It is always refreshing to observe media developments in different countries.
In July, I travelled to Finland and, since then, have observed the media landscape with great interest. At the start of August, an amended act concerning the public broadcasting company Yle came to force. The act somewhat limits the company’s ability to publish textual content. For example, it requires the broadcaster to include video or audio recordings in most of the textual content published online.
As always, there are exceptions to this rule. Yle is still allowed to publish text-only content related to culture, education, and developing live news situations. CEO Merja Ylä-Anttila believes the law change will not substantially affect the company’s content production and “the amount of textual content Yle produces.”
So why then change the act?
It came after the Finnish media advocacy group Medialiitto complained to the European Commission about Yle’s digital content provision. News publishers believe the state-funded broadcaster has an unfair competitive edge over them in digital publishing.
In its complaint, Medialiitto said that from 2011 to 2015, the turnover of commercial news publishers shrank by €400 million, whereas Yle’s turnover increased by €80 million during the same period.
However, in early August this year, Medialiitto CEO Jukka Holmberg did not want to estimate how quickly the new act would benefit news publishers or how much their turnover would improve as a result.
The benefits of the act are far from clear. Some researchers believe that, in general, public broadcasters do not hamper commercial news publishers’ revenue. In contrast, public broadcasters are seen to support commercially operated news publishers and freedom of speech.
Marko Ala-Fossi, a journalism lecturer at the University of Tampere, says it is hard to understand whose interests the act really serves: “It is very difficult to see how defining or restricting the format of Yle's online content could improve the profitability or revenue generation of commercial online media. These things have very little to do with each other.”
Yle’s editor-in-chief Jouko Jokinen believes the act may harm freedom of speech and journalistic freedom. For example, content decisions may not be based purely on journalistic or news values, but may be driven by the availability of audio and video recordings. He also points out “there is no evidence” that Yle’s textual content harms commercial news publishers. He refers to the media company Alma Media, which recently gave a positive profit warning.
The act is controversial and divisive but may have implications for other public broadcasters in the European Union. It is interesting to see what the real benefits for news publishers are and whether further complaints are going to be made about the state-funded media’s right to publish digital textual content.