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Two Finnish journalists resign amid row with prime minister over press freedom

A dispute of freedom of the press is striking for Finland as the state is considered a world leader in press rights. Apparently annoyed by the journalists' reporting, the prime minister fired off nearly two dozen emails.

Two journalists quit Finland's public broadcaster Yleiradio (YLE) on Wednesday, saying the news organization had balked at broadcasting critical reporting of politicians, most notably concerning Prime Minister Juha Sipila.

The case is particularly striking because the Nordic country is considered a global beacon for press freedom. The non-profit group Reporters Without Borders has ranked Finland as the world leader in free press rights for seven years running.

The breaking point for the two journalists came after a dispute over emailed complaints from the prime minister about the broadcaster's coverage.

Finnland Premierminister Juha Sipila (Getty Images/AFP/T. Charliere)

The prime minister apologized for sending over 20 emails to YLE journalists

The journalists, Jussi Eronen (pictured above) and Salla Vuorikoski, resigned citing irreconcilable differences with the editor-in-chief regarding free speech and journalistic independence.

"I'm leaving my post as the Team Manager of the Current Affairs unit, as my freedom of speech is limited," said Eronen in a post on Facebook. "I cannot do my work in line with my values and the journalistic guidelines."

"Me and my team have been asked to cut back on any reporting that exposes abuses and misdemeanors. I cannot agree to this," his Facebook post further explained. "The editorial line is most cautious on politicians, especially the prime minister."

YLE reported in November that an engineering company owned by the prime minister's relatives had received an order from a state-owned nickel miner Terrafame shortly after the money-losing firm had been granted a cash injection from the government.

Sipila denies wrongdoing

Prime Minister Sipila, who has denied any wrong-doing regarding Terrafame, sent several emails to reporter Vuorikoski and Chief Editor Atte Jaaskelainen, complaining that he had not been given enough time to comment on the story before publication.

"I have zero respect for YLE right now, which does not differ from your respect towards me. We're even," said one of the messages.

The prime minister later apologized for the emails and denied he was attempting to suppress the free press.

Finnland Sender Yleisradio (picture-alliance/blickwinkel/K. Salminen)

Finland's YLE

Vuorikoski, a member of Eronen's team, broke the story about the prime minister's family ties to the Terrafame sub-contractor, a struggling state-owned mining firm kept afloat by government injections of cash.

YLE's reporting infuriated Sipila, prompting him to send about 20 angry emails to journalists at YLE.

The pressure had an effect, according to YLE. Follow-up stories were shelved by senior management, who said their decisions were unrelated to Sipila's email barrage. But shortly thereafter all YLE discussion programs were ordered not to discuss Sipila's links to Terrafame.

YLE management said that decision was made in order to give the chancellor of justice, time to decide whether Sipila should be investigated for failing to recuse himself from decisions on funding for Terrafame.

bik/sms (Reuters, YLE)