Radio Finland coverage of the Helsinki Summit of 1975
A freelancer-driven broadcast
effort in difficult circumstances
early August 1975 Yle Radio Finland aired live
coverage of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Euroope from
the Finlandia Hall in Helsinki. At the time, the English
broadcasts were freelancer driven and part of the corporate international relations unit and
far indeed from the Yle news services, in terms of
resources and management. One Yle staffer from the domestic radio news was
involved, but the producer of the coverage was a freelancer of
British origin. The worst scenario of the effort could have been
major gravitation towards the West, but that did not materialize.
The Yle Radio Finland English service in 1975 comprised a rather autonomous group of freelancers. The daily news bulletin was based on variable sources depending on who was scheduled to compile it. There was no producer control either before or after the broadcast. The quality of the news writing varied tremendously from day to day. The only news professional in the turn-of-the-70s team was the Reuters correspondent in Helsinki at the time, Colin Narbrough, but he was no longer with Radio Finland in 1975.
all changed then in 1978, but this was the situation in the
summer of 1975, when Finland was preparing to
host the Helsinki Summit of the Conference on Security and
Co-operation in Europe, on July 30st - August 1st.
The English service had produced no advance programming
about it as a strike by free lance programme workers had
silenced the service on June 1st, for nearly two
months. It was a company wide strike of freelancers, in no way
especially related to the international service, but as there
were no staffers involved in international broadcasting at the
time, the whole service closed down. The scheduled broadcast
times were filled with music. The service resumed
broadcasts a day or two before the scheduled summit.
The leading person in the service was Donald Fields who had been engaged as a
freelancer since the resumption of the YLE produced
English external service in 1967. He was motivated as
a broadcaster, but viewed Finland often from a western
I do not know exactly how the idea of
live broadcasts from the summit location had reached the level of
implementation. The external service was not connected with
the YLE news service at all, but the administrative
location as part of the Yle International Relations
had probably made the technical arrangements possible as
the same department was arranging facilities for
international correspondents. The decision to arrange broadcasts
that clearly went beyond anything the small
production group had done, had been taken at some level of
the International Relations unit.
There was no domestic availability of Yle Radio
Finland at the time, the Capital FM did not start until
1978 and the availability on the AM dial a year earlier.
All broadcasting by the external service was strictly on
short wave - and not audible in Finland. YLE News had its
summer time News in English broadcast, but they were
done separately - albeit by some of the same cohort of
freelancers. I thought at the time that the risk with a CSCE conference broadcasts probably
would not have been taken,if the
decision makers had been listening to all that was going out on
SW from YLE. But it all went seemingly well.
Taken the approach Donald Fields often
the geopolitical position of Finland and its efforts
towards being a neutral country, the broadcasts could have
been even somewhat detrimental. However, Fields
Olli Kivinen, a diplomatic affairs journalist at the newspaper
Helsingin Sanomat and his thinking appeared
to have influenced Fields. I was myself
at one "briefing" Kivinen gave - at the
Kellobaari in Marski - and felt relieved
seeing Fields seemed to accept the overall context
and "a western provocation" from Finnish
soil was unlikely.
During those three days in July-August 1975 Radio Finland
did not offer the kind of continuous
service heard later during the various "Helsinki Summits"
in the 1980s and 1990s. Instead, the regularly scheduled half hour
broadcasts were done partially from the Finlandia Hall,
partially from the regular studio in the YLE administrative
building - without any additional air time or local availability.
Besides Donald Fields, the on air team
included Joe Brady, David Mawby and myself in alternating reporter and newscaster roles
as well as Judy Carr as a social reporter -
with insight into all that extracurricular activity on the
town during the summit. I had started as a newswriter and reader at the domestic
newsroom half a year earlier, and was transferred to the external
service for a three-day period to be part of the English
language team, but in no management role.
was "all Fields" - but with only slight gravitation
towards any western prejudice. Had Radio
Finland mainly reflected western views, the
broadcasts could have damaged the future of the service.
Finlandia Hall end the person in the studio had
no way of knowing what was going on in terms of
media services at that moment. The cutoff time
was at least half an hour before the live segment.
Radio Finland was not part of the YLE news
operation and could not rely on any auxiliary services the
company may have had. The very limited broadcast time made live expert interviews unfeasible, for example.
The relationship with YLE Radio News became fairly close then from 1979 onwards (though an organizational link was never established until the closedown of the service in 2002), but in 1975 it was "splendid isolation" .
Juhani Niinisto, 2015
Return to the English main page