Helsingin Sanomat’s mea culpa on immigration issues

by , under All categories, Enrique

By Enrique Tessieri

Is lack of knowledge about living in a society with a small foreign population an excuse for poor and deficient coverage of Finland’s ever-growing immigrant population? The editor of Finland’s leading daily, Helsingin Sanomat, told Lahti-based Etelä-Suomen Sanomat that it has aimed to raise immigrant, racism and tolerance issues since society and the political atmosphere has changed in the country. 

Editor Riikka Venäläinen states that immigration is a relatively new phenomenon in Finland and therefore offered a sort of mea culpa. “…our job is to give background information, analysis and develop the story from a certain angle,” she said, “When that is done  on a tight schedule, it’s pretty certain that we are guilty of very short-sighted conclusions. I accept the criticism that has to do with reporting on immigration issues.”

I am surprised by Venäläinen’s comment. Don’t Helsingin Sanomat reporters ever travel abroad? Don’t they have foreign spouses? What about foreign correspondents?  Don’t they have any relatives who emigrated to countries like Sweden, Canada and the United States in the past 140-odd years? Haven’t they read our history?

Venäläinen’s admission sounds more like a poor excuse for doing a shoddy job. It reveals as well the lack of reporters with immigrant backgrounds covering such an important issue like cultural diversity in Finnish society. In a way it’s as if 99% men were reporters covering women’s rights issues.

But she does ask a good question at the end of the story whether the children of immigrants, who may speak perfect Finnish, should be called immigrants anymore.

Such a comment exposes, in my opinion, a bold statement by Helsingin Sanomat and how exclusive Finnish society is. How does Venäläinen think Finland could be a more inclusive society? Maybe that would be a good editorial that Helsingin Sanomat could write and show leadership.

Not all dailies in Finland appear to be as much in the dark about immigration and cultural diversity issues as Helsingin Sanomat. Some good examples are Etelä-Suomen Sanomat, Aamulehti, Kansan Uutiset  as well as others.

Writing about immigration is like reporting on any social issue that takes place in our society. The benchmarks are the same: inclusion, social justice, equality, fairness and acceptance.

These are values we should already know at elementary school.

  1. Martin-Éric

    Enrique, how about this: send her an e-mail, offering to join the HS staff as their very first foreign-born journalist and see whether she feels that it would be an appropriate response to her mea culpa or not.

    • Enrique

      Hi Martin-Éric, not a bad idea. I’ve been toying with the idea of sending her the link, which I will do now. Thanks!

  2. Mark


    – ““When that is done on a tight schedule, it’s pretty certain that we are guilty of very short-sighted conclusions. I accept the criticism that has to do with reporting on immigration issues.”

    This is pretty worrying. On the face of it, immigrants are much less likely to get into the news for having positions of power, positions of celebrity or positions of cultural status – so that means they generally get in the papers for the wrong reasons, even though their cultural status is equal to that of Finland.

    Immigrants have with their own history of arts, their own levels of political and social achievement, their own literatures, their own cultural heritage, their own sense of values, rights and justice, and their own diversities within their cultures.

    But all of this is lost if all the reporting focuses on crimes by immigrants or reports on immigrants being a threat to the western way of life or economic prosperity. The unbalance in reporting can seriously misrepresent the immigrant community. Not only that, but if HS did focus more on ‘foreign culture’, it would perhaps be accused of allowing ‘foreign culture’ to take over, to somehow be putting home-grown culture away.

    In some ways, it’s a no-win situation for HS, but editorial leadership and some insight into the social responsibilities of the media should come to play here, as you say, Enrique. It’s a start, though, admitting there is a problem.

  3. Mark

    I think the error here is also not so much what they do, ‘e.g. reporting crime’, but on what they don’t do, i.e. report on cultural, political, and social events within the immigrant community in Finland.

  4. Miina Nurmi

    Do you actually read Helsingin Sanomat? In my opinion they are very pro-immigrant and have made an effort to include the immigrants’ point of view in their reporting whenever possible. They’ve also had several immigrant columnists (right now I can only remember Alexandra Salmela by name), some of whom write in Finnish while others’ writings are translated, so to participate, your written Finnish doesn’t have to be perfect. Riikka Venäläinen’s comment seems to me that they are taking their responsibility seriously and want to improve in their job.

    Helsingin Sanomat is actually one of the media that the “True Finns” dislike because of HS’s openly liberal and tolerant standpoint… one more reason to like HS.

    • Enrique

      Hi Miina, welcome to Helsingin Sanomat and thank you for your thread. I actually subscribe to Sunday’s HS. Maybe you are right and they are trying to do a better job. Let’s hope that that is the case.

  5. andi

    As somebody who has lived studied and worked in Finland I am an immigrant although I no longer feel like one. I am not Finnish either though, nor do I feel Finnish. An important question to ask as well is how many years do you have to live here before the stigma of immigrant status is removed?

    Good point on the children of immigrants though, they are not immigrants, but first generation Finns and also the future of the country like any other Finnish children.

    • Enrique

      Hi andi and welcome to Migrant Tales. I totally agree with what you say. If there are gripes about immigration issues in Finland, it is the one you mentioned and asked: When does the immigration label wear off?

      I thought it quite incredible that the editor of Finland’s largest daily said that they must ask (a good matter) if the children of immigrants should be still called immigrants. HS should ask them what they call themselves.

      If Finnish society were more inclusive it would solve a lot of problems on the immigration front.

  6. andi

    The perus Suomalaiset dislike every publication which says things that go against their point of view. Please stop using the term true Finns for them, true Finns are very open internationally orientated, friendly and approachable people who actually rather hate what the perus Suomalaiset are about.

    The perus Suomalaiset should not be allowed to call themselves true Finns.

    • Enrique

      andi, we don’t use that term on Migrant Tales. The last straw that was already on the camel’s broken back was “The Finns.” We call them by their Finnish name, Perussuomalaiet, or PS.

  7. andi

    That’s good to hear Enrique. I was just referring to Minna’s post. I know that many Finns themselves are quite annoyed at the PS trying to take that name. But this is off topic anyway.

    You are right that a more inclusive society would solve a lot of problems. I live in a small town in Eastern Finland where there are not so many people of immigrant background, all told we total about 100 adults, most of first generation and about 50 kids, most of whom where born in Finland. Even here the lack of inclusiveness is quite noticeable. We are in the process of starting up a regular coffee morning for international and like minded people, but have had quite a few rather impolite comments about what we are trying to do. It does not help that the only online forum for local discussion is run by an affiliate of the Itsenaisus puolue.

    It is rather strange that the only people who are vocal tend to be those who are prejudiced, also strange that most media concentrates on the growth of hatred thus helping to fuel that growth rather than putting more emphasis on those who are trying to work together to make a better place for everybody.

    • Enrique

      andi, don’t let anyone get you down never mind a member of the Itsenäisyyspuolue, which are an even worse case than the PS when it comes to their stand on immigration issues. I believe that the only way to face racism is by grabbing it by the horns: write, demonstrate and show with your example leadership on this front. As you know, we have had a lot of problems in Eastern Finland like in Lieksa, Iisalmi and others.

      We encourage you to keep on doing what you are doing to improve relations with the locals. The more people know you the more you will win them over to your side.

  8. Jaakko

    If the child has been born and raised in Finland, then of course she/he is not a immigrant or has ever been. If you have moved from another country to Finland, then you are an immigrant, even you have lived here 50 years. But I don’t find term “immigrant” offensive or something you should be ashamed of, even some of the people seems to have problems with the term.

  9. justicedemon


    Nowadays it’s increasingly common for Finnish expatriates to start their families abroad and return to Finland when the children approach school age. This alone makes their children immigrants, even though they are Finnish by birth and have spent their earliest formative years in a Finnish environment (i.e. at home).

    One problem for a serious news medium like Hesari is that its language forms are torn between the demands of analytic precision and the facts of common usage, including usage that has been manipulated for political reasons. Terms like immigrant, alien, refugee, displaced person, and returnee all have quite precise meanings associated with human mobility and the legal relationship of individuals to states. In common usage, however, we find that these expressions become associated with a complex web of contingent connotations. Thus the foreign-born children of Finnish migrant workers are not understood as immigrants and people who have never lived in Finland can find themselves classified as returnees.