Opening remarks at International Press Institute World Congress by Pertti Torstila Secretary of State

Opening remarks at International Press Institute World Congress by Pertti Torstila Secretary of State

International Press Institute World Congress
Helsinki,
June 6, 2009


Ladies and Gentlemen,
Honourable participants of the World Congress of the International Press Institute,

On behalf of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the two other hosting Ministries, Ministry of Employment and Economy and Ministry of Transport and Communications, I have the pleasure of welcoming you to this opening dinner and to the House of Estates in Helsinki. This building was constructed in 1890 to house the three estates, bourgeoisie, peasantry and clergy before Finland got its single chamber parliament in 1907. The building and Helsinki have witnessed many historic events. From the point of view of international politics the most significant of them took place in summer 1975, when the Final Act of the Conference on European Security and Cooperation (CSCE) was signed by 35 heads of states and governments. The Helsinki Process and the CSCE Final Act in 1970s and 1980s fostered and managed the collapse of communism, disappearance of the Soviet Union and tumbling down of the Berlin Wall. The consensus agreement which was reached here on human rights and freer movement of people and ideas had a crucial impact on freedom of expression, free press and improvement of journalism practises - all noble aims that your organisation is deeply dedicated to.

The slogan "Spirit of Helsinki" was adopted during the CSCE Helsinki Process in 1970s. The Helsinki Decaloque ignited the Helsinki Watch Groups, a burning need for strengthening the freedom of expression and free media across the Iron Curtain. The Iron Curtain is no more there but these themes are still highly topical. Today when the very origins of the CSCE/OSCE are called into question, it is important to remember that the Helsinki Accords remain the rule book guiding and obliging the participating States and acting as a compass of their behaviour. The original Helsinki security architecture, the three "baskets" : building security comprehensively with military, economic and human components underpinning each other, is equally valid as it was 34 years ago. According to IPI's overview the gradual backslide of press freedom continues even in Europe. Therefore it is most appropriate that this World Congress of the IPI is being held under this very same slogan, "Spirit of Helsinki".

Dear guests,

Public diplomacy is the modern term which the Foreign Ministries of our countries use in order to achieve policy goals through the public and in co-operation with other public diplomacy partners. The story of the Finnish MFA is no exception and the world media is our close and critical partner.

In the early years of Finland's independence one of the most urgent matters was to get financing from America to ease the food shortage in Finland. In early 1919, the Finnish Government applied for a loan to buy grain. The U.S. agreed, and the details including the payment schedule were finalized in an international agreement in 1923. Then came the Great Depression. Countries ceased their repayments to Uncle Sam. There was one exception: Finland. The Governor of the Bank of Finland, Mr. Risto Ryti stated: "We signed a contract. We promised to pay. It is the only honest thing to do."

What a fantastic Public Diplomacy victory this was to become for Finland in America. Around 3000 newspaper articles were written about a small country in the North of Europe that pays back its debt. Even today, the story of the trustworthy Finns, the country that paid back its debt, is remembered in the United States by the elder generations. This is public diplomacy.

Next time Finland appeared to the front pages of the world media at the outbreak of the Winter War in November 1939. The war against the Soviet Union brought top media representatives from all over the world to Finland to write and report about the nation´s survival struggle against an overwhelming aggressor. Thanks to the presence of the international media in Finland the world sentiment was strongly supportive for Finland. When Finland finally in 1944-45 emerged from the 2nd World War's ruins, crippled but having won the freedom the focus of the world media was already elsewhere. And yet, the image of a small nation fighting heroically in difficult conditions has remained in many minds until our days.

The succesful Helsinki Olympic Games in 1952, brought Finland again to international headlines. And then later in mid 1990s, the rapid economic growth speeded by the success of Nokia and the highly developed IT-sector, Finland made its way to the top performers of various international comparisons. Lack of corruption, level of schooling, smallest infant mortality, growth of per capita gross national product, competitiveness and political consensus thinking have become Finnish trademarks . All these have been important national achievements, all these have been outstanding Public Diplomacy performances and they have been noted and widely reported by the international media.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Finns have always been active newspaper readers. This is reflected in the results of a newly published survey by the Finnish Newspapers Association. The survey shows that still some 80 % of the Finns value the newspapers, compared to 58 % for TV, 47 % for radio and 19 % for magazines as their most important source of information. These are interesting figures in the "Nokia Land" at a time of the global ICT revolution and crisis athmosphere within the printed media. What kind of conclusions can we draw from these figures? Are the Finns in this regard trailblazers or back seat holders? Don't the Finns understand the inescapable progress of the internet? Are the Finns lonely riders or are there perhaps other nations in the same group?

I wish you a succesful Congress and challenge you to a discussion about this and other topical issues in the fascinating world of Public Diplomacy, media outlets, journalism, press freedom and free expression. Warmly welcome in Helsinki !