Finland for international audiences 1978-2002
YLE Radio Finland news combined
target area style and Finnish news values
“News from a
Finnish point of view”. That was the underlying
principle of the news operation of YLE Radio
Finland. Known as "Northern Report"
the daily newscast covered news about Finland
and international items related to Finland in English 1978-2002.
Versions in German (1985-), French (1987-) and Russian (1990-)
were added as Radio Finland expanded.
During the preceding years from 1967 YLE
freelancer-driven English language newscasts about Finland
(audible abroad only, not inside Finland) with no control of content
differences in coverage depending on who had done the newscast.
A Foreign Ministry
driven radio service from Finland had closed down in
1958. In that system, staffers worked on Ministry premises and
had walked twice a day the short distance in downtown
Helsinki to the studios of YLE, then at 15 Fabianinkatu.
Until the launch of YLE Radio Finland Northern Report (also known later as Compass North) Radio Sweden had been the only station covering Finland systematically for an international audience. Unlike Swedish domestic national radio, the Swedish international service (Utlandsprogrammet) often had little compassion or understanding for the international position of Finland in the cold war environment. YLE Radio Finland news had to tackle both the western talk about "finlandization" as well as the implicit connotations from Stockholm that the iron curtain was actually between Finland and Sweden.
For some ten years
starting in the early eighties Northern Report covered also
major news in other Nordic countries. This was
done in an effort to improve the competitive
edge of YLE Radio Finland news as an
alternative to Radio Sweden in the target
areas. See later about "the friendly competition" between
YLE Radio Finland and its Swedish counterpart Radio Sweden.
Combating "finlandization" claims
A key part of the late 70s and early 80s YLE Radio Finland news agenda was the international position of Finland. We believed that western (and at times Nordic) allegations about Finland could be best countered with detailed information and consistent background. YLE Radio Finland often used the expression that Finland was a “ democracy in the western sense of the word”. Another effort concerned the nature of the 1948 treaty between Finland and the Soviet Union. YLE Radio Finland underlined the fact that the treaty did not constitute a military alliance (as it was restricted to Finnish territory, military co-operation would be subject to negotiations and not automatic, etc).
When service in German was launched in 1985 we had to tackle some German presumptions. Radio Finland reminded that Finland had not surrendered unconditionally at the end of the war. Newswriters recruited from Germany, and not experienced in Finland, translated almost automatically “end of hostilities” as Kapitulation (surrender). Those versions never got on the air, but in house discussions of history were required. That same mistake cropped up in actual German media as late as during the Ahtisaari presidency. A reference to "peace in 1944" by Ahtisaari in a speech in Berlin went on DPA as Kapitulation.
Editorial independence from YLE News (radio and tv)
was to be "a Finnish original", and specifically not a reflection of British, German or
American coverage of Finland. Thus,
international wire service material originating from
Helsinki was not routinely used, even though it would have been
easy . The main
sources were the Finnish News Agency as well as YLE
Radio and TV News.
Radio Finland was
editorially independent from other in-house YLE news
operations. That is a difference from
The domestic news
services of YLE had a fairly “social”
agenda until the mid 80s at least. That
meant a lot of coverage of social services and the
labour market sector. Radio Finland did not adopt
news agenda as such. The lead stories on
Finland were fairly consistently political and
economic. Discussion of regional international affairs
and security policy was often more detailed
than in comparable domestic radio output.
Had someone ordered us to
adhere strictly to the YLE news content - without use
of the STT wire and newspapers - it would not have
been possible to create a service that international
audiences interested in Finland
considered to be meaningful and credible.
YLE had its official news
where, for example, the societal impact and intensity of
stories were key criteria. In practise, the
citeria meant that crime, for example, was covered
very modestly. Radio Finland
applied those theoretical criteria in writing news for international
Radio Finland used
commentaries by YLE staffers (heard on the domestic
services) either as inserts in a newsreel
format or as a sentence or two imbedded in a news text,
attributed to the person whose opinion was quoted.
"YLE Radio News analyst Hannu Reime pointed out
The fact that
external service news were handled
outside centralized YLE news services was
an exception to the policies of the era.. Even the national
domestic Swedish language unit was not allowed
to maintain news of its own until the 1980s, but
Swedish language news were produced centrally along with the Finnish news.
So why was the
decentralization allowed for very that small unit
handling external broadcasting? The exception made in
external broadcasting could be
attributed to several factors. During its earlier history
foreign language radio from Finland had been directly under the Foreign
Ministry (until 1958) and even though when the sector had
administratively into YLE when broadcasts in English resumed in 1967, key decision makers probably
viewed it with some caution also because a modest Foreign
Office grant was available until the early 70s. (The
Foreign Office did not cancel it, but as YLE chose not to
-or forgot - apply for it the grant disappeared
from the state budget.) It was also common in YLE to see how
matters were done in Sweden, and at Sveriges Radio
Utlandsprogrammet (External Service) was a separate unit - with
Foreign Office financing at the time when YLE was formulating the
future in the late 60s.
The most likely reason
separate status was that incorporating external
service news within the Yle News would have meant work and
trouble to at least mid-echelon managers in the centralized
Collecting the sources was the responsibility of Radio Finland. The
arrangements involved both taping news off the
air and working on the basis of those tapes. As
a computerised news editorial system was developed Radio Finland was admitted into the
system and sources were easier to get, but the entity
of a source newscast would still be on the tape only
as all texts were not available.
Odd enough, the relationship between Radio Finland
and YLE Television news was somewhat easier than with the
Radio News. TVU gave Radio Finland full
access to their scripts in the early 80s, while YLE
Radio News (RUT) only gave us their newsreader texts, and
commentaries by radio news analysts had to be used off tape (listening
and writing) until the end of the operation in 2002.
Radio Finland had
no active news gathering of its own. Taken
the scanty resources, such ventures would have
been risky. This did not mean that analysts of
our own could not be used commentators
when practicable, usually on an issue we
were covering in detail. But breaking news
of a risky character would not be
encouraged. I recall our
Russian service had information about a
doping case in an international sports event in Lahti.
I did not authorize the use as verification of the
item could not be done. And the Russian team
had the professionality that they asked and did not go
ahead with the item. It turned our later the
information matched with what Yle broke the next
day. There were some other cases over the years.
News manuals with detailed format instructions
From late 70s guidelines were
written for "writing news in foreign languages at Radio
Finland". The last edition
appeared in 1999. Radio Finland had no special mandate for
news and was not considered to be "public
The 24-hour news cycle
From the late 70s until
2000 the daily broadcast of Northern
Report was produced for first airing at 9.30 pm
Finnish time. The same tape ran then
until the following afternoon for various target
areas. There was a modest preparedness
for doing updates, and they were done when
something really important had happened. But on the whole,
the news were written “against future listening”. That
is, nothing was happening “now “or “an hour ago” (except in
purely generic use), but “Wednesday evening” and the future
tense was avoided. The technique of writing resembled
that of a newspaper going to press in the evening. A
disclaimer announcement was included at the end about the fact
that the broadcast had been “edited for first broadcast a
21.30 Finnish time”. Reruns during the following day
were beamed for areas outside Europe though. Availability in
Europe ceased with the morning rerun at 9.30 am
The schedule matched the general
Finnish "news clock", with deadlines in late evening hours. The scoops and
analyses included in the YLE national TV news at 8.30 pm could be
included. At times breaking news at 8.30 pm of course caused major havoc
as the whole bulletin had to be rewritten.
Scripting and presentation separated in 1980
correctness and essential background were of
key importance to the
credibility of the service, the presentation and
were crucial as well. Broadcast talent
comprising all the
required capabilities (command of Finnish,
good presentation) was nearly impossible to
find in Finland and
those few able to meet the requirements could
earn more money in an
easier way on the commercial translation market.
solution was to separate presentation from scripting in the
English production. Writers were no longer required
to be able to present the bulletin, but they kept
control of the
contents. The presenters could not make changes in content.
The change was introduced in early 1980 - and was reflected instantly in the audience reactions. A SW listener poll published in a BBC specialized broadcast showed YLE Radio Finland as "improved news service" even though it was only the presentation really that had been upgraded.
The separation allowed Radio Finland to develop its "sound". We were able to sound "American". That sent also a tacit message that the station was in a totally different camp from those Eastern European stations that used mainly locals as on air talent. - The sound image of Radio Finland (in English) tried to be close to stations such as Swiss Radio International and Radio Nederland. Presentation staffers were fairly easy to find - as no command of Finnish was required - and the YLE salaries matched well the compensation level of the English teaching market in Finland - while not the overinflated translation market.
"News directly from Helsinki, and not via Stockholm"
Radio Sweden had a long tradition of covering the North for the world, and to media from other countries Stockholm had become a news base as early as during WW2. YLE had discontinued its newscasts in English and French in 1958 and since then only Radio Sweden had covered Finland in English for the world audience.
During the cold war era the Swedish external service editorial content showed at times little understanding of the position of Finland. The international service there compiled its own news, and was not under the domestic Ekoredaktionen. While journalist at the Ekot often had sympathy towards Finland, the Swedish external service journalists - mostly with British and American backgrounds - viewed Finland often from a Western perspective. At times the news from Stockholm in English indicated more or less that the “free world” ended on the western shores of the Baltic Sea. Later the situation changed greatly.
As Radio Sweden was marketing itself as the voice of Northern Europe. (“News about Sweden and its Nordic neighbours”), the competitive edge of Radio Finland required more or less same approach. From the early 80s major items concerning the other Nordic countries were included, and we even hired stringers in the other Nordic capitals. The Nordic news content at YLE Radio Finland expired gradually in the early 90s.
On SW, MW and later satellites
At the height of its distribution Northern Report was aired as many as eleven times during its daily lifespan. The first rerun was usually at 11.30 pm Finnish time, for Europe. During the morning hours broadcasts were intended for the Middle East and later Europe. The services for Australia went at 9.30 am, followed by East Asia at 11.30 am. The local afternoon hours were morning in North America. For many years Northen Report was sent four times during the afternoon, starting at 2 pm. That made the broadcast available on the hour in EST, CST, MST and PST. That structure was dismantled in 1995 when YLE cut back the use of shortwave following the introduction of satellite distribution for North America.
International re-use and placement
The main international "impact" of YLE Radio Finland news was use without credits. This was most common in German - as the correspondents or stringers of the German media listened in Stockholm and used the items as a source with some modifications. This applied also to sent correspondents placed in Helsinki who were challenged with Finnish or Swedish.
YLE in English had only
major placement broadcast. That was the use of
YLE Radio Finland
in the CBC Overnight. YLE was part of the CBC
Overnight from its
start until the closing of the English service at the end
2002. Even though the broadcast time was at
people of Finnish extraction in Canada had found the
it came up in conversations with people in Canada years
had closed the availability in 2002. Towards the end of the seven
years of Radio Finland relays on CBC the
broacast time was 5 am. The broadcasts were adjusted so
that all times zones got it at the same time (Newfoundland always a
half hour later, as Candians know).
Finland news in German
meanwhile aired in Germany for years on
the commercial channel
RadioRopa. YLE Radio Finland in Russian had
some placement during the 90s on commercial stations
in Russia and Estonia.
YLE Radio Finland placement arrangements became possible in 1993 when Radio Finland entered co-operation with Deutsche Welle in satellite distribution. Our signal "reached the world" with new clarity and volume via Britz, Berlin. First to Europe and from 1995 to Asia and Australia (via AsiaSat, HKG). Arrangements for North America were done with the London based World Radio Network. The satellite distribution in co-operation with Deutsche Welle was originally intended for distribution in Russia, but as possibilities elsewhere opened in the process distribution in Russia (in Russian) soon had a smaller role.
large scale coverage specials starting with the 1975
of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe.
operation was modest in its scale and was restricted to some live
feeds from the Finlandia Hall. It was my
first contact with YLE
External Broadcasting - I was on loan to help in
it from YLE News.
The production was managed by Donald Fields, a
freelancer in Radio
Finland from 1967 until the early 80s. See a
separate recollection of the 1975 coverage.
Fields was a freelancer and viewed many matters
from the British angle. Olli Kivinen, a journalist at the
Helsingin Sanomat had a role in explaining the Finnish
angle to Fields in a way he would trust. Recollections of the 1975 project here.
When the 10th anniversary of the conference was observed in 1985 Radio Finland aired continuously from Finland hall for the whole day. The difference from 1975 was that Radio Finland had now access to an FM channel in Helsinki, and the news specials could be heard locally. The 1985 coverage was the first special anchored by Eddy Hawkins of the English staff. He and professor Raimo Väyrynen appeared then in many specials for the next ten years. The visit to Finland by president Reagan in 1988 was covered in long special segments. For the Helsinki Summit of 1990 a special FM channel in English was opened, with continuous broadcast for three days. The format was reactivated for the 1992 CSCE conference in Helsinki. Also the Clinton-Jeltsin Summit was aired though no longer in that scope. Live coverage of Finnish election returns in English were arranged until presidential elections of 2000.
Change of profile in 2000 and decline of international availability
In 2000 the focus of the
English service changed. Higher echelon controllers
at YLE defined domestic availability
via the newly started DAB network as
the prime task. The main bulletin was shifted to
local morning, at 7.30. And as that broadcast
could not feasibly be rerun in the local
evening, the daily running time of the
English half hour was restricted to hours between 7.30
and 5 pm. That meant a decline of our
service level in Europe. The decades-old evening
broadcast simply was not there any longer. The other
languages - secondary users of the English service -
switched to comparable morning broadcast times.
The change hit hard
the service level of English particularly
while broadcasts to Asia, Australia and North
America contiued as they had been. The exception was
that the half hour on the CBC was now essentially older. The reach of German in continental Europe did not
suffer that much as they had extensive local relays - via RadioRopa
and also the German service of the World Radio Network that could
delay the usage.
realized the interests of serving audiences
abroad in foreign languages had declined
abruptly amongst the top brass of YLE.
But a total closing (to come only two years later) was
still an almost impossible vision.
on the internet did offset the decline a bit, but
there were many complaints from people who had been used to
hearing Radio Finland in English as a radio service.
YLE Radio Finland had been the first channel
of YLE to start audio availability on the internet as
early as 1996. Servers in the UK and the
US were used. Foreign language newscasts
were available as audio files as well as a direct
broadcast at the time of the actual transmission.
Availability of text was added
later when a direct internet connection from our
officies was possible.
International English, German and French close down
In the spring of
2002 YLE corporate management
prepared a strategy paper for international
radio. Among the alternatives in the strategy
there was the view that broadcasting in foreign languages for
audiences abroad, including news, was not
the tasks of the company.
It has to be underlined that
after the early 70s international radio had no operational governmental subsidy in Finland, it
was all financed on the basis of television licence fees collected in
Finland. So there was no one in the government with any authority to intervene in the decisions by Yle.
The decision making to close
down the foreign language service progressed quickly during the summer
of 2002 and parliamentary
controllers of YLE (in Finnish hallintoneuvosto, in Swedish
förvaltningsrådet) confirmed the choice of
closing Radio Finland foreign language services
(except Russian) in August.. Talks (mandated by law) with the
unions about the practical arrangements had been conducted
over the summer months in anticipation of the final decision.
The broadcasts ended with the
summer broadcast season of 2002, on the last Sunday
in October. The decision closed services in English, German and
French. Broadcasts in Russian continued.
I made the last announcement myself - and the national anthem was heard. The anthem was usually not played at the end of foreign language broadcasts, but this situation deserved it, I thought. The last half hour included a mid 70s feature by Diana Tullberg about summertime in Finland.
were others offering some news in English about
Finland, there were no consistent
operations in German and French now
that Yle had stopped. The most volumonous feedback in the wake
of the closing came
from listeners in the German language area -
and from the Canadian audience of the
daily relays heard on CBC. In Canada, the
slot that had occupied YLE Radio Finland was
airing the Voice of Russia. This
(unintendedly presumably) both amused and
outraged people of Finnish extraction in Canada
(taken the Finno-Soviet history).
There was no major domestic
reaction to closing the language services. When the Foreign
Ministry had closed in 1958 the radio critic of the
newspaper Uusi Suomi had taken the matter up. The Foreign
Ministry responded in a letter that in no uncertain
terms reiterated the decision - and defended
it. The Ministry did not believe -the way back in 1958 - in the
value of broadcasting to foreign audiences - bypassing the
national broadcasting systems of the target areas. It should be noted
that in 1957 and 1958 several international stations
had cancelled external programming. The BBC had cut
off Scandinavian languages - but had kept Finnish. CBC in Canada
had cancelled its Finnish broadcast on short wave to
Finland. VOA had done the same some years earlier.
In 2002 the YLE decision was hasty - and the
cancellation of German was particularly deplorable -
as no one continued the tradition. Part of the audience
reverted to Radio Schweden - with some coverage of
Finland left. Incidentally, Radio Schweden
continued then until 2016 in German, albeit
undergoing several cutbacks in volume.
YLE News had produced
seasonal bulletins in English from 1965 and from 1980
the bulletins (then under YLE Radio Finland) were produced
all year round. Also domestic availability
of YLE Radio Finland news (on FM) began in Helsinki
YLE Television News
(called for some years also YLE 24) had launched news
in English as a
morning television service in 1999. That unit took over the
production of domestic radio news in English in 2002. With the
closing of Radio Finland the production of news in English
for primarily foreign audiences outside Finland was
terminated. Domestic radio news in English continued
as a YLE 24 production - later known as YLE News.
The YLE Radio Finland English half hour on a number of YLE FM frequencies in southern Finland shrunk to a five minute bulletin, produced by YLE 24. Some former news professionals heard on Radio Finland continued employment at YLE 24. (The unit name YLE24 has been phased out since, news in English is part of YLE News.)
Pre-1970s news journalism for external audiences
From World War Two until
1958 YLE aired “press bulletins” produced by the
Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. They were news
transmissions usually based on the day's newspapers. That
was a Foreign Ministry production and YLE
provided the technical facilities only. Staffers of
the Foreigy Ministry Radio Department walked (or
took a cab) from their offices at Hallituskatu to
YLE in Fabianinkatu. The Ministry closed
the service in 1958. The Head of the Radio Department
was Arvid Enckell.
In the 80s I
interviewed John Milton, who had been a
member of the Foreign Office radio team.
He described the service as "done correctly,
but with no enthusiasm". The version in French
was the basic product - and English was written
on the basis of it. When French resumed as a
YLE product in 1987, it was a translation from
The service had
no audience feed back broadcasts, even though Yle
Information Unit at Fabianinkatu responded to
letters. One casual mistake revealed though that at least Finnish
embassies abroad were listening. A temporary
newscaster - with little command of Finnish - had
said the name of the then Under Secretary of State at the
Ministry as Paskalahti, instead of the
correct Pakaslahti. The Foreign Ministry
broadcast could not be heard in Finland - and not even in the offices
of the Ministry - so it was not until reactions from abroad
arrived that the mistake could was noticed. The
broadcasts were live but taped for reruns.
In 1965 YLE Radio News launched “tourist news” in English airing during the summer time. YLE Radio Finland took responsibility over that production in 1978. The broadcasts became a year-round service in 1980.
In 1967 the
Ministry suggested that YLE would resume
external broadcasting in English. English
newscasts for Radio Finland began gradually in
the early 70s, first as a bi-weekly roundup.
by individuals" - initial years after 1967 without
any hands-on control - but feature and entertainment side
first ten years from the resumption of foreign
language broadcasting in 1967 external
service news (then in English only) were produced by
a group of freelancers with variable
backgrounds. There was no hands-on control of the contents,
before or after the broadcast, and the
freelancers chose the sources on their own. Some took a look at
what Yle had done, some used items from the morning
newspapers. The connection to what actually had been making news
in Finland was at times poor - at times fully
professional. That was
really a news service by individuals - with work done
often alone. The best product of those years by far
were the bulletins by Colin Narbrough, the Reuters
correspondent in Helsinki who did Radio Finland bulletins
as a freelancer.
1. All (with some exceptios) YLE Radio
Finland news from around 1978 have been archived as text at Elinkeinoelmän arkisto, located
in Mikkeli, Finland. www.elka.fi
The archives cover news texts in English, German and French
2. The news aired until 1958 were archived at the Finnish National Archives as Ministry of Foreign Affairs Material.
3. The sound archives of
YLE include variable broadcasts, mainly documentaries
and features. News would be under Northern Report or
Compass North, in German under Bericht aus Helsinki.
But news broadcasts were usually kept for a month only.
Writer: Juhani Niinistö
All rights reserved. Material can be quoted, but source must be mentioned.
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