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

Share

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

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

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions