Experiences of External Interference Among Finnish Journalists – An Interview Study


With the rise of populist politicians fanning anti-media sentiments and the emergence of new threats like online harassment, defamation, and intimidation, journalists are subjected to wide range of new challenges in contemporary communication environment. While multiple organizations track statistics on extreme intimidation behaviors such as murder or imprisonment of journalists, systematic research on any of the less severe forms of interference or their implications to professional or personal life of journalists have been rare. This is especially true in the context of democratic and stable Western societies, where external pressure and threats have rarely been studied and there has long existed a tendency to take physical and mental safety of journalists for granted.

Finland, like the rest of the Nordic countries, has generally ranked high in measures of press freedom. This research represents an exploratory attempt to empirically study experiences of external interference and its perceived implications among Finnish journalists. Based on applied thematic analysis (ATA) of 31 semi-structured interviews with Finnish working journalists collected using critical case sampling (n=15) supplemented with maximum variety sampling (n=16), this qualitative research explores how external interference affects the journalism production and the professional and personal lives of journalists in Finland. With journalists from diverse demographics (women and men of different ages and experience), types of employment, occupational positions, media outlets, geographical levels (national, regional, and local), and specializations present in the sample, the study is based on information-rich tapestry of experiences and perspectives to the phenomenon.

For this study, external interference is defined as all active and/or invasive methods external actors use to interfere in the journalistic process and/or influence journalists to shape editorial content. This definition emphasizes the individual experience and perspective of the journalist and makes it possible to simultaneously study low-intensity interference like verbal abuse or pressure alongside more intrusive and aggressive methods ranging from intimidation to physical violence. This allows for a nuanced overall picture of different aspects of the interference and its implications for journalism and journalists.

The research identifies three main themes in the data: new detrimental phenomena brought on by the fragmentation and transformation of journalistic public sphere, the dissolution of professional and private roles of the journalist, and the paramount importance of organizational trust, support and communication in journalism outlets. The findings demonstrate how combined effects of external interference that journalists encounter increasingly seep from professional realm also to private life. Simultaneously, the research seeks to understand how these effects are mediated on both organizational and individual level.

By using Finland as a case example, this research demonstrates how external interference manifests and affects journalists within a democratic Western country that has strong legal, cultural, and institutional safeguards for press freedom and autonomy. As this area of journalism production has seldom been studied in context of countries with high press freedom, this research provides important addition to global debates surrounding the challenges of journalists in transforming communication environment.