I was invited on Tuesday to speak at a seminar on immigration* for YLE journalists. One of the questions I asked was why do Finnish journalists give so much space and attention to far-right anti-immigration politicians? Why do some give racists inflated respectability and importance?
A recent story about Finland accepting 500 refugees from war-torn Syria is a good example. In my opinion, the story has been blown way out of proportion.
Even if we’re speaking of a tiny number of refugees, 500 souls, who are in danger of dying, some media appears to think that the number one story is what Perussuomalaiset (PS) MPs Jussi Halla-aho and Vesa-Matti Saarakkala think about the matter.
Both MPs are radical anti-immigration politicians who have made their political careers by spreading intolerance against immigrants and minorities. Halla-aho was sentenced for ethnic agitation.
A journalist who writes about immigration must spot the red herrings when writing the news.
Let’s take the news concerning the small number of refugees from Syria and ask what could be the top news:
- Is it Halla-aho telling us once again that he loathes Muslim refugees?
- Is it his argument, that saving a few from the clutches of war and destruction is useless?
- Is it the parliamentary question which he sent with Vesa-Matti Saarakkala that has no chance of passing?
- Is it that we are taking too few refugees when compared with Sweden, which has given asylum to 15,000 Syrians?
- None of the above.
In the same way that Halla-aho and Saarakkala argue that it makes no difference to accept a few hundred from war-ravaged Syria, we could ask why Raoul Wallenberg or Oscar Schindler saved tens of thousands of Jews if millions were murdered in Nazi concentration camps?
Uusi Suomi is one disgraceful example of how bigotry has spread in Finland and helped politicians like James Hirvisaari to become household names. The Finnish media is definitely part of the problem when it comes to racism in Finland.
Even if parties like the PS and groups like the Youth League of the National Coalition Party believe it’s fine to take shots at immigrants and minorities, in many cases with the help of the media, the question we should ask is why we give so much attention and space to racism and intolerance?
Does it reveal something about our own attitudes?
Migrant Tales has grown rapidly thanks to the one-sided coverage by the media of immigrant and cultural diversity affairs in this country. The Finnish media leaves a lot of news out of the picture because it rarely takes into account the opinion of immigrants and members of the visible minority community.
In order to become a good beat reporter, an authority in a particular area, you need to be well-informed and know the issues. Patronizing and publishing anti-immigration sound bites won’t help your career but spells mediocre and shoddy journalism.
If journalists did their jobs when covering the news by taking into account the views of immigrants and members of the visible minority community, we would deal a fatal blow to one-sided journalism on cultural diversity.
Finland’s media plays an important role in preserving our Nordic values and everyone’s right, irrespective of his or her background, to be treated equally and with respect.
If we lose sight of these values because the media is lazy and racist as those spreading intolerance in our country, we’ll lose more as a society than we ever imagined in our most dreadful nightmares.
*The seminar was hosted by Abdirahim Hussein of YLE and attended by Nora Kajantie, Camila Haavisto, Maryan Abdulkarim, Hanna Kautto and Iken Iduozee.