Blogi | 30.12.2016

Much ado about YLE (Finnish Broadcasting Company), but we can’t afford to lose it

YLE, the national broadcasting company of Finland, has adapted to the changes of entertainment and communication industries better than its commercial counterparts. Some people believe it has been in some way unfair. Especially newspaper publishers have been tirelessly blabbering about it. In the meantime, the papers’ advertising incomes have slipped to Google, Facebook and other global players.

A few thoughts about this: Why shouldn’t YLE be allowed to compete against privately-owned media companies? Is there a certain level of quality you have to meet or another criterion they have to match? YLE produces news and current affairs programmes that are rather equal and professional. In addition, their channels offer entertainment that suits to the taste of most Finnish people.

Actually, Finnish taxpayers own businesses here and there where governmental and private businesses go head-to-head: airline and railway industries, energy production, etc. I doubt media industry has significantly more competition.

What the media industry really needs is new business ideas. In recent years, commercial media has not had much success with their news and current affairs programmes. MTV airs two sloppy news roundups a day, Nelonen’s (Finnish channel four) news has shrunk to next to nothing. Newspaper and magazine houses rely on strong cash flows and consolidations. The Swedish language paper media in Finland is in a steeply downward spiral. Commercial radio stations play automated music and, contrary to what they promised when broadcasting permits were applied, nationwide news offering have been sheer lip service. Among the competition, YLE seems to have modernized the most, with a little help from taxpayers naturally.

Is it YLE’s close relations with the Parliament, i.e. politicians, who make the decisions about the its funding, that create the problem? If YLE doesn’t roast politicians, it gets called out for being too soft. And then management is in trouble. Relations to political decision makers is a burden, since work at the editor’s desk has to be done carefully and facts have to be to the point, if they want to keep producing quality journalism.

The problem other medias really should have their eye on is budget funding: How to ensure real productivity and avoid YLE from becoming a shelter job for media crowd? Contracting programmes from external production companies is a possible step. Another possibility is outsourcing actual presswork and leaving management in YLE. A private production company could do the job when rapid reporting is needed from a country with no full-time correspondent.

But what would the alternative for governmental media be? Should the Finnish market be willingly left for international organisations? Of course, it would bring something to fill the screens with, because filming facilities work 24/7. But then there would be no use asking for domestic culture or minority programmes.

The Finnish media competes against global networks and all sorts of fake media that weaken the public’s trust to real media. Competition only can make media companies stronger. My argument is that as long as YLE holds a significant market share, domestic commercial media houses have a better change of renewing themselves.

YLE could also act the other way around. In addition to its Finnish and Swedish offering and quality content from abroad, YLE could produce a bigger volume of international programmes. If YLE Fem remains a sub channel of Swedish programmes, it could be turned into “YLE International” with a language selection ranging from English, German and French to Chinese and Russian.

Moreover, YLE’s duties include more than just entertaining citizens. Other media companies currently operating in Finland don’t have the capacity or the equipment to take care of nationwide communication in crisis situations. You cannot really obligate Bonnier, Sanoma, Elisa, Telia or DNA for such a task. This is the reason why the Parliament needs its media house.

Alpo Räinä