Racism in Finland: The media is part of the problem

by , under Enrique

A party like the Perussuomalaiset (PS), which has capitalized politically on xenophobia and racism, claims that the Finnish media picks on it unfairly. The fact is, however, that the PS could have never achieved what it did in the April 2011 election without the help of the media, which gave its racists inflated respectability and importance.

If the PS criticize today the media for being biased against them, is it an indication that the Finnish media has become more critical of, and is less inclined to, give racists credibility and importance as in the past?

The documentary gives a warning at the end: “The most important thing we’re saying is don’t trust the media. Don’t take television, the press, radio [and social media] at face value and above all don’t take them sitting down.”

The Finnish media is not the only one that has been taken for a ride by racists and anti-immigration politicians.  We saw this happen in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s with John Kingsley Read, founder of the xenophobic National Front, and Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech.

Powell claimed in the 1968 speech that the influx of black immigrants from Commonwealth countries caused him to be “filled with foreboding.” He claimed that he seemed to see a race war emerging where our rivers would end up “foaming with much blood.” Powell’s speech was given 45 years ago. Britain’s immigrant population has grown many fold since then. Where are those rivers of blood that Powell warned us of?

I’ve jotted down some notes from a 1984 documentary that shows how racists in Britain were given “inflated respectability and importance” with the help of the media.

The mistakes that the media made in Britain are happening in Finland today. It’s important that we study what occurred in Britain because the media plays an important role in shaping our attitudes and reinforcing our prejudices. Such prejudices are then reinforced by mainstream political parties, which gave the xenophobic and racist message of parties like the PS political credibility.

In sum, there was and still is very little critical thinking by the media concerning the so-called immigrant and cultural diversity issue. Instead of reporting news, too many reporters, editors and the media editorialize their prejudices when reporting the news, which should aim at being fair and well-balanced.

Read of the National Front claimed that immigrants were tearing toilet bowels and placing their feces in back alleys apparently because they had never used a Western toilet before. While the BBC reporter didn’t question this claim when he interviewed Read, he did some investigating and found out that it was completely untrue, according to the local council and health authorities.

Politicians like Jussi Halla-aho, James Hirvisaari, Olli Immonen, Juho Eerola and others have used the same tricks as Read by inflating rape and crime statistics committed by immigrants. Rarely if ever did reporters question if these claims are true.

I would go as far as to say that if the Finnish media would have done its job effectively, it is highly doubtful that the PS could have won 39 seats from 5 in the previous election.

In the same way that Read rose to prominence on its xenophobic message that struck fear in people, the PS copied what groups like the National Front did. Apart from allowing unsubstantiated racist slander to be published freely, editors like Helsingin Sanomat’s Saska Saarikoski gave PS MP Jussi Halla-aho greater respectability and recognition. His ex wife, Anja Snellman, believed that she was defending Halla-aho’s right to free speech but in fact it was her Islamophobia and prejudices that were the issue. One publication that has done a lot to spread racist myths in Finland is Uusi Suomi. Much of the bogus and inflated rape claims by PS candidates like Halla-aho and Hirvisaari were spread from Uusi Suomi. Common mistakes by the Finnish media when reporting on migration and minorities:    

  • White sources are always used as authorities when immigrants and minorities are the topic
  • Editors of Finland’s main dailies are white Finns
  • Immigrant and visible minority voices are rarely if ever permitted to make their case
  • Rarely if ever do editors ask if the source of the”immigrant problem” are whites
  • We give inflated respectability and importance to racists because they mirror our attitudes
  • In Finland, the stronger racism became, the more airtime it gets
  • The rise of racism in our society and our coverage of it reveals how unbalanced and uncritical our media is
  • When it comes to fighting racism, the media are part of the problem

 

  1. Mark

    Some reporters in Finland have written balanced pieces on rape and immigration. Balanced in the sense of looking at why statistics are skewed by several factors. But what they don’t really explore is the widespread stigmatisation that comes with that kind of discussion.

    The constant linking of immigrants with crime is particularly insulting and damaging. And yet for the people doing it, they are not showing any interest in those kinds of crimes as a social problem affecting also Finns, but only as an issue to suggest immigration has a huge downside. It’s exploitative – utterly. And when people do that, the last thing they are interested in is actual real debate or discussion about those issues. In fact, they defend the right of newspapers to ‘ethnicise’ crime and actually call for MORE of this kind of reporting.

    By the way, Enrique, your list is a list of relevant ‘factors’, not suggestions as such.

    Some argue that the media should allow all political groups to air their views, with no preference shown. But then the media is usually critical too, or at least seen to be asking critical questions of politicians. Likewise, the notion that PS is ‘filled’ with racists is misleading and over-simplified. Such a view works against any effort to properly scrutinise and hold the party to account, because if it seems blatantly false, individuals very easily can adopt an opinion on the other side of the argument, thinking that PS are actually quite moderate.

    The other issue as far as I’m concerned is that as long as ‘immigration’ becomes a political issue, it remains a no-win situation for immigrants, because politicising immigration and ethnicising politics together are then seen as ‘normal’ political activities that revolve around the quite innocent debate about immigration. There is nothing innocent about denigrating and defaming immigrants as being somehow ‘less’ than Finns and unsuitable and undeserving of citizenship by issue of their ethnicity, nationality or religion alone. This is not judging people as indiviuals. This is racism and it effects the quality of life of immigrants in terms of poisoning the atmosphere and public spaces of Finland in which these kinds of messages seem to roam quite freely and we are led to believe, with the support of a great deal of people. Not feeling secure enough to walk the street, go shopping or use public transport because you are constantly exposed to images or ideas like that stigmatise you, or worse, to be verbally assaulted on a weekly basis when doing these things is a complete undermining of the right to human dignity.

    So, when a 14-year-old immigrant girl writes to a Swedish-speaking newspaper to complain about exactly this, she is told by some to ‘develop a harder skin’, as if this was entirely the responsibility of the immigrant victim to adjust to the ‘crimes’ being visited on them by some native Finns.

    Yet we need more stories like hers to make it into the public domain. We need stories that explain, like Dana often does here, just how humiliating and stigmatising this constant public dialogue of negativity and hatred towards ‘immigration’ is for immigrants.

    Silence on this issue is extremely damaging. Many Finns choose to avoid the debate, because it makes them uncomfortable. They don’t like Halla-aho and co. so they just don’t want anything to do with them, or the debate they are trying to have. But it’s exactly these people that should be standing up and saying why they don’t like his ideas or approach. Some Finns prefer to think that we live in a very civilised public space, and that these extremists don’t really represent the ‘ordinary’ or true Finland. And yet PS’s supporters also think exactly the same and are happy to push their own message deeper and deeper into our communities, attracting more and more support for ‘standing up for Finland’, as if ‘standing up for immigrants’ was somehow the opposite of standing up for Finland. You can do both and we must. Otherwise, we allow the public space to be taken over. We allow these extremists to establish a national political power base and to allow a constant stream of negative messages about immigrants to pour forth via the NATIONAL and local platforms of politics and the media.

  2. Joonas

    “White sources are always used as authorities when immigrants and minorities are the topic” & “Immigrant and visible minority voices are rarely if ever permitted to make their case”

    I agree with these ones. I would like to hear more discussion and interviews from immigrant point of view. Currently it seems quite one-sided.

    “Editors of Finland’s main dailies are white Finns”

    Perhaps because majority of Finns are still white? Even most of the immigrants are from countries where the majority are whites.

    “Rarely if ever do editors ask if the source of the ”immigrant problem” are whites”

    Has MT then ever stated that “immigrant problems” might be caused by the immigrants themselves? No, it is always caused by the society, system or whites. I even suggested MT could also publish news about racist acts against white Finns or even racism between different immigrant groups to balance the discussion, but it did not suit for their agenda. If the newspapers are biased about “immigrant problems”, MT definitely is guilty for this one as well.

    “In Finland, the stronger racism became, the more airtime it gets” & “The rise of racism in our society and our coverage of it reveals how unbalanced and uncritical our media is”

    I’m not sure if this is true. Yes, blogs/news about racism are more likely get attention, but most of the newspapers are condemning that kind of actions. It has also some “shock value” which sells well.

    I think our reaction to this kind of news should be stronger and clearly racist statements should be condemned (like this Hakkarainen’s blog). However, I think quite many MP’s, including Hakkarainen’s own party, condemned his blog, but unfortunately actions against him were not severe enough.

    • Mark

      Joonas

      Has MT then ever stated that “immigrant problems” might be caused by the immigrants themselves? No, it is always caused by the society, system or whites.

      Well, that ain’t fucking true! I’ll tell you here and now Joonas that all individuals usually have some kind of hand in their problems. If we were all saints, the world would have no problems. End of. The question for society is how they can empower those individuals to not be ‘victims’ of the system or of ignorant individuals, while also working on the system so that the system is itself not an obstacle to allowing people to live productive, meaningful and dignified lives. However, the one thing I detest in this debate is an all out campaign to go in the opposite direction, which is to completely individualise all immigrant ‘problems’.

      The problem always when a ship lists far to starboard is that it is much more like to swing far to port on the way back. The really difficult thing is to avoid the lurch and find the stability. Joonas, MT really wants to find the stability in this debate, because ultimately this helps Finns and immigrants the most!!!

      I even suggested MT could also publish news about racist acts against white Finns or even racism between different immigrant groups to balance the discussion, but it did not suit for their agenda.

      The idea that writing stories about crimes by immigrants brings balance to what MT is doing is utterly wrong-headed, Joonas. For a start, it plays into the media and social stigmatisation of immigrant groups. I’m happy to have a discussion about crimes by immigrants as long as this is no longer a political discussion that is at the same time discussing the ‘value’ of immigrants. Because if you mention crime and value in the same sentence or even the same discussion, it’s very clear that the ‘value’ of immigrants immediately begins to diminish. The key issue is NOT to ethnicise crime, NOT to ethnicise politics, and NOT to policise ethnicity and culture. Of course, a great many people in Finland are very happy to jog along that particular forest path despite the very obvious fact that it takes us very clearly towards the cave of the wild bear. Once you unleash that beast of civil division, it’s bloody hard to put it back in its cage. Just ask Syria, Joonas.

      If the newspapers are biased about “immigrant problems”, MT definitely is guilty for this one as well.

      Again, quite wrong-headed. If MT sees that the media is very much biased against immigrants and unable or unwilling to give real voice to real immigrants living with the real consequences of this polluted public discourse on immigration, and decides to give voice to those immigrants and their concerns, how on earth does this tiny website ever manage to bring balance? It cannot. There is now way we can compete on scale or influence with Finland’s major media. So the idea that we have to go, in fact, in the opposite direction, to actually join in with that mainstream media in providing further fuel for stigmatising immigrants as ‘problem’ individuals just leaves me breathless with disbelief.

      Look, Joonas, let me take a deep breath here. I know at some level your idea makes sense in a kind of ‘equality’ kind of way, but really, you are applying the wrong principles in the wrong situation with this one. I am interested in discussing the difficulties of integration and the ‘problems’ that immigrants face and also the issue of how to respond to immigrants that are a danger to society or are off the rails. But I want that discussion to be a discussion about ‘society’, and not a discussion about ‘multicultural’ society, and definitely not in the context of an election campaign. Do you understand why?

  3. Joonas

    “Joonas, MT really wants to find the stability in this debate, because ultimately this helps Finns and immigrants the most!”

    I often see blogs about how white Finns are causing problems to immigrants, but I never see situation other way around or condemning some of the immigrants actions. That makes it sounds like all the problems are caused by the white Finns. How that helps in the debate and understanding between these two groups, if MT blames one group in the same way as some people blames some of the immigrant groups? It just creates bitterness and anger. Or how does it help the immigrant to integrate to Finland’s society if you tell them “It is not your fault”, even the person has not acted accordingly to the social norms? I can endorse some of the blogs MT is writing (I wouldn’t be here, if I didn’t), but some of them seems like finger pointing towards white people.

    Other thing I rarely see in MT is the success/positive stories from the immigrants (I have read some, but not many). In a way, this blog is quite depressing to read (and maybe it supposed to be) – from my experience, it does not reflect how most of the immigrants are living in Finland. Or maybe I have been just lucky, because I have been able to met successful immigrants here. But to be fair, I do not know many people from the immigrants groups that are mostly affected by the discrimination or have bad reputation.

    “Once you unleash that beast of civil division, it’s bloody hard to put it back in its cage.”

    Fair enough. Immigration is a hot topic and it is not always easy to decide how to talk about the subject without hurting people’s feeling or stigmatizing group of people. People sometimes can make ridiculous conclusion when they read news about immigrants. I believe even I’m guilty sometimes stigmatizing some groups.

    “Again, quite wrong-headed. If MT sees that the media is very much biased against immigrants and unable or unwilling to give real voice to real immigrants living with the real consequences of this polluted public discourse on immigration, and decides to give voice to those immigrants and their concerns, how on earth does this tiny website ever manage to bring balance? It cannot.”

    I’m not sure what media are you following, but from my experience media’s writing is quite diverse. If someone gives incorrect information about immigration, usually there is another newspaper making corrections to the news. The biggest newspapers are usually talking about immigration in a positive manners (of course, not always). When there is something really racist about immigrants, it is usually not from the editors, but a blog/statement from a public person. And those are usually condemned by the readers.

    But I agree that immigrants do not have enough visibility in the media

    “I am interested in discussing the difficulties of integration and the ‘problems’ that immigrants face and also the issue of how to respond to immigrants that are a danger to society or are off the rails.”

    Well, I would not go as far as saying ‘danger to society’ (surely there are those as well), but I sometimes I see people who have been unable to adapt to the society and some kind of guidance could be in order. If the person expect everything to be the same as in his homeland, there will be huge culture shock waiting for him. I know there is racism in Finland and some people are experiencing it, but some of the immigrants are using “racism” to pretty much everything if things are getting tough or doesn’t work in the same way as in their homeland – and that I hate. It is like using “bullying” when you get a bad grade in school.

    “But I want that discussion to be a discussion about ‘society’, and not a discussion about ‘multicultural’ society, and definitely not in the context of an election campaign. Do you understand why?”

    I understand. I know you don’t agree with me in many things, but even so, my goal is not to downplay the problems of “whites” or stigmatize immigrant groups. I know some websites are very hostile against immigrants (like, Iltalehti forum) and MT is probably trying to be the “counter force” against it, but I’m not sure your current blogging strategy is the right way of handling it.

  4. Mark

    Thanks you Joonas for the constructive feedback. You do make some good points. I would like to see more positive stories, or just ‘more stories’, rather than reflections only on the media, as a ‘media constructed’ view of immigration is always going to be particularly narrow. Likewise, we could do more to identify areas where immigrants can better help themselves as opposed to ‘blaming’ the host culture or automatically assuming it’s down to racism. Sadly, though, when you are experiencing racism regularly, it gets very hard to be objective in this way, and indeed, it should be recognised that paranoia is itself a negative consequence of living with a degree of racism or stigmatisation, even if that degree is ‘low’ when put in the context of the whole population. Only takes a few bad apples, on both sides, to make this a very difficult discussion.

    Again, thanks. I do appreciate your views, Joonas.

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