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