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Publication of local government newspapers unconstitutional? Petition to Ombudsman

The HFHR has petitioned the Commissioner for Human Rights to address a threat to the freedom of speech at the local level, namely the practice of publishing newspapers by municipalities and districts. In the petition, the Helsinki Foundation asks the Commissioner to submit an application for the constitutional review of Article 8 of the Press Law Act, the provision which enables local government units to publish newspapers other than information bulletins.

According to the HFHR, the practice of publishing local government newspapers raises concerns regarding its conformity to a number of constitutional values, including the guarantees of freedom of speech, citizens’ right to information, right to carry out business activity, and also the constitutional principle of subsidiarity.

“By publishing own newspapers, local authorities want to have an actual impact on the way in which the local reality is presented to the public. They want to have a say on the extent of expressed criticism and decide what names that appear in the newspapers. Because what they are, such newspapers are unable to perform the press most fundamental function, namely controlling the government: a publisher of a press title that should review local authorities’ actions may not simultaneously be the reviewed entity”, the petition reads.

“In our petition we have presented a legal analysis and expressed the opinion those local government authorities that operate also as press publishers violate constitutional standards. At this occasion, we have also noted that the publication of such newspapers results in negative consequences for the functioning of privately owned press titles, which are the only printed media that actually exercise the control of local government. Furthermore, local government newspapers commercially accept paid advertisements”, said Adam Ploszka, a lawyer working with the HFHR.

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