Media Monitoring Group of Finland: The Finnish media’s too often toxic role in public discourse

by , under Migrant Tales

The role of the media in shaping public discourse about minorities before the April parliamentary election is evident. We saw this in the case of Oulu in 2018-2019 and its present coverage of “youth gangs” from the fall. It is disheartening that no media has challenged politicians about how they exploit a topic like “youth gangs” and if there are links with Sweden’s and Finland’s parliamentary elections.   

In December, we even saw President Sauli Niinistö, no friend of Finland’s culturally and ethnically diverse communities, give impetus to the toxic labeling of brown and black youths.

Helsingin Sanomat celebrated its 130th anniversary in 2019. The overwhelming majority of the daily’s newsroom comprises of white Finns. Source: Helsingin Sanomart

The coverage of “youth gangs,” which are referred to in Sweden as criminal gangs to avoid blanket labeling of whole groups, exposes in Finland how the media, police, and politicians collaborate to spread a toxic narrative about marginalized groups.

Each of the three groups involved (media, police, and politicians) have a vested interest in exploiting stories about minorities:

– The media gains viewers and advertisers.
– The police can secure more funding.
– Politicians attract voters.

Diversifying the newsroom is an important step in the right direction to improve media coverage of minorities, but it should not be seen as a magic bullet. Unfortunately, newspapers like Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s biggest daily, are behind the times in this respect.

An article in 2019 celebrating the daily’s 130th anniversary showed a picture of a predominantly “white” newsroom. In 2021, 17.3% of Helsinki residents spoke a native language other than Finnish, Swedish, or Sámi. The corresponding figures for Espoo and Vantaa were 20.1% and 23.0%, respectively.

A representative of the Finnish media recently expressed frustration that minority communities rely more on social media than traditional media. Although the media plays a vital role in defending the civil rights of minorities and democracy, too many minorities mistrust the media.

Understanding this challenge, the media must take steps to engage with these communities, listen to their concerns, and provide accurate and inclusive reporting to gain their trust.

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