Finland, asylum seekers and the media: Moral cowardice and passing the buck

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Migrant Tales has written a lot about how the Finnish media writes about migrants, asylum seekers, and our ever-growing culturally diverse society. One of the biggest, if not the biggest, problem of the Finnish media, when it writes about migrants and minorities, is that it gives white Finland the benefit of the doubt. 

We shouldn’t be surprised by this because the national media is white.

By giving the police service, the Red Cross, and other institutions in Finland the benefit of the doubt, the media believes what they say even if it has doubts.

A good example of the latter is how the Finnish media handled growing hate speech, xenophobia and the rise of an anti-immigration party, the Perussuomalaiset (PS)*, before the 2011 parliamentary elections.

It appeared that the rise of a party like the PS, which based its campaign on populist nationalism and anti-immigration rhetoric, delighted many representatives of the Finnish media because the party reinforced their prejudices and bigotry.

Even so, one may ask how newspapers like Helsingin Sanomat, which should know better, could journalists like Saska Saarikoski be misled into believing that PS MEP Jussi Halla-aho, who was sentenced for ethnic agitation, is a “champion of free speech?”

The answer is simple: The media is only a mirror of Finnish society.

There are, however, some good examples of journalism in Finland but they are very few. One of these is newsmagazine Suomen Kuvalehti. We have seen some brave examples of journalists quit YLE because the state-owned company suppresses critical reporting. Helsingin Sanomat has improved on its reporting of asylum seekers.

Kotka-based daily, Kymen Sanomat, is a good example of how the media plays down valid complaints by migrants by giving the benefit of the doubt to those who are allegedly guilty of mismanagement and mistreatment. It’s a clear example of how, with media collusion, the complaints of asylum seekers are watered down and fall on deaf ears.

Kymen Sanomat quoted Arja Vainio, regional Red Cross director for southwest Finland,  stating that the humanitarian organization “takes each complaint [by asylum seekers at Laajakoski asylum reception center near Kotka] seriously.”

Since the story gives Vainio the benefit of the doubt, Kymen Sanomat backs down and doesn’t ask what the regional director plans to do about the long list of complaints by asylum seekers. Instead, the daily only states that the Red Cross doesn’t comment on individual abuse and mismanagement cases.


Two stories in Migrant Tales and Kymen Sanomat, two versions of events.

Another of the many important matters that the story in the printed version published is that of an Azeri asylum seeker at the Laajakoski asylum center, which has a good relation with the deputy manager, Tiina Meisola. The deputy manager’s mother is Turkish and Azeris speak a language that is closely related to Turkish.

Some asylum seekers claim that Meisola favors and gives special treatment to the Azeris at the center.

The Azeri asylum seeker claims that his family hasn’t experienced any “inappropriate behavior” at the center.

Since the Kotka-based daily doesn’t ask Vainio what she plans to do about the complaints, we can only guess that the Red Cross we’ll do very little to nothing to correct the situation.

Some of the lamentable things that we are seeing in organizations like the Red Cross, politicians, and governments is that they pass the buck to the next organization or country. Politicians in Europe and Finland do this all the time by pointing the finger at the EU as does the Red Cross in the Kymen Sanomat story to the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri).

We can wash our hands of all moral responsibility by pledging to do the bare minimum. If somebody criticizes us for our lack of leadership, all we have to do is say that we’re doing the same thing as in Sweden or in the EU. What about if what Finland, Sweden, and the EU are doing show a lack of leadership and expose our moral cowardice?

Instead of silence, we should seek proactive solutions and not let fear devour our sense of fairness, justice and, most importantly, our courage to act.

The Finnish name for the Finns Party is the Perussuomalaiset (PS). The English names of the party adopted by the PS, like True Finns or Finns Party, promote in our opinion nativist nationalism and xenophobia. We, therefore, prefer to use the Finnish name of the party on our postings. The direct translation of “Perussuomalaiset” is “basic” or “fundamental Finn.”