News about  Finland  for  international audiences 1978-2002

YLE Radio Finland news combined
target area style and Finnish  news values

 Juhani  Niinistö

 

 


“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 had  offered   freelancer-driven English language  newscasts about Finland   (audible abroad only, not inside Finland)  with no control of content and huge 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)


The  intention  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 that  news agenda as such.   The  lead stories  on YLE  Radio 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 criteria  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 audiences.


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 that.....xxx  "   


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 been brought 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 for the 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 news.  



A  wide base of  sources


Collecting the  sources was  the responsibility of  Radio Finland. The practical  production 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 diplomacy". 


 

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 Finnish time.

 

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

 

While  the  factual  correctness  and  essential background  were  of key importance  to the credibility of the  service,  the  presentation and audience  appeal  were crucial as well.  Broadcast  talent  comprising  all the  required  capabilities  (command of  Finnish, journalistic knowledge, 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.   Thus,  the 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 one 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 of  October 2002.  Even though the broadcast time  was  at times  unsocial,  people  of  Finnish extraction in Canada  had found the broadcast and  it came  up in conversations with  people in Canada years after  YLE 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).    


Radio 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.




News  specials

 

Radio Finland  arranged  some  large scale coverage specials  starting with the 1975  Helsinki Summit of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe.   The 1975 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 in Europe  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.


I 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.


The   availability 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.


While  there  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  now 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.


 

Domestic  availability



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  in 1978.


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 English. 


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. 



"News  by  individuals"  - initial years after  1967 without any hands-on control -  but feature and entertainment side  was flourishing



During the 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.

Anything  was possible - but luckily  very few people knew about it  as the  service  not audible  within Finland.  No one in domestic news  was  willing  to take the trouble  - or  wreck their careers -  in bringing  the  sector into the News  unit.   There was some  fear - said  even aloud - that  some  freelancers possibly had connections  with  intelligence systems.

Finally,  it must be underlined  that  off news  productions  during 1967-1978  had no quality issues comparable  to the news service.  For example, the  series of  dramatized  liteture by  Diana Tullberg  started in the early 70s.  There  were also in depth  series on  societal issues such as several parts in a documentary on criminal policy, which cropped up in audience reponse years later  with a mention to the "apparently large prison population" in Finland. High quality entertainment we launched by  Neil Hardwick and Tim Steffa.  Their series  "Land of  a Thousand..."  became iconic on  US public stations  that used them.  Some listeners did write compaints  saying that the series  "border on impropriety".   The early Radio Finland  series  were  seen later as a start for  the writers' career  in creative writing for entertainment.   Those production of those  series  had been closed  before my arrival  in Radio Finland.  - The  Hardwich - Steffa  productions  were a good match against  Radio Sweden's   Saturday Show's  short versions.  The longer medium wave  version, of course, had no match from Finland.




 

Archives

 

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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