Finland: A nation of avid newspaper readers

The media crisis and the upheavals in the media landscape are a subject of constant debate in Finland. Two controversial pieces of tax legislation were discussed particularly heatedly: the introduction of VAT for print products in 2012, initially 9, now 10 percent, and a year later the so-called Yle tax, named after Finland's radio and television broadcaster, which replaced the television licence fee based on ownership of a TV receiver. The newspaper publishers hold the introduction of VAT partly responsible for the decline in circulation, and even politicians in the governing party are now demanding that the rate at least be reduced.

Media company Sanoma in Helsinki (© picture-alliance/dpa)
Media company Sanoma in Helsinki (© picture-alliance/dpa)
In the meantime the introduction of VAT on print products has proved to be a bad idea for the state, too. While in 2013 the tax generated 21 million euros for state coffers, by 2015 that figure had fallen to 15 million - due to the discovery of a legal loophole. Now the media companies A-Lehdet and Sanoma both distribute their newspapers from Norway because if they are not distributed from an EU country subscriptions are VAT-free.

Despite the overall decline in circulation the Finns continue to be avid newspaper readers, with 338 copies sold per 1,000 inhabitants (2014). This puts Finland in third place internationally as regards newspaper readership.

The Finnish media landscape is characterised by a high level of concentration. Two media companies, Sanoma and Alma Media, control the majority of dailies, and both also have interests in television, radio and the Internet. By far the most influential and highest-circulation newspaper is Helsingin Sanomat, published by the Sanoma group. Alongside Finnish newspapers there are also a number of Swedish newspapers for the Swedish minority.

In recent years publishers have increasingly worked together in order to cut costs. In 2014 twelve regional newspapers signed a cooperation agreement which provides for the generation of press content that can be used for print media and the Internet simultaneously. In addition the publishers have significantly expanded their online activities and have recorded a big increase in revenues from Internet advertising. Many of them are also charging for access to some or all of their coverage. As publishers and private broadcasters strengthen their position on the Internet, criticism is growing of the tax-financed public broadcaster Yle, which provides free news and films and hence competition for private media companies.

Television came to Finland in the mid-1950s and today transmission is exclusively digital. Right from the start there was a mixture of public and private radio, although the advertising-financed programmes of the MTV station initially received only a few hours of airtime on the channels of the public broadcaster Yle. It was not until 1993 that MTV received its own channel. Today there is a broad spectrum of public and private channels, but according to surveys conducted in 2105 the Yle channels are watched by more than 40 percent of viewers.

Press Freedom Rating:

Reporters Without Borders: 3rd place (2017)
Freedom House: 2nd place – status: free (2016)

Updated: Mai 2017
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