The “Reporters without Borders” latest “Worldwide Press Freedom Index” for 2011-2012” has been referred to in the press on a number of occasions recently – and we had a post about Trevor Kavanagh’s reliance on it. Another interesting point which emerges from this Index concerns the joint number 1 country, Finland. As a number of commentators have pointed out Finland has – in common with a number of other highly ranked countries – a system of self-regulation for the press (see, for example, this post on fullfact.org). It is, however, interesting to note that Finland also has a statutory framework for the exercise of freedom of expression by the media.
The relevant statute is the 2004 “Act on the Exercise of Freedom of Expression in the Mass Media“. The objective of the Act is described as being to make “more detailed provisions on the exercise, in the media, of the freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution”.
By section 4 of the Act a publisher must
designate a responsible editor for a periodical or a network publication. The broadcaster shall designate a responsible editor for a program. Also several responsible editors may be designated for periodicals, network publications and programs.
The responsible editor has a duty to direct and supervise editorial work, to decide on the contents of a periodical, network publication or program, and to see to the other tasks assigned to him or her by the Act.
A publication must disclose the identity of the publisher and of the “responsible editor” (section 5). These duties are backed by criminal sanctions and a fine may be imposed for a breach of them (section 21)
The Act provides for a right to reply and a right to correction
Section 8 — Right to reply
A private individual, who has a justified reason to consider that a message contained in a periodical, network publication or a comparable program that is broadcast on a repeated basis is offensive, has the right to have a reply published in the same publication or program.
Section 9 — Right to correction
A private individual, a corporation, a foundation and a public authority have the right to have erroneous information on them or their operations contained in a periodical, network publication or program corrected in the same publication or in a program by the broadcaster in question, unless such correction is manifestly unnecessary owing to the minor significance of the error.
The publisher has a correlative duty to publish the reply or correction (section 10).
The demand for the publication of a reply or correction must be made in writing within 14 days of publication (section 11). If the publication rejects this demand it must be done in writing within 7 days. If the demand is refused
“The person presenting the demand has the right to submit the issue of whether the preconditions for the right of reply or correction have been met for consideration by [the Court] … . no later than 30 days after the reception of the written notification of the reasons for the rejection. In the event that the District Court orders the responsible editor to comply with his or her duties under section 10, the court may reinforce the order by imposing a threat of a fine” (section 11).
The Act imposes criminal sanctions on “responsible editors”, so that
If the responsible editor intentionally or negligently fails in an essential manner in his or her duty to manage and supervise editorial work, and the failure is conducive to the occurrence of an offence arising from the contents of a message provided to the public, and the offence occurs without him or her being considered the perpetrator or accomplice, the responsible editor shall be convicted of editorial misconduct and sentenced to a fine (section 13)
The Act goes on to make express provision for confidentiality of sources and right to anonymous expression (section 16).
A number of points can be made about the Finnish legislation.
First, it is clear from the position in Finland that a statutory framework for the media is not, of itself, inimical to press freedom. Rights and responsibilities can be expressly set out – to the benefit of both press and public.
Secondly, the Finnish Act places specific responsibility on designated individuals – who have to be identified by publishers. This is an interesting approach which is worthy of further consideration.
Third, the Finnish Act provides for a swift statutory right of reply and correction – if the publication does not agree the reply or correction the matter must be brought before the Courts within 7 weeks of publication. Once again, this is something worthy of consideration in the English context.