Frankfurter Allgemeine: Juha Sipilä, Finland’s Prime Minister a small Trump?

juha sipilä

In a recent article published under the title “Kritische Medien erträgt er nicht”(He can not stand critical media), Frankfurter Allgemeine has criticized the attitude of Finland’s PM Juha Sipilä towards the national radio Yle, pushing two journalists to leave Yle because they were not authorized by the management to pursue the topic of Sipilä’s conflicts of interest.

The article indicates that Sipilä is behaving like a small Donald Trump towards the media (“Gegenüber den Medien geriert sich Ministerpräsident Sipilä wie ein kleiner Donald Trump“). “[…] The resignation of Jussi Eronen as the head of the influential editorial office for political magazines at Yleisradio (YLE), the Finnish public broadcasting and broadcasting corporation, aroused the public’s attention. Eronen enjoys a good reputation. He made his decision after a one-minute meeting with the chief editor of the station, Atte Jääskeläinen. Hours later, further journalists followed Eronen’s example. They said that the freedom of press in Finland is drastically restricted,and that the reason for their resignations was a political scandal: Finland’s Prime Minister Juha Sipilä had personally exerted pressure on YLE and wanted to bring the news services on the Finnish radio under his control.[…]

In November, YLE had reported on the mining company Terrafame (a fully state_owned company after a nationalisation operated by Sipilä’s government), which had fallen into a financial crisis under the previous government. Sipilä, whose relatives are shareholders of the company, had saved it with millions of tax euros. The revenge of the Prime Minister for the report followed immediately. With a flood of e-mails, Sipilä tried to exert pressure on YLE and  to question its already wobbly funding from the Finnish parliament . He gave orders not to report on matters of the mining industry any more…

It is important to note that YLE has always been a reflection of the Finnish domestic landscape, traditionally under the influence of the Social Democrats. Prime Minister Sipilä from the Central Party and his coalition partners from the right-oriented National Collective Party had long planned to reorient it. Their action is testament to the upheaval in Finnish political culture. Professional politicians are increasingly being replaced by executives from business or information technology, such as Sipilä. With them the political tone changes. They […] decide quickly, depending on the mood, with little consideration for long-term consequences.

It is significant that Sipila’s government could not bring a bill of law without rejection by the Finnish parliament. It lacks the sense of thorough preparation and democratic discussion. The Central Party and the National Coalition Party want to jointly implement a new hard line. In Finland, which, unlike Germany and France, is hit hard by the economic sanctions against Russia, the right-wingers feel that their country must once again pay the for Europe. It is also new to Finland that a prime minister is trying to save a company with tax money. If he behaves like a tsar, this inevitably leads to protests.

The Finnish population is working hard with a great common ground to be proud of their country. It is shocked by the news concerning YLE, especially because what happens is similar to the reports theyget from countries where populist parties have not only parliamentary majority but also control over the media. At first sight it looks like that now in Finland. However, with Sipilä, it is a special kind of game. With Prime Minister Sipilä, it is not a new ideology which is in power, as for instance Law and Justice (PiS) in Poland, but someone who can not separate between private and political spheres and thinks that he can direct the Finnish state as if he would be in its own company.

In Finland , there has been a  number of critics against the article. The main point is that Sipilä has not been threatening Yle, just been reacting too fast to the fact that  the journalists were planning to publish the article without giving him more than some minutes to react to it and take into account his arguments. A second element is the fact that his family is not a  shareholder of Terrafame, but a minority shareholder of a Terrafame  contractor. In addition, Sipilä denies questionning the funding of YLE in the Parliament. All elements can be found in an article (sorry, in Finnish) in “Markkinointi & Mainonta” by journalist Matti Virtanen, who points to several other mistakes in Frankfurter Allgemeine’s piece.
It is certainly regrettable that Sipilä has lost his temper, which is quite worrying for a Prime Minister who should take carefully weighted decisions for the country. It is also  a problem that Yle’s management has tried to stop their journalists to continue to investigate, as it gives the impression that the Prime Minister benefits from a special protection linked to the fact that Yle is state-funded. but Sipilä is definitely not Trump, and Finland benefits from a free press. As Finland Politics knows well…

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