Defamation remains a criminal offence in Finland.
The Finnish Criminal Code establishes the single offence of defamation.
According to Art. 24, par. 9 of the Criminal Code, defamation is defined as either spreading “false information or a false insinuation of another person so that the act is conducive to causing damage or suffering to that person, or subjecting that person to contempt” or “disparag[ing] another person in any other manner”.
However, if the act of defamation causes “considerable suffering or particularly significant damage”, it is considered “aggravated” and is punishable with a fine or imprisonment for up to two years (Art. 24, par. 10).
Criminal Defamation of Public Officials
Criminal Defamation of the Head of State
Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols
Criminal Defamation of Foreign States and Symbols
Criminal Defamation of the Deceased
Art. 24.9, par. 3 of the Finnish Criminal Code specifies that defamation charges can also be brought for spreading “false information or a false insinuation about a deceased person”, but only insofar as the statement is “conducive to causing suffering to a person to whom the deceased was particularly close”. The punishment is a .
Provisions on the books.
Art. 17.10, par. 1 of the Finnish Criminal Code prohibits “publicly blasphemes against God or, for the purpose of offending, publicly defames or desecrates what is otherwise held to be sacred by a church or religious community”. The punishment is a or imprisonment for up to six months.
Other Relevant Criminal Offences
Art. 17.20 of the Finnish Criminal Code forbids the public display of “obscene” material or “openly offering it for sale or presenting it by advertisement, brochure or poster or by other means causing public offence”. The punishment for this offence is a or a prison term of maximum six months.
Art. 11. 10 of the Criminal Code punishes “ethnic agitation” with a fine or a prison term of maximum two years. “Ethnic agitation” is defined as spreading or making publicly available “an expression of opinion … where a certain group is threatened, defamed or insulted on the basis of its race, skin colour, birth status, national or ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation or disability or a comparable basis”.
Dissemination of Information on Private Life
Art. 24.9 of the Criminal Code punishes the unlawful use of the media to disseminate “information, an insinuation, or an image” related to a person’s private life in a way that may cause that person “damage or suffering, or subjecting that person to contempt” with a fine only. However, the media cannot be held liable if the dissemination concerned the private life of “a person in politics, business, public office or public position … if it may affect the evaluation of that person’s activities in the position in question and if it is necessary for purposes of dealing with a matter of importance to society.”
According to Art. 24.12 of the Finnish Criminal Code, the “public prosecutor may not bring charges for dissemination of information violating personal privacy, defamation or aggravated defamation, unless the injured party has reported the offence for the bringing of charges. However, the Prosecutor-General may order that charges be brought, if the offence has been committed through the use of the mass media and a very important public interest requires that charges be brought”.
Statistics on Application
The following are official data on criminal convictions for the year 2013 (most recent complete data available) from Statistics Finland, provided upon request to the International Press Institute.
For Art. 24, par. 9 (defamation), there were 165 sentences at trial, resulting in 3 suspended prison sentences, 157 criminal fines, and 5 waived sentences. Additionally, there were 54 summary penal judgments. In total, 4,950 alleged instances of defamation were reported to the police.
For Art. 24, par. 10 (aggravated defamation), there were 12 sentences at trial, resulting in 1 unconditional prison sentence, 5 suspended prison sentences, 5 criminal fines, and 1 sentence of community service. In total, 78 alleged instances of aggravated defamation were reported to the police.
For Art. 17, par. 10 (blasphemy), there were no sentences of any kind. (There were two summary penal judgments each in 2011 and 2012.) In total, 6 instances of alleged instances of blasphemy were reported to the police in 2013.
Full data on sentences from 2011-2013 and on offences reported to the police from 2005-2014 can be downloaded here (Excel, English).
Under Finnish law, private claims for damages resulting from defamation can only be brought in conjunction with criminal charges, and any compensation awarded is dependant upon the outcome of the criminal case.
There are no caps on non-pecuniary damages for defamation under Finnish law.
Damages are subject to the terms of the . Damages for offences against honour can be awarded for the “anguish” arising from such (immaterial damages), in addition to compensation for economic loss (Arts. 5.1 – 6).
Media Cases and Case Law
Example cases involving the media
In 2008, the Helsinki District Court convicted two editors at a Finnish television broadcaster of criminally defaming a well-known Finnish businessman (“K.U.”) over a report truthfully stating that the country’s tax authority had previously refused a police request to investigate K.U.’s connections to a sports centre under police investigation. The broadcaster had used the case an example of the lack of cooperation between those two government bodies. At the time, K.U. was on trial for unrelated charges of money laundering, and footage from that trial was used during the broadcaster’s report. The public prosecutor in the case accused the editors of deliberately making false insinuations about K.U. and, given the station’s wide reach, charged the pair with “aggravated” defamation, carrying a maximum prison sentence of two years. In addition, K.U. sought civil damages for pain and suffering.
The District Court ruled that although nothing in the report was false (it was established that, in fact, the tax authority had refused the police request), the circumstances in which it was presented “create[d] an impression that [K.U.] had made himself guilty of a crime by investing his assets in the sports centre business”. The Distrct Court held that the editors should have known that the report amounted to a “false insinuation” that could and should have been verified as to its truthfulness. The District Court did find the editors not guilty of “aggravated” defamation; this was due in part to the Court’s observation that K.U. had been on trial for a not dissimilar crime to the one the broadcaster had allegedly insinuated.
The editors were ordered to pay criminal fines of €810 and €1,230, respectively. In addition, they and the broadcaster’s editor-in-chief were ordered to pay K.U. €1,800 in moral damages and €1,500 in legal costs. Both the Helsinki Court of Appeal and the Finnish Supreme Court dismissed the editors’ appeal without comment. The editors appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, which in 2013 , citing public interest in the report, the fact that K.U. had been in the public limelight, and that the information had been presented in a balanced manner. This case was notable in that the Court explicitly applied privacy standards to a defamation case.
In a similar case, the Helsinki District Court convicted, Tiina Johanna Salumäki, a journalist working for the Finnish tabloid newspaper Ilta-Sanomat and her editor of criminally defaming another “well-known Finnish businessman” by means of “false insinuation”. The charges related to a 2004 article in which Salumäki had reported that the businessman had connections to the victim of a recent homicide; specifically, she reported (accurately) that the victim and the businessman were being jointly investigated by the police for money smuggling . The article, which was entitled “Cruel killing in Vantaa: The executed man had connections with K.U.?” and which later specified that the businessman was not a suspect in the victim’s killing, was accompanied by a biographical column on the businessman.
Prosecutors claimed that the presentation of the article amounted to an insinuation that the businessman “might have had a motive to commission the killing”. The District Court agreed, ruling that although the businessman was a public figure and although “each piece of information contained [in the article] was true”, by the presentation of the information Salumäki had effectively asked whether or not the businessman was involved in the victim’s murder and “had left the answers open”. Ruling that “[c]onnecting a person groundlessly with a contract killing violates his honour”, the District Court sentenced Salumäki to a criminal fine of €720 and ordered her to pay jointly with the editor €2,000 in moral damages and €1,500 in legal costs to the businessman.
The Helsinki Court of Appeal upheld the judgment, adding, “The heading of the article and its tone were such that the fact that [K.U.] was not, strictly speaking, an accomplice to the homicide only became clear on reading through the article more closely.” The Supreme Court denied an appeal. The Court of Appeal also reportedly found that, as a professional journalist, Salumäki should “have considered it probably that her article contained a false insinuation.”
In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights Salumäki’s conviction, invoking the privacy standards the Court had developed in its 2012 Axel Springer decision. The Court stated that there “was no evidence, or indeed any allegation, of factual errors, misrepresentation or bad faith on the part of [Salumäki]. It also agreed that homicide was “clearly a matter of legitimate public interest” and that the businessman “had already been in the limelight”. However, the Court found that the “juxtaposition of two unrelated criminal investigations, with headlines which clearly suggested to the ordinary reader that there was more to [murder] than what was actually being stated in the text of the articles” was “damaging to the reputation of [the businessman]”. The Court also noted that Salumäki had not sought to verify the accuracy of her “insinuation.” Finally, in the Court’s opinion, that fact that the conviction would not go on Salumäki’s criminal record because it was only a fine (as per Finnish law), the punishment could not be considered overly severe.
Recent Legal Changes
In 2014, the Finnish Criminal Code was amended to abolish the possibility of imprisonment for defamation, except in cases of “aggravated” defamation. In addition, the definition of “aggravated” defamation was altered in that, previously, any defamation offence “committed by using the mass media” was considered to be such; under the current code, only defamation that causes “considerable or long-lasting” suffering or damage can be considered “aggravated”.
Notes and Acknowledgements
Information on defamation laws in Europe was collected by the International Press Institute (IPI) in collaboration with the School of Public Policy’s Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Budapest and their partners at the SHARE Foundation in Belgrade. (Read more about our partners here.)
The information contained in this database is for informational and advocacy purposes only. If you are a journalist facing a defamation claim, you should seek legal advice from a qualified attorney. However, if you are unable to find such an attorney, IPI may be able to assist you in doing so. Please contact us at ipi[at]freemedia.at.
Information on Finland was last updated in January 2015.