Defamation remains a criminal offence in Finland.
The Finnish Criminal Code establishes the following offences:
Defamation (Criminal Code Art. 24(9)): 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”.
Defamation is punished by a fine only.
Aggrvated defamation (Criminal Code Art. 24(10)): Defined as an act of defamation that causes “considerable suffering or particularly significant damage”, it is considered “aggravated”. The penalty is a fine or imprisonment for up to two years (Art. 24(10)).
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.”
Also worth noting is Art. 11.10 of the Criminal Code, which 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”.
Criminal Defamation of Public Officials
Criminal Defamation of the Head of State
Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols
No provisions in the Criminal Code.
Note, however, that the Act on the Finnish Flag provides the possibility of a fine for flag desecration and disrespectful use of the flag .
Criminal Defamation of Foreign Heads of State
Criminal Defamation of Foreign States and Symbols
Criminal Defamation of the Deceased
Art. 24.9(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 penalty is a fine.
Art. 17.10(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 penalty is a fine or imprisonment for up to six months.
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.
Criminal Defamation and Media
Note that under Finnish law, private claims for damages resulting from defamation can only be brought in conjunction with criminal charges, and any compensation awarded is dependent upon the outcome of the criminal case.
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 District 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 ruled in their favour (Ristamäki and Korvola v. Finland, no. 66456/09) 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 upheld Salumäki’s conviction (Salumäki v. Finland, no. 23605/09), 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.
In 2014, the Eastern Finland Court of Appeal confirmed the conviction for aggravated defamation of Urpo Airaksinen, the publisher of a local news site called Liperi News. Airaksinen, who was also the vice member of a local government body, had criticised leaders of the body on the site. The North Karelia District Court had handed the man a six-month suspended prison sentence. He was also ordered to pay a substantial sum in damages and legal costs.
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 for Finland was originally collected by IPI as part of the “Out of Balance” report, published in January 2015 with support from the European Commission and incorporating research contributed by Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Budapest and by the SHARE Foundation in Belgrade. This entry was later expanded and updated by IPI as part of a study commissioned by the Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
A fully footnoted version of this entry is available in the OSCE study. This entry was last updated in March 2017.
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 info(at)ipi.media.