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Finland ranks high internationally on press freedom indexes. While freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Finnish Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights, and individual pieces of legislation, Finnish law criminalizes defamation, harassment, threats, stalking, violations of privacy, and hate speech. Journalists may also be punished for the language they use in response to what they perceive as online harassment. Finland has also criminalized specific behavior that often takes place online or through smartphones by way of provisions barring the dissemination of information that infringes on the right to private life and crimes infringing on other’s peaceful enjoyment of communication.
One well-publicized incident involving a journalist in Finland was the online harassment of Jessica Aro for investigating Russian internet activities.
To stem hateful speech generally, the government has initiated a cross-ministry project aimed at reducing hateful rhetoric online, but no legislation on the topic, nor any specific to journalists, is currently pending in the Finnish Parliament. The journalism industry itself has also undertaken a number of initiatives, including publishing a guide for journalists on how to respond to harassment online and establishing a fund for journalists that are victims of harassment in connection with their profession.
Finland ranks second in the Reporters Without Borders 2019 World Press Freedom Index. Also, a 2017 Freedom House report ranked it as one of the least-restrictive countries with regard to freedom of the press. Finland previously held the number-one spot on the of World Press Freedom Index, but lost it over what became known as the “Sipilägate” of 2017, when the Prime Minister of Finland tried to discourage Finnish journalists from reporting on his potential conflict of interest related to a state-funded nickel mine.
Generally, online harassment and cyberbullying is considered a problem in Finland, and one which is growing. In 2018, the Finnish government recognized that journalists, together with other professionals such as “researchers, judges and human right activists,” are at an increased and special risk of being harassed online because of the nature of their work. The media industry itself views scared and intimidated journalists as a threat to democracy. A report from 2018 also indicates that certain news topics cause more harassment against journalists than other news, the biggest culprits being news related to contentious topics such as those concerning immigration and Russia.
A. Freedom of Speech
The right to freedom of speech is guaranteed in the Finnish Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights, and individual pieces of legislation such as the Act on the Exercise of Freedom of Expression in Mass Media. In 1766, the Swedish Kingdom, of which Sweden and Finland were then a part, became the first jurisdiction in the world to pass a Freedom of the Press Act. However, in Finland freedom of expression does not provide citizens or the media with a right to utter hate speech. Determining what is considered free speech and what is hate speech can be difficult. For example, Finland has lost cases before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for punishing speech too harshly, including with prison sentences. In Niskasaari v. Finland, the ECtHR found that the Finnish courts had gone beyond what was “necessary in a democratic society” when it punished a reporter for misreporting on (and thereby defaming) the Child Ombudsman with forty day-fines as well as damages. Recently, the national prosecutor has been reluctant to prosecute members of Parliament for defamatory language used against journalists or minority groups, if used in connection with a political topic.
B. General Criminal and Civil Offenses Related to Harassment
Finnish law criminalizes a number of activities, including defamation, harassment, threats of violence, and stalking, that apply to both offline and online behavior, but also describes a number of crimes specific to online behavior, such as violating a person’s privacy online. In addition to the penalties described below, these criminal provisions also entitle the victim to damages from the perpetrator.
1. Defamation and Aggravated Defamation
Finland criminalizes defamation and “aggravated defamation.” Aggravated defamation occurs when the defamation causes great suffering or “especially great harm.” Defamation is punishable with monetary fines, and aggravated defamation with up to two years of imprisonment. The legislation is medium neutral, meaning defamation may occur either verbally, in print, through broadcasts, or online.
The Discrimination Act criminalizes harassment related to “age, national origin, nationality, language, religion, faith, opinion, political activity, unionized activity, family situation, health, disability, sexual orientation, or any other circumstance pertaining to an individual person.” In addition, sexual harassment is prohibited and considered a form of discrimination.
3. Threats of Violence
4. Agitative Speech Targeting a Special Group of People (Hets mot folkgrupp) (Hate Speech)
Agitative speech targeting a special group of people (hets mot folkgrupp, or hate speech) is criminalized, irrespective of the medium used. The crime is punishable with monetary fines or up to two years of imprisonment. Aggravated agitation of a specially designated group is its own crime and pertains to cases where the agitator incites genocide, crimes against humanity, or other aggravated violence. Aggravated agitation of a special group is punishable with a minimum of four months’ but no more than four years’ imprisonment.
As of 2014, stalking is a separate crime in Finland, defined as follows in the Criminal Code:
A person who repeatedly, follows, watches, or contacts, or in another similar manner without permission stalks someone where the behavior is meant to invoke fear or anxiety in the person that is being stalked . . . is guilty of unlawful stalking and may be sentenced to monetary fines or imprisonment of up to two years.
During the legislative process, the Finnish legislature found it important to ensure that this crime could be prosecuted without the participation of the victim, as victims are generally perceived as unwilling to step forward out of fear that the behavior will then escalate into other types of crimes.
6. Dissemination of Information that Infringes the Right to Privacy
Finland prohibits the dissemination of information that infringes on the right to private life. In addition, such violations that may be considered aggravated are subject to imprisonment of up to two years. Dissemination of information that infringes on the right to private life is defined as follows:
A person who
1) by the use of mass media or
2) in another way makes available, to a large number of people,
distributes information, insinuation, or pictures pertaining to someone else’s private life, in a manner which is designed to cause harm or suffering for the violated person or exposes him or her to discredit, shall be convicted of having disseminated information that infringes on the right to privacy, and be sentenced to monetary fines,
Information pertaining to persons who are active in politics, business, or public service, or in another public assignment, or in another activity that may be considered similar to the aforementioned activities, shall not be considered dissemination of information that infringes on the right to private life, if the information, insinuation, or picture may affect the determination of the person’s actions in connection with the assignment and the dissemination is needed for discussion of a question important to society.
Nor should information that has been disseminated because of a question that is of importance to discuss from a societal perspective, if the information in light of its content, other people’s rights, and other circumstances, does not clearly exceed what may be considered acceptable, be considered infringement of the right to private life.
The Finnish Supreme Court has ruled on this provision several times, allowing newspapers to report on the suspected immoral or illegal activity of prominent Finnish citizens, while convicting private persons for the publication on Facebook of the picture of a convicted pedophile and the online publication of a video of the Finnish police removing a child from its parent. Thus, in conformity with the language above, mass media outlets have been given greater freedom in cases where the societal interest outweighs the interest of the affected person.
7. Crimes against Peaceful Communication
In 2013, the Finnish Parliament passed legislation criminalizing interference with the peaceful enjoyment of communication services (brott mot kommunikationsfrid).
1 a § (13.12.2013/879)
Crimes infringing on [other’s] peaceful enjoyment of communication services
A person who, with the intent of disrupting, repeatedly sends messages to or calls someone else, in a manner meant to cause [the recipient] considerable disruption or inconvenience, shall be found guilty of crimes infringing on [other’s] peaceful enjoyment of communication and be sentenced to monetary fines or imprisonment of no more than six months.
The law can be described as an expansion of the principle of “home peace protection” (hemfridsbrott). Thus, violations that happen through messaging over the phone, or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media platforms, are now punishable similar to repeatedly calling someone, playing loud music to spite another person, hiding in someone’s backyard, or throwing stones at someone’s window. Both hemfridsbrott and brott mot kommunikationsfrid are punishable with monetary fines or up to six months of imprisonment. However, only the crime hemfridsbrott has an aggravated offense tied to it (grovt hemfridsbrott). A hemfridsbrott is aggravated if the person uses a weapon, meaning either a gun or another item that can be used to injure a person. This crime is punishable with imprisonment for up to two years.
The 2013 legislation was intentionally written to be technology neutral, as communications technology, and likewise the means by which people may harass one another through repeated contact, is developing quickly. When adopting the legislation, the Finnish Parliament, considering the legal precedent of the European Court of Human Rights, made certain crimes that are “only” expressions related to freedom of speech subject only to monetary fines.
The Finnish Supreme Court has not yet tried a case involving crimes infringing on other’s peaceful enjoyment of communication services, but reportedly the police have aided victims in removing online comments with reference to the new law.
III. Cases Pertaining to Journalists
A. Prosecutions for Online Harassment of Journalists
The most famous online harassment case of a journalist is the case of harassment of Jessica Aro, a Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yleisradio Oy, Yle) investigative journalist. Aro and two other Finnish journalists were victims of defamation by online publisher Ilja Janitskin and researcher Johan Bäckman.
In 2014, Aro became known for her investigative reporting on Russian “troll-factories” and, in response, received death threats, had her phone number published online, and was otherwise smeared online in both discussion forums and on videos. She even received a text message purporting to be from her dead father. In 2016, the national prosecutor initiated an investigation into the threats made against, and defamation of, Aro.
Ultimately, on October 18, 2018, the Helsinki District Court convicted Ilja Janitskin and two of his colleagues for defaming Aro and two other Finnish journalists, Linda Pelkonen and Rebekka Härkönen. In total Ilja Janitskin was convicted of sixteen counts of criminal acts: three instances of aggravated defamation, two instances of agitation of a special group, three instances of intellectual property rights violations, two instances of secrecy crimes, two instances of monetary gambling crimes, and four instances of monetary collection crimes.
Thus, none of the actions for which Janitskin was convicted fell under the online-specific crimes mentioned in Part II, above, such as dissemination of information that infringes the right to private life, or violation of the right to peaceful enjoyment of communication services.
Commentators have claimed that it is important that lengthy prison sentences be handed out in response to these types of crimes. One of the important factors in the Janitskin case was the responsibility Janitskin had in his role as a de facto online publisher (ansvarig utgivare). Because false, hateful, and defamatory comments and articles were published in his online publications MV-lehti and Uber Utiset, Janitskin was deemed responsible.
B. Defamation by Journalists
While Finnish law protects journalists from online harassment, defamation provisions also circumscribe what targeted journalists can post in response to such harassment, as illustrated by the case of Finnish journalist Johanna Vehkoo. Vehkoo claimed she was harassed by local politician Junes Lokka, but was later convicted of defamation for calling Lokka a Nazi on her Facebook page. The case caused an outcry from Finnish media outlets. Some journalists have even argued that the judgment against Vehkoo will ”encourage those who harass others online.”
IV. Parliamentary Discussions
Media outlets have called for both tougher sentences but also tougher legislation against hate crime and harassment online, especially when targeted towards journalists. Members of the Finnish Parliament have petitioned Parliament for legislation on hate rhetoric. Upon the direct question “What measures will you undertake to intervene in hateful rhetoric using legislation?,” the Minister for Justice has responded that most of the crimes committed online are covered by general legislation, such as defamation and threats. The Minister did point out, however, that an increased effort to combat the targeted harassment of professionals such as journalists is needed. As of yet, these concerns have not resulted in any concrete proposals in Parliament.
V. Other Government Actions
The Finnish Department of Justice has published a guide titled Journalists and Hate Rhetoric, which was part of a 2019 campaign against hateful rhetoric. The purpose of the campaign was to develop greater support for victims of hate crimes, and to support agencies in their efforts to combat hateful rhetoric. The campaign included both government agencies and nongovernment organizations, as well as the Police and the National Prosecutor’s Office.
Also in 2019, the Ministry of the Interior published a report suggesting government actions to prevent hateful comments from being published. It was translated into English with the title Words Are Actions: More Efficient Measures against Hate Speech and Cyberbullying. The purpose of the report, the Ministry said, was to
- . . . provide an overview of the current action to counter the hate speech prohibited under the Non-Discrimination Act and the Act on Equality between Women and Men (hereafter also referred to as Equality Act) and made punishable under the Criminal Code;
- assess, in cooperation with civil society actors, the current situation concerning the countering of hate speech and the measures under way;
- prepare recommendations for new measures to combat hate speech in the short and in the long run, drawing attention to such issues as the general prerequisites for restricting fundamental rights;
- prepare a proposal on how the measures against illegal and punishable hate speech implemented by the authorities and civil society and the exchange of information on the matter could be better coordinated and harmonized;
- draft proposals for a discussion culture in which other individuals are respected and properly considered. The proposals should contain measures to disseminate among the public information on illegal hate speech, its impact and consequences.
The working group behind the report issued the following recommendations to deal with hateful rhetoric and cyberbullying:
- Create an Action Plan against hate speech (hateful rhetoric)
- Establish a Center for Excellence (research center) with the purpose of collecting and analyzing information on hateful rhetoric, discrimination, racism, hate crimes, and other hateful acts
- Develop current legislation
- Online platforms should take more responsibility
- Promote media’s opportunities to combat hate speech
- Improve the support of persons who have been subjected to hate speech (hateful rhetoric)
- Ensure that the employer and principal take responsibility when an employee is subject to hateful speech or a hate campaign
- [Provide] more information and education on hateful rhetoric and freedom of expressions, and the boundaries thereof
- Strengthen media literacy
- More effective measures against faith-based hate speech
- Increase teachers’ and educational staffs’ preparedness for intervening in hateful rhetoric and cyberbullying
- Prevent political hateful rhetoric
VI. Industry Responses to Increased Harassment of Journalists
As a response to the harassment of journalists the mass media industry has launched a number of initiatives. For instance, in 2019, the Finnish media companies joined forces and set up a “journalist support fund” to counter harassment. The fund will be administered by the Foundation for the Promotion of Journalistic Culture (Journalistisen kulttuurin edistämissäätiö, Jokes), but as of September 2019 is not yet active. Moreover, the Union of Journalists of Finland has issued a guide for active journalists with advice on what to do if they are the target of a hate campaign. Finnish media representatives have also issued cries for a return to “fact-based” journalism.
Foreign Law Specialist
 Selvitimme, millaista vainoaminen Suomessa on: roskien penkomista ja eroottisten vaatteiden tilaamista uhrin nimissä – ”Vain mielikuvitus on rajana”, Yle (Apr. 23, 2018), https://perma.cc/FH94-DYAF.
 Justitieminister Antti Häkkänen, Svar på skriftligt spörsmål (SSS127/2018rd), Svar på skriftligt spörsmål om tryggande av yttrandefriheten (May, 2, 2018), https://perma.cc/ZH5W-K2WC; see also International Press Institute (IPI), Journalists in Finland Face ‘Unprecedented’ Levels of Online Abuse, Ifex (Sept. 22, 2017), https://perma.cc/S3VG-TYZL.
 IPI, Finland: Countering Online Harassment in Newsrooms (2018), https://ipi.media/countering-online-harassment-in-newsrooms-finland/; see also Report: Stories on Immigration, Russia Most Often Trigger Harassment of Finnish Journalists, Yle (Aug. 10, 2018), https://perma.cc/RWT2-PVKR.
 Kongl. Maj:ts Nådige Förordning, Angående Skrif- och Tryckfriheten; Gifwen Stockholm i Råd-Cammaren then 2. Decembr.1766 [His Royal Majesty’s Gracious Ordinance Relating to Freedom of Writing and of the Press, Delivered at Stockholm in the on December 2, 1766], https://perma.cc/9NTW-XA76; see also Elin Hofverberg, 250 Years of Press Freedom in Sweden, In Custodia Legis (Dec. 19, 2016), https://perma.cc/UP2Q-SC5A.
 For example, Niskasaari v. Finland, App. No. 37520/07, Eur. Ct. H.R. (2010), https://perma.cc/K7LQ-FMNX; see also European Court of Human Rights Factsheet, Hate Speech (Mar. 2019), https://perma.cc/884L-7BKA.
 Niskasaari. However, see also Pentikäinen v. Finland, App. No. 11882/10, Eur. Ct. H.R. (2015), https://perma.cc/3J9T-NK9J (finding no violation when police asked photographer to leave demonstration).
 For instance, the Finnish Prosecutor General decided not to prosecute the Finnish Member of Parliament (MP) Juho Eerola for a comment he made on Facebook. The MP was suspect of having committed “agitation against a protected group” (hets mot folkgrupp) by publishing comments on his Facebook page. The prosecutor found that because he was commenting on a big drug case in Finland, the comment should be seen in this political context, and that such political discussions were important, and thus the comment was not a crime. Press Release, Riksåklagarämbetet, Riksåklagaren väckte inte åtal mot riksdagsmannen Juho Eerola i brottsärendet rörande Facebook-skriveriet (Apr. 6, 2018), https://perma.cc/UY9K-FUCW.
 24 kap. 9-10 §§ Strafflagen.
 Id. 24 kap. 10 §.
 Id. 24 kap 9-10 §.
 See id.
 25 kap. 7 § Strafflagen.
 See Id.
 11 kap. 10 § Strafflagen.
 11 kap. 10 a § Strafflagen.
 25 kap. 7a § Strafflagen, https://perma.cc/8U74-KKS2 (translation by author), as amended by Lag om ändring av strafflagen (FFS 13.12.2013/879), https://perma.cc/PP32-8D97; see also Press Release, Justitieministeriet, Förföljelse blir straffbart vid ingången av nästa år (Dec. 12, 2013), https://perma.cc/62LG-8KES.
 See Press Release, Justitieministeriet, supra note 29.
 24 kap. 8-8a §§ Strafflagen.
 Id. 24 kap. 8a §.
 See the following Supreme Court Cases: KKO:2013:69 (publication of adultery story - dismissed), https://perma.cc/6XF5-788N; KKO:2011:72 (reporting of questionable paternity - dismissed), https://perma.cc/HKF4-TK87; KKO:2013:100 (reporting of financial crimes – dismissed), https://perma.cc/4RY9-3EGE; KKO:2018:51 (Facebook publication of photo of convicted pedophile – convicted), https://perma.cc/3ZTU-GZ4D; KKO:2018:81 (video of own child posted on Facebook - convicted), https://perma.cc/S669-T2KN.
 24 kap. 1a § Strafflagen.
 Id. 24 kap. 1 §.
 In 2008 the Finnish Supreme Court found that texting a person did not qualify as a hemfridsbrott. Finnish Supreme Court, KKO:2008:86, Sept. 9, 2008, https://perma.cc/NPW5-MHW6. The new provison in 24 kap. 1 a § Strafflagen specifically criminalizes such behavior. The hemfridsbrott provision does, however, protect victims from phone calls made on a cellphone late at night when a person can be expected to be at home, enjoying the peace and quiet of one’s own home.
 24 kap. 1 § Strafflagen.
 Id. 24 kap. 2 §.
 Id. at 2, 6.
 Id. at 2.
 See Mikael Sjövall, Rättegången mot Ilja Janitskin stakar ut yttrandefrihetens gränser, HBL (June 13, 2018), https://perma.cc/V5AZ-BCS8; Jessica Aro, My Year as a Pro-Russia Troll Magnet: International Shaming Campaign and an SMS from Dead Father, Yle (Nov. 9, 2015), https://perma.cc/9MCQ-JGLD.
 Jessica Aro, My Year as a Pro-Russia Troll Magnet: International Shaming Campaign and an SMS from Dead Father, supra note 47.
 Ginman, supra note 53; Laura Klinberg, Bättre lagstiftning och ökad förståelse – så knäcker vi hatretoriken, HBL (May 17, 2019), https://perma.cc/YRF2-8T4L; Lina Laurent, Journalistförbundet: Det måste bli ett slut på trakasserier mot journalister,Finlands Journalistförbund (Oct. 16, 2018), https://perma.cc/2LUM-LBPZ.
 SS 133/2018 rd, Skriftligt spörsmål om att ingripa mot hatretorik genom lagstiftning, https://perma.cc/YP9M-5ELS.
 JustitieministerAntti Häkkänen, Svar på skriftligt spörsmål (SSS133/2018rd) Svar på skriftligt spörsmål om att ingripa mot hatretorik genomlagstiftning, https://perma.cc/E8CA-QUR5. See also Finnish Journalist Johanna Vehkoo Fined for Criminal Defamation, Committee to Protect Journalists (Apr. 17, 2019), https://perma.cc/P3KR-J9N3.
 Sisäministeriö, Sanat ovat tekoja Vihapuheen ja nettikiusaamisen vastaisten toimien tehostamine (2019) (in Finnish), https://perma.cc/3QZA-9ADS; Ministry of the Interior, Words Are Actions: More Efficient Measures against Hate Speech and Cyberbullying (2019) (in English), https://perma.cc/3GJQ-BC4P; Inrikesministeriet, Ord är handlingar Åtgärder mot hatretorik och nätmobbning effektiviseras (2019) (in Swedish), https://perma.cc/JA9T-4AP9.
 Ministry of the Interior, supra note 66.
 Id. at 10-11.
 Inrikesministeriet, supra note 66, Swedish version (translation by author).
 Finnish Media Companies, Unions Establish Journalist Support Fund to Counter Harassment, Yle (May 25, 2019), https://perma.cc/QM8M-9JUV; Media Houses and Unions Set Up Fund to Support Journalists Facing Harassment,The Union of Journalists in Finland (May 28, 2019), https://perma.cc/NPF9-H9YZ.
Last Updated: 12/30/2020