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1. FINNISH PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING AND THE EUROPEAN CONTEXT

According to the Finnish media scholar Heikki Hellman, a European model for television broadcasting - as a model for public service television - has been an organisational arrangement derived from radio. National public broadcasters were established in most countries in the 1920s or 1930s, in Finland this took place in 1926. The model has been typical of Europe in particular and has been developed under the rationale of administering scarcity. When television broadcasts began in Western European countries during the late 1940s and the 1950s they were regarded as an extention of radio and hence became the responsibility of national radio broadcasting institutions. As a result public service provided a general paradigm for television broadcasting also applied by almost whole of Western Europe, Finland included (4).

In Western Europe public service broadcasters were national institutions operating in a national context. This means that eventhough they shared the same kind of idelogical bases of public service broadcasting, they also differed from each other in respect of factors like market size, socio-political structure, policy style, cultural and language characteristics, etc.
In Finland it has been the specifically Finnish conditions, which have dictated the development of Finland's broadcasting industry: small population, the large area of the country, the tradition of political coalitions, the fast growth of the economy, the separateness of the Finnish language, and the original policy style (5).


Characterizing public broadcasting

According to the Norwegian scholar Trine Syvertsen, the fundamental characteristics of any public broadcaster can be analysed along three dimensions. Public service broadcasters are: 1) regulated and controlled - often also owned - publicly 2) they are granted a set of priviledges and 3) they are constrained by several obligations towards the society (6).

Public regulation and control has meant in practice that broadcasting was expected to remain "at arm's length" from the government and commercial interests. The authority of broadcasting came from the state. It was not only that the state controlled the allocation of radio spectrum in technical terms, but it also appointed the controllers in order to practise political, cultural and social regulation as well. The privileges granted to public broadcasters were originally two: 1) they had an exclusive right to broadcast and 2) they had a secure and independent source of revenue - privilege to be financed by licence fee paid by the viewers. The licence fee, linked with monopoly guaranteed that there was no competition for the same source of finance. It was also a feasible arrangement, which safeguarded the autonomy of the broadcaster and operated simultaneously as a buffer against the market as well as government pressures. The third dimension of Syvertsen's classification considered obligations discharged by the public service broadcasters. In terms of technical opportunities the service was expected to provide "a universal service to all". In terms of programming, it was expected to provide a comprehensive and balanced output, or a mix of information, education and entertainment. And in terms of cultural, social and political representation, public service programming was expected to be balanced, reflecting the society at large. There was also a national or cultural vocation, a requirement to cater for national identity, culture and community (7).


Yleisradio and the state

As mentioned earlier, the ideology of public service has played a major role in the formation of Finnish broadcasting history. However, when established in 1926, Yleisradio as a national broadcasting company was not owned by the state but by organizations. Neither was it granted a monopoly, eventhough it was awarded almost all licence revenue. Most of the shares of Yleisradio were owned by financial institutions and various businesses, over half of the company's stock was owned by the organizations of the cooperative movement, the banks and forestry and agricultural associations, and the largest single shareholder was the Finnish Radio Association. In this respect Finland differed for example from Sweden, where the corresponding programming company had been formed by the press and the radio industry and from England, where the originally private BBC was owned by the manufactures of radio receivers.

The role of the state in the functioning of Finnish Yleisradio was to pass broadcasting legislation permitting the collection of licence fees for this company, to rule on its operating licence and to supervise its activities. The monopoly status of Yleisradio was in practice organized through a protectionist licensing policy applied by the government, not by law. As far as principles of public service programming were concerned, Yleisradio's programming policy followed the European model. Concepts such as "dignified", "business-like", "proper", "popular education" and the "dissemination of useful education" were underlined. An important requirement was also that the programme should interest a considerable portion of audience. As a special feature, the principles were very much shaped by the agrarian conditions of Finland.

A new era began in the relations between the state and Yleisradio in 1934, when Yleisradio was taken over by the state. The background to the take-over was that in the political circles there was a need to give the government a firmer grip on the only national mass medium that existed in the country. According to the act of 1934 the state exercised its powers in the shareholders' meeting, whose tasks included the appointment of the Administrative Council, Yleisradio's highest executive body. Yleisradio's relationship with the rest of society was again formed in the law passed in 1948, often referred to as "Lex Jahvetti". The core of this act was to transfer the appointment of Yleisradio's Administrative Council from the shareholders' meeting to parliament. This meant that Yleisradio became a company of Finland's parliament. From 1965 onwards the Board members and other executives of Yleisradio began to be appointed for five-year periods under political mandates. The composition of the Council, appointed executives, and programme councils, began to correspond to political representation in parliament, and effective power was transferred from the government to parliament.

A common feature for the various organizational versions from the 1960s to the 1980s was that they were all geared to an idea of suitability following from the relative strength of the political parties, not primarily to serve the goal of practical and efficient managament of the company. At the level of organization the paradigm of management changed as late as in 1993, when the professional nature of management was taken to be a leading principle in the operating environment of Yleisradio (8).

To summarize the introductory: Yleisradio as a public service broadcasting company has during its whole lifetime always been an image of its times. However, it has just not been a reflective image but also an image which has brought change with itself. "The old Yleisradio" prior to 1960s has been characterized as a cautious and withdrawn actor from the perspective of society (9). In 1965-69 under the director general Eino S. Repo, Yleisradio stepped to the forefront of a process of change in the society. Typical of the 1970s was again a belief in the omnipotence of politics. During that period Yleisradio reflected heated political struggles and came under close scrutiny. Finally in adapting to the "markets" of the 1980s and 1990s Yleisradio has once again been a product of its times, adapting to a globalization of the media markets (10).


(4)   Hellman 1999, 58.
(5)   Hellman 1999, 58, 431.
(6)   Syvertsen 1992, 81; Hellman 1999, 60.
(7)   Hellman 1999, 60-63; Syvertsen 1992, 81-101.
(8)   Salokangas 1996, 227.
(9)   With the exception of more active period of Hella Wuolijoki's term as director in 1946-49.
(10)   Salokangas 1996, 228.

"A Longstanding Experiment". The History of the Finnish Broadcasting Model.
Johanna Sumiala-Seppänen, Department of Communication, University of Jyväskylä. 1999

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