The media has power but it prefers driving a moped when confronting racism and the Perussuomalaiset

by , under Enrique Tessieri

If there is somebody to blame for Finland’s Perussuomalaiset (PS)* problem, a big part of the blame falls on the media. In that group, you will find politicians and about 17% of Finns who vote for an openly hostile party to Muslims, people of color, and minorities.

A good example of the media’s power was seen on Monday when PS chairperson Jussi Halla-aho was questioned about his anti-Semitic blog writings. The question put Halla-aho momentarily in the hot seat, forcing a knee-jerk response. He denied (surprise, surprise!) being an anti-Semite and said that the claim was a popularity stunt by Lauri Nurmi, who recently published an unofficial biography of him.

Read the original story (in Finnish) here.

The question took Halla-aho by surprise, and the only defense he could put up was to answer by hitting below the belt.

Halla-aho’s response and anger showed that he is vulnerable and that the media can ask politicians tough questions if it wishes. It is called having teeth or journalistic grit.

Why do we see so little tough questioning by the Finnish media when it comes to topics like racism, Islamophobia, and the PS.

There are two reasons why this type of tough journalism is missing too often in the national media.

One of these is the lack of cultural and ethnic diversity in the newsroom and causes blind spots concerning social ills like Islamophobia. Keeping racism unchecked and out of editorials means that such social ills can continue to grow with the help of our prejudices and parties like the PS.

Helsingin Sanomat is a sad case, in my opinion. If you look at its newsroom staff, you will find it predominately white even if in Helsinki, 16% of residents speak another mother tongue than Finnish or Swedish.

The country’s biggest daily does not see anti-Muslim racism or racism in general as a big enough problem. If you search for “Islamophobia” on its website, you will find for 2020 four listings on the topic. Three of them are from abroad, and only one about the Muslim LGBTQ community of Finland. The Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle) does not do any better.

Apart from the lack of diversity in the newsroom and unchecked institutional racism in society, Finland’s media had experienced strong censorship and self-censorship during the Cold War.

Topics like foreign relations with the former Soviet Union, even EU membership, were once sacrosanct and off-limits.

As long as the media lacks teeth and is slow in denouncing Islamophobia and all forms of racism and far-right parties, the media will continue to be part of the problem.