News about Finland for an international audience
Essential background had to be repeated as late as the 80s
“News from a Finnish point of view”. That was for most of its existence the principle of the news operation of YLE Radio Finland. Known from the late 70s as Northern Report the daily newscast covered news about Finland and international items related to Finland. For some ten years starting in the early eighties Northern Report covered also major news in other Nordic countries. (This was a reaction to the policy of the Swedish external radio (Radio Sweden) to cover Finnish news for an international audience. See later about the friendly competition between YLE and SR)
The intention was to be Finnish, and specifically not a reflection of British and 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 news operations. Over the years the use of Yleisradio TV News as a source increased, mainly due to the development of that service. Also they gave Radio Finland full access to their scripts in the early 80s, while Radio News only gave us their newsreader texts, commentaries by radio news analysts had to be used off tape (listening and writing) until the end of the operation in 2002.
The domestic news services of YLE had a fairly “social” agenda until the late 80s at least. That meant a lot of coverage of social services and the trade union sector. Radio Finland did not adopt that news agenda as such. The lead stories on Radio Finland were fairly consistently political and economic. YLE had its official news criteria where, for example, the societal impact and intensity of stories were key criteria. Radio Finland applied those criteria in news work for international audiences.
A key part of the news agenda was the international position of Finland. YLE Radio Finland often used the expression that Finland was a “ democracy in the western sense of the word”. Another effort concerned the treaty of 1948 between Finland and the Soviet Union. As customary in Finland at the time, 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 we started German in 1985 it became necessary to underline the fact that Finland had not surrendered at the end of the war. German writers, not experienced in Finland, wrote “end of hostilities” as Kapitulation (surrender). Those versions never got on the air, but lessons 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 went on DPA as Kapitulation.)
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 was 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,
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.
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.
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 has come up in conversations with people in Canada.
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. 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 channel in English was opened, with continuous broadcast for three days. The format was activated 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.
"News directly from Helsinki, and not via Stockholm"
On the international radio bands YLE Radio Finland was almost the sole station covering Finland, but not quite. 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 Stockholm 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 Ekoredaktionen. 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. The newswriters in Stockholm were of British and American origin and their overall view of Finland was sometimes deficient, or even biased, in our Helsinki based view. 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.
Change of profile
In around 2000 the focus of the English service changed. YLE gave the broadcasts domestically over the newly started DAB network as the prime task. The main bulletin was shifted to local morning, at 7.30. 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 newly started 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 on the AM dial.
International English closes down
In the spring of 2002 YLE management prepared a strategy paper for international radio. Among the alternatives in the strategy there was the view that broadcasting in foreign languages was not a part of the tasks of the company. It has to be underlined that international radio had no operational governmental subsidy in Finland, it was all financed on the basis of television licence fees collected in Finland. That became the choice of YLE.
The parliamentary controllers of YLE (in Finnish hallintoneuvosto, in Swedish förvaltningsrådet) confirmed the choice in August.. Talks with the unions about the practical arrangements had been conducted over the summer months. 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.
YLE Television News (later YLE 24) had launched news in English as a morning television service in 1999. That unit took over the production of radio news in English. Radio Finland had produced News in English for the domestic YLE Network One. That broadcast continued as a YLE 24 production. 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.)
From World War Two until 1958 YLE aired “press bulletins” produced by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. That was a Foreign Ministry production and YLE provided the technical facilities only. The Ministry closed the service in 1958.
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.
English newscasts for Radio Finland began gradually in the early 70s, first as a bi-weekly roundup. The production structure described above was introduced in 1978.
1.All (with some exceptios) YLE Radio Finland news 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.
Writer: Juhani Niinistö
All rights reserved. Material can be quoted, but source must be mentioned.
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