The Only Way is Ethics: Finland’s press regulation is outstanding but it just wouldn’t fit Britain’s complex media

Finland’s Council for Mass Media oversees a system of voluntary self-regulation


I imagine Finland to be rather lovely. Inhabited by just five and half million souls, it is the most sparsely populated country in the European Union. It came late to industrialisation and its history – particularly during the 20th century – underpins a cultural and political unity that has led it to top international league tables for education, civil liberties, economic development and general good things.

One marker of its success is its listing at the head of the world press freedom index. Even better: in spite of its great liberty, Finland’s media is responsible and upstanding. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Finnish model has been mentioned in glowing terms by some of those who, during the great debate about the ethics of the British media, have sought a solution by reference to foreign parallels.

Sure enough, Finland’s Council for Mass Media is an effective and well-respected body, which oversees a system of voluntary self-regulation. At a conference in London last week, its chairman, Risto Uimonen, gave a convincing account of its work in holding the media to account and helping the public gain redress.

But is it realistic to imagine that a system of media regulation can be imported lock, stock and barrel and be as effective in its new domain as it was in its last? In any event, the Finnish council’s board has a majority of editorial representatives, which would hardly be acceptable here. Its sanction – to require an offending outlet to publish its verdict if a complaint is upheld – is no greater than the Press Complaints Commission’s. Yet the PCC has been accused of lacking “teeth”.

Regulators can learn from one another. Forums such as the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe have enabled much sharing of best practice. Yet news media outlets remain largely a product of their national boundaries . As such, for media regulation to be effective, it has to understand and respond to the domestic context.

Finland has no tabloids to rival the best of British. Nor does it have the UK’s history of cut-throat competition in its media market. Its (pan-) media council deals with around 300 complaints a year: 100 or so are ruled on, of which about a third are upheld. Good as it may be, you can forget importing the system to Britain; it barely exists in the same world.

The problem with propaganda

Last Thursday’s front page showed a remarkable image, taken from a propaganda video, which purported to show Isis fighters in Iraq on the outskirts of Tikrit. The Independent was not alone in using it.

There is always a dilemma about employing material that appears to have been created for propaganda purposes. We felt it was important to let readers know about its origins, which we did via our caption. But on this occasion there was an additional dilemma because the complete picture included in its top corner an Arabic inscription. Various experts were unclear as to its exact English translation but it amounted effectively to a propaganda slogan. To give those words front-page prominence seemed a step too far. Yet to crop it reduced the impact.

The alternative solution would have been digitally to alter the image to remove the slogan. That, however, was the worst option and one that would have potentially breached the codes to which we adhere.

In the end, we decided to crop the image. That avoided distortion and enabled us to show the picture without the explicit (yet untranslated) message.

Will Gore is Deputy Managing Editor of The Independent, i, Independent on Sunday and the Evening Standard

Twitter: @willjgore

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth