that the fact that state broadcasting company YLE is backing preventive censorship for alternative media is scandalous and a unique example of a freedom of speech violation in Europe. The applicant announced they will appeal against the decision in the Helsinki Court of Appeals, which probably will handle the case later this spring.