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Helsingin Sanomat asks readers to “Read Between the Lies”

By Tuomas Jääskeläinen

Helsingin Sanomat

Helsinki, Finland


Every year, for World Press Freedom Day on May 3, we work hard to come up with creative ways to remind our audience that freedom of the press is not to be taken for granted — not even in Finland, one of the top-ranking countries in the World Press Freedom Index.

Exactly one year ago, the whole world was spiraling deeper into a deadly pandemic. The news desk was electrified by the situation. Our teams were working tirelessly to report the news in a working environment that changed almost overnight with social distancing, protective gear, and endless Teams meetings.

We were coming up with new ways to do our job every single day. Our driving force was the realisation that the need for fact-based journalism was now more essential than ever.

At the same time, we noticed worrying developments in other parts of the world. Many oppressive governments resorted to censoring facts about the disease and its development, even using the pandemic as an excuse to further their control over the media.

Also in Finland, the situation was a breeding ground for misinformation. Tones were getting harsher about how the government or the press should treat the disease. The chaotic situation fostered massive amounts of misinformation, especially in social media. Cries of “fake news” were used to push political agendas, sometimes almost eclipsing the hard work of real journalists.

Press under stress

In March, reporters Davidson Rojas in Venezuela and Mohammed Mosaed in Iran were arrested and interrogated for COVID-19 reporting that didn’t please the ruling powers. In Hungary, the leading Fidesz party declared a state of emergency, granting itself practically autocratic powers. By May 2020, the Index of Censorship organisation had listed over 200 incidents of suppression of free expression related to COVID-19.

Times of crisis give the leaders a chance to increase control and set laws that decrease freedom of speech. Nothing will guarantee that these restrictions shall be lifted when things get back to normal. Many people wondered: If this can happen in another EU country like Hungary, could it also happen in our country one day?

Our objective was to provide a tangible reminder of the value of free press and to strengthen the newspaper’s brand by drawing attention to its core principles. The printed newspaper was the most iconic medium for this objective. In one of our creative workshops, we came up with an idea to play a little bit with the medium and launched our “Read Between the Lies” campaign.

Helsingin Sanomat wanted to create a reminder of the value of free press while also strengthening the newspaper's brand.
Helsingin Sanomat wanted to create a reminder of the value of free press while also strengthening the newspaper's brand.

We published a print ad that at first seemed like an ad, but when held against the light, revealed an additional message in defense of freedom of the press.

When held against the light, a hidden message printed on the backside of the newspaper became visible between the lines. That message said: “Today we celebrate World Press Freedom Day. Several governments have lied about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Distorting information and concealing facts have further deteriorated the freedom of the press in countries such as China, Iran, Iraq, and Hungary.”

When held against the light, the newspaper page showed an additional message.
When held against the light, the newspaper page showed an additional message.

We reminded our readers in Finland how important press freedom is to the transparent and truthful flow of information. At the end of the day, we made truth and journalism the talk of the town with the creative use of newsprint as a medium.

About Tuomas Jääskeläinen

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