Radio Finland coverage of  the Helsinki Summit of  1975

A  freelancer-driven   broadcast 
effort  in difficult  circumstances

In 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.

It  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 perspective. 

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 took  to the geopolitical position of  Finland and  its  efforts towards being  a neutral country, the broadcasts  could have been even somewhat detrimental.  However,  Fields trusted  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. 

It 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.

At the  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


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