Finnish journalists experience interference in many forms

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A new study by Ilmari Hiltunen of Tampere University and Aleksi Suuronen of Åbo Akademi University offers new empirical evidence on external interference in contemporary journalism, using Finland as a case example.

The study employed two methods: statistical analysis and a survey of 875 Finnish journalists. Age and gender were only marginal factors in the prevalence of interference. Occupational position and media outlet used for reporting were the most significant factors, with employment type also playing an effect.

External and the internal autonomy is required to shield journalists from techniques of manipulation and interference. Meaning, how protected they are from external coercion, and to which extent they can make their own decisions.

Different techniques of coercion

The techniques of coercion and interference are constantly shifting. Non-physical interference consists of verbal pressure and abuse, intimidation, defamation, and other non-physical methods. These were the most typical forms of interference.

Physical interference includes violence, monitoring, and physical interference or tampering with work-related equipment. Vast majority of respondents had not experienced such interference.

Institutional interference works through the legal system or media self-regulation – not covering subjects that may result in other forms of interference. The media outlet had a significant effect: daily newspaper journalists experienced it the most and magazine journalists the least. Editors-in-chief experienced this particularly much due to their position.

Economic interference is an attempt to influence the direction of journalism either positively or negatively. Positive interference is giving economically valuable gifts. Reporters and visual journalists experienced this the most, but editors-in-chief also experienced this.

Negative interference, threatening the loss of sponsors or advertisers, is particularly aimed at regional, local, or semi-local newspapers, the study shows.

Editorial defense shield

Nordic countries have had a high degree of journalistic autonomy, and Finnish journalists have previously perceived themselves as being free of external influences. However, the increased visibility of journalists in new media environment has brought new forms of coercion. The significance of the occupational position as a factor in interference supports the existence of editorial defense shield as practice.

The article “Differences Based on Individual- and Organizational-level Factors in Experiences of External Interference among Finnish Journalists” is in Journalism Practice (open access).

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