Finnish PM Sipila caught up in press freedom row

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Mr Sipila sent a string of emails to an investigative journalist at YLE, as well as its chief editor

Finland's Prime Minister Juha Sipila has denied allegations that he tried to suppress coverage of allegations against him and his family.

Mr Sipila has already rejected claims of a conflict of interest over a contract awarded by a state-run mine to a steel company owned by his relatives.

But the case has now also placed him at the heart of a censorship row.

It has emerged that Mr Sipila sent a series of emails to public broadcaster YLE to complain about its coverage.

Finland has been rated highest in the World Press Freedom index for the past five years.

The prime minister told reporters on Wednesday that he had not tried to limit press freedom or influence the broadcaster, but said he had not been given a fair opportunity to comment on the allegations against him.

According to YLE, Mr Sipila also felt that its coverage had given an impression that he or his relatives had acted fraudulently.

A conflict of interest?

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Mr Sipila became prime minister in 2015
  • Finnish government injected €100m (£85m; $106m) into struggling, taxpayer-funded mining company Terrafame in eastern Finland
  • Terrafame awarded €500,000 contract to Katera Steel, owned by relatives of Juha Sipila
  • Mr Sipila denies wrongdoing: "I know I have not been improper or biased in this case"
  • Finland's chancellor of justice and parliamentary ombudsman have been asked to investigate allegations of conflict of interest

The Suomen Kuvalehti website reported on Wednesday that the prime minister had sent a string of critical messages late on 25 November to a YLE reporter covering the story.

A news story written by the public broadcaster on Friday night assessing allegations of a conflict of interest involving Mr Sipila was dropped, the website said. A further story written on Monday morning about the prime minister's emails was also shelved, it added, citing three sources at YLE.

Finnish talk show host Ruben Stiller complained on Twitter on Friday that he had been barred from raising the issue on his weekly programme.

YLE's news and current affairs editor Atte Jaaskelainen responded to the allegations with a lengthy piece denying that the broadcaster had been silenced. The story had led all YLE's platforms for four days, he argued, insisting that the prime minister's emails had played no part in its coverage.

However, he said the broadcaster had decided not to publish stories questioning whether Mr Sipila should have not taken part in decisions on contracts awarded to his relatives' steel company.

That was because YLE had decided to wait until investigations had been carried out into whether there had been a conflict of interest. Mr Stiller returned to Twitter on Wednesday to say the ban on him covering the story had been lifted.