Finland took second place in an international study on the freedom of press in 2019. The NGO Reporters Without Borders thanked Finland’s justice system especially for addressing hate speech and condemning persecution.
Other notable points in the study also included the widely spread campaign for freedom of the press organised by Finland’s leading newspaper Helsingin Sanomat upon the state visit of presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Large-scale billboards all over Helsinki welcomed the presidents to the “land of free press”.
In 2021, Finland still holds the second place of the World Press Freedom Index.
Helsinki has also been a host to peace negotiations. For example, the conflict management organisation CMI founded by the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize Martti Ahtisaari is based in Helsinki. CMI’s aim is to work towards enduring peace in the world by solving and preventing violent conflicts. It is one of the world’s leading conflict resolution organisations.
Everyone can have an impact
Finland has free elections where political parties compete against one another fairly. 200 Members of Parliament are elected every four years.
Every Finnish citizen of 18 years of age and above has a right to vote in the parliamentary, presidential and also municipal elections. City councils are elected which are in charge of running cities. Helsinki’s municipal elections in 2017 saw 1,084 candidates from over 10 different parties run for office.
Each city in the capital region has their respective city council. Helsinki’s city council has 85 permanent members, Espoo has 75, and Vantaa has 67 councillors. The city council meetings are open to the public and they can also be viewed as a live stream online.
Citizens have the right to suggest initiatives in matters related to the city.
Finland places high importance on the right of municipality residents to participate in and influence their own region’s politics. The City of Helsinki wants to listen to citizens, NGOs, and anyone interested in developing the city.
Policymakers in general want to maintain openness and transparency in decision-making processes.
A right to practice one’s own religion
Everyone living in Finland has the right to choose their own religion and practice it, or to not practice any religion. In schools, pupils who do not belong to a certain denomination take an ethics class instead.
The largest religious denomination in Finland is the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, whose members represent just under 70 percent of the population. Many Finns only occasionally take part in religious ceremonies. While they may be official church members, religion is not necessarily a large part of their everyday lives.
The Orthodox Church is Finland’s second largest religious community. In addition, there are tens of thousands of Muslims and several thousand Jews in Finland. There are more than 100 registered religious organisations in Helsinki.
Students in Helsinki’s schools can study either Evangelical Lutheran or Orthodox Christianity, ethics, as well as, for instance Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism and the Krishna movement.
In addition to freedom of religion, Finland also has freedom of assembly and freedom of association. Everyone has the right to organise meetings, participate in demonstrations, establish an association, and take part in the work of associations. The Finnish Register of Associations currently includes more than 100,000 associations and religious communities. More than 23,000 of them are based in Uusimaa, the country’s most populous region.
Freedom of speech includes responsibility
There are also hate speech and extremist movements in Finland, but they are condemned stridently. All major parties, aside from the Finns Party, require of their 2021 municipal election candidates a written commitment to oppose racism and discrimination.
Helsinki and other Nordic capitals have committed to combating hate speech and fear. Helsinki participates actively in international networks addressing safety. In addition, the Helsinki Safe City Network promotes safety and a sense of security in the city, for instance by intervening in discrimination and hate speech in different city districts.
The Finnish Ministry of the Interior and the National Police Board started a social media campaign in autumn 2020 directed at young people with the aim of encouraging young people to think about online discussion culture and the impact of hate speech.
The Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo reminds viewers in the campaign video that criticism is part of an open society, but one’s opinion must be stated in a way that does not violate another person’s rights. Freedom of speech does not mean a freedom to say anything at all.