Finland’s defence capability became the focus of international media attention after Russia invaded Ukraine. Finland holds a very special geopolitical position in Europe because it has 1300 kilometres border with Russia. In particular, Finland’s position regarding the defense union NATO has become a question of interest.
Finland’s military service system is universal, which means that every male is obligated by law to accomplich conscript between the ages of 18 and 30. In our analysis, we went through Finnish news coverage and found that Finnish media field keeps consensus about Finland’s defence ability during the European conflict.
Since Russia’s attack in Ukraine began, Finland has increased its defence budget. Polls in Finland have shown strong support for joining NATO. Finland’s long term defence policy has leaned on good relation terms with Russia. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the changed situation has forced Finland to change its strategy. Finland’s long era of keeping its defence policy and law unchangeable is now over.
Searching and labelling
The goal was to find out what and how different media outlets were covering about Finnish military service law. We wanted to see how Ukrainian war was reflected in Finnish society trough media coverage, by monitoring five Finnish media sources during 24.2.2022–31.3.2022. We followed the coverage of one public service media company, three national newspapers and one regional newspaper. Yle, The Finnish Broadcasting Company, is financed by a tax paid by individuals and companies. Helsingin Sanomat is the largest morning daily newspaper in Finland. Ilta-Sanomat and Iltalehti are afternoon newspapers and the most popular media sites of Finland. Kaleva is the biggest newspaper of northern Finland.
We started our material search with delimiting our time window and using following keywords in search engines: compulsory military service law, compulsory military service, women volunteer service, national defence, reservists, volunteer national defence, military service, civil service, national defence organizations and defence policy. We did not include articles that dealt with the NATO debate. Based on the remaining results, we created a table in which we recorded the angle of the news and the roles that can be found in the news one by one.
“We have good defence ability“
The strongest message that arises from our sample of articles is Finland’s good defence ability. This theme is linked to articles which compares Finnish defence and preparedness system with Ukrainian preparedness and Russia’s hypothetical attack to Finland. Characteristic of all those types of articles is highlighting Finland’s system of as ‘’strong’’ and ‘’well-prepared’’.
Subtheme under this bigger theme seems to be citizens’ willingness defend the country. This can be seen in news which are about volunteer defenders and growing interest to take part in volunteer training courses, for example shooting exercise. Ilta-Sanomat reports that the number of applications for voluntary national defence training courses has multiplied. Newspaper Kaleva wrote also about that growing interest on the 6th of March. There was a total of 14 cases stories dealing with a volunteer defend during our follow-up period.A total of 21 of our 40 articles revolve around these themes in some way. Rest 19 articles have more dispersion in their topics.
However, there have been news coverage also from the opposite side. This has been seen in articles that deal with resigning Finnish reserve forces and changing position from compulsory military service to civil service since the Russian invasion of Ukraine started. Iltalehti wrote about record breaking number of reservists who wanted to accomplish civil service instead of compulsory service on the 8th of March.
News like described above has been seen less in comparison with the news highlighting the Finnish citizens will defend the country and strong defence ability. In a historical context, this kind of news coverage and selected angles might be a natural choice; Finland has its own history of the war against Russia, and the events of the past few months lift the history events relevant again. This kind of journalism can cause calmness and feeling of basic security for citizens trough challenging times.
Solid support for compulsory military service law
The articles give impression of having consensus around compulsory military service law. Overall current system is presented in positively light and Helsingin Sanomat wrote a column about how Finnish defence based on compulsory military service is the only right choice on the 1st of March. Kaleva made a similar statement on their analysis on the 13th of March.
This narrative can also be seen more subtle tone in articles which we earlier categorized as ‘’Finland’s strong defence ability and volunteer defenders’’. Iltalehti wrote about Ukraine’s defence ability and compared it to Finland’s on the 26th of March. They interviewed military expert, whose statement was that Finland’s good defence ability is partly based on our compulsory military service law. In our material, no criticism was raised against the conscript.
Yle wrote the most neutral column about national defence on the 24th of March. It reflects the author’s own views and personal motives around the theme and the writing does not take a strong stand for or against the current system.
Duties and roles for women during crisis
Media coverage has highlighted women who voluntarily defend the country. This has been reflected in news about women accomplishing voluntary military service and are otherwise interested in national defence, for example to take part in defence organizations training courses. Every media had at least one article which addressed women in national defence.
This point of view is interesting since the law doesn’t yet obligate females to take part in national defence. There were eight articles in total; Helsingin Sanomat had four, other medias had one. Kaleva wrote that Women’s National Emergency Preparedness Association has got everyday new applications to membership on the 17th of March. Iltalehti wrote an article about women roles and duties in hypothetical war in Finland on the 17th of March.
Sources often from military service or volunteer defenders
During the analysis process, we categorized interviewees in media outlets. We identified six different groups from our material. Those groups and the sizes of groups are included in the table. Most typical interviewees were experts, military service, and volunteer defenders. Different media outlets emphasized different roles.
There were lots of Finnish defence organization authorities interviewed. These roles were reflected in the news about the growing interest of Finns in national defence. In the group of experts there were Finnish Defence Forces professionals. These roles appeared mostly in news which highlighted strong defence ability of Finland and analysed the attack of Russia on Ukraine. Helsingin Sanomat covered reservists’ ingrown interest to know their role during a war. The newspaper had interviewed two professionals, captain from the Finnish Defence Forces and executive director of The Finnish Reservists’ Association.
News concerning politicians’ thoughts was often related to legislation outputs linked to law of compulsory military service. Yle gave the platform mostly to reservists, non-reservists, civil servants, and volunteer defenders.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Mari Kononen, Ella Lappalainen & Ville Lappalainen, Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, Finland