Mr. Hannu Syrjänen, President; Chairman of Federation of the Finnish Media Industry: Consumer ombudsman intervenes in freedom of expression
The Consumer Ombudsman has petitioned the Market Court for a decision on whether Helsingin Sanomat, which is published by Sanoma Osakeyhtiö, can distribute advertising supplements to consumers with a "no advertising" sticker on their mailbox. Mr. Hannu Syrjänen, SanomaWSOY's President and Chairman of Federation of the Finnish Media Industry, says that if implemented, the view of the Consumer Ombudsman would cause significant problems to the Finnish newspaper and magazine publishing sector.
"The Consumer Ombudsman's decision to take the distribution of advertising inserts delivered between newspapers to the Market Court is unprecedented. If the view of the Consumer Ombudsman is implemented, it will cause significant problems to the Finnish publishing industry, both newspapers and magazines, many of them with inserts placed between them for distribution.
"As a product, a newspaper consists of several different elements of which inserts are an essential one. The paper is a mass product distributed in an identical form to all subscribers in the same area. No newspaper publisher has the technical or financial possibilities to change the content of the paper to satisfy the wishes of individual subscribers.
"It is the reader's conscious choice to subscribe to a paper that contains advertisements. The entity consisting of articles and advertisements does not constitute advertising whose distribution a consumer could prohibit by referring to his right to refuse receiving direct advertising. The prohibition possibility would also be conflicting with the freedom of expression protected by the Constitution, because it would mean that an outsider, and not the publisher, could in advance determine the content of the paper, of which inserts are a part. The freedom of expression also applies to advertising.
"For example, a subscription of Helsingin Sanomat is a contract based on civil law, made between Sanoma Corporation and the subscriber, and its content is determined in accordance with the subscription conditions. By subscribing to Helsingin Sanomat, the subscriber has expressed his wish to receive Helsingin Sanomat exactly in its existing form according to the subscription conditions. In our view, it is self-evident that the majority of subscribers who have placed "no advertisements" stickers on their letterboxes would not want to be deprived of the information contained in the daily newspaper. Advertisements are an essential element of this content.
"If the Consumer Ombudsman demands that the inserts should be removed, he should on the same grounds demand that all advertisements should be removed from newspapers. The outcome for the consumer would be a newspaper or a magazine whose content would be more meagre and its price would be prohibitive. This starting point is impossible. The inserts are an integral part of the paper just like its journalistic content and the advertisements printed on its pages."