WOB value

Finland

 
01/01
2008

Finland: Cases with impact

Case law on wobbing is not collected in an organized way but there are some Finnish lessons to be learnt from previous cases.

 

Any precise information on how much journalists make FOI-requests does not exist. One case study from 2002 revealed that of 40 FOI cases at the Supreme Administrative Court, 14 were journalists' cases. In 3/5 the cases the outcome was at least partly favorable to the applicant. "Partly" meaning that sometimes parts of the information were considered not public but the authorities were told to give the journalists some information.

 

A thorough study is needed in Finland about journalists' FOI cases at our 20 administravive courts and the Supreme Administrative Court. The general conception among those who have done FOI requests is however, that we should have more of them as we now do.
The FOI law states clearly that "documents" can refer to either paper documents or some other forms of information. The law itself is medium-neutral. But as we see below, it's not always the reality.

 

 

Another very interesting point is how to get public information when some parts of the document are not public? The law states that authorities are encouraged to produce public information by omitting the non-public parts. So they can but don't have to. And sometimes they don't want to. That can be a problem but we, the journalists, should continue to ask for information and be prepared to go to court in order to get that information. 

 

 

Cases:

 

1) Is it possible to get information on some symptomps and diseases of children who had lived in a highly toxic residential area in Helsinki (built on a former dump)? This was a small-scale scandal when it was found outthat houses were built on a polluted land. Many residents had health problems, and later most of the houses were demolished. A report was published but it was criticised for not being precise about the impacts on inhabitants' health. So, the journalist wanted to compare the health reports of children who had lived there to the already published report. He asked for the medical records of 13 children, names omitted. He also wanted to know who had given the expert medical opinions. The Helsinki Health Center declined. The case went to the Helsinki Administrative Court . It ruled that all patient material (even without names) is confidential and cannot be given to journalists. Experts advised not to appeal, the journalist did not. So, the law of patient confidentiality was rated higher than FOI.

 

2) Are there doctors in double-roles: working for pension insurance companies and the Pension Board? In Finland taking an early retirement because of disability pension is not uncommon. The applications that are not accepted go to the Pension Board for revision. The Pension Board is considered to bea neutral body. But let’s saythere are doctors who work for the pension funds/insurance companies (who pay their salary), what then can happen to their neutrality? The journalist asked the names of the pension funds' expert doctors so that they could be compared with the members of the Pension Board. Some pension funds declined claiming that they are private companies, and thus the FOI laws have no relevance to them. But the journalist won his case both in Helsinki Administrative Court and the Supreme Administrative Court. When employees of a private company perform in a public role, the FOI law concerns them, too.

 

3) Is it possible to get information on Security Police's budget? The FOI leaves out national security matters in many ways. But how about Security Police's (SP) ways of spending money, it is a government office, too. The journalist asked for SP's balance sheet, SP declined. But the Helsinki Administrative Court ruled that the information is public. SP has appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court and it's highly likely that they overrule the lower court's decision. SP claims that even revealing that SP has property (appartments) is endangering it's security and thus it's capability to support Finland's national security.

 

4) Are public school performance records only public on paper? So far the longest FOI battle (nearly five and half years). Finland has only one national exam, the "matriculation exam" which is taken after secondary level (senior high school). Some 35 000 students take part yearly in the examwhich covers4-9 subjects. Journalists wanted to compare whether the average results vary from school to school. The argument was not about the availability of the content but the form. The Matriculation Examination Board (MEB) claimed that the results are public but declined to give them in anelectronic form. Because they first justified their position without basing it on the FOI law, it took a long time when the case went back and forth different courts. Then the MEB said that by giving only limited amount of the large database (id numbers or names were not asked, just results in different subjects) they would create a new document and they could not be obliged to do so. Finally in 2006 Helsinki Administrative Court ruled that MEB was right but in 2007 the decision was over-ruled by the Supreme Administrative Court. The journalists "won". But there is yet the question of moneyto overcome. The MEB does not have the data, a private company handles the data for the Board. This can mean that the data will cost a lot.

 

 
 
 

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