Kaarina Hazard column on Tony Halme provokes more than 100 complaints to Council for Mass Media
Public divided on less than flattering portrait of dead MP, though mawkish media response to his demise was main target
An unflattering column in the late-edition tabloid Iltalehti by the Finnish actress, journalist, and media researcher Kaarina Hazard on January 13th has sparked a heated debate across the country.
Speaking on the morning TV news of the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE today (Friday), Hazard said that her column on the late Tony Halme has been wildly misinterpreted.
Kaarina Hazard is also one of the two leads in the Finnish film Letters to Father Jacob, chosen as Finland’s candidate for the Best Foreign-Language Film category at the 2010 Academy Awards.
Actress-journalist Hazard said that she is apparently a very poor writer, as her column has led to such a large number of misinterpretations.
Hazard said that in her article she did not speak about Tony Halme himself, but about the way the media wrote about him after his death.
The target of her criticism was meant to be the media and the late-edition tabloids in particular, including for instance the very paper in which she was writing.
Hazard pointed up with some disgust and no little gusto the mawkish way the tabloids had tried to make Halme into a heroic figure after death, although he had been regularly vilified by the same papers in life.
”Apparently I will have to improve my style and to write more clearly”, Hazard noted.
A known media critic, columnist Hazard called Tony Halme for example ”a lump-like domestic animal”, expressing wonder at the admiring publicity that she felt Halme had been given after his death.
She definitely did not spare the horses, Halme himself, or her use of colourful adjectives, and the response was immediate: Hazard’s column led to a record number of complaints filed to the Council for Mass Media (CMM) by supporters of Halme.
By Friday morning, a total of 110 complaints had been issued regarding Kaarina Hazard’s column.
All complaints will be handled, but according to Nina Porra, the secretary of the CMM, even a complaint filed by one individual would be enough to investigate the matter in question.
Risto Uimonen, who was named the new Chairman of the Council for Mass Media in Finland just before Christmas, is not willing to comment on the matters of the CMM until he takes office in February.
The column also stirred up a wide and heated debate on the Internet.
For example, on the social networking site Facebook, groups were set up both demanding that Hazard be fired and in her support.
A third group recommended boycotting Iltalehti regardless of what they did about Hazard, and online message boards were running hot with threads on the subject.
Former Member of Parliament Tony Halme (True Finns) was found dead at his home in the early hours of Sunday January 10th.
Halme, who worked as a professional boxer and wrestler in the United States under the pseudonym Ludvig Borga, later gained fame in Finland on the Finnish version of the Gladiators TV franchise under the name Viikinki (“Viking”).
Halme skyrocketed into Parliament in the 2003 elections, and in the municipal elections of 2004, Halme became the first member of the radical populist True Finns to get into the Helsinki City Council.
However, things did not go very well in his private life, and he did not run for re-election to Parliament in 2007. Moreover, in 2008 he resigned from the Helsinki City Council due to illness.
Police believe that no crime was involved in Tony Halme’s death, but initially gave no details of the time or manner of Halme's demise.
Nevertheless, the late-edition tabloid Ilta-Sanomat subsequently reported that Halme took his own life. The paper wrote that a pistol, for which he did not have a firearms permit, was found next to his body.
Halme was something of a polarising figure in life, with many supporters believing he was an important mouthpiece for the disenfranchised and a thorn in the side of the establishment, but alternatively he was more often in the news after his election to Parliament for drug-related offences or for driving under the influence than he was for his work in the chamber.
Kaarina Hazard's comments, while unpalatable, reflect to some extent just this mixed legacy.
In a sense, it might also be said that Hazard is guilty as much as anything of having published her column in the wrong forum.
Many of the readers of the newspaper may not have grasped fully the points she was trying to make about double standards and about the media's fascination with the travails of larger-than-life figures such as Halme, or the equally familiar tabloid face of former ski-jumper Matti Nykänen.
She noted acidly that Halme was not, for instance, of much interest to the media or the public when he was doggedly attempting to shake off his alcohol problems and living "a life more boring".
At the same time, she has run up against a strong tradition that "if you don't have anything nice to say about someone, say nothing" when it comes to the recently deceased.
The fact that she was allegedly trying to highlight the hypocrisy of the media's interpretation of this is another matter altogether.
When speaking on YLE on Friday morning, Hazard sighed that the affair showed how difficult media criticism still is in Finland, where people often moan at the lack of criticism of press excesses and at the fact that the media have too much power.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Ex-MP Tony Halme dies at home in Helsinki (11.1.2010)
New Mass Media Council Chairman believes in self-regulation of media (23.12.2009)
Iltalehti column by Kaarina Hazard (in Finnish)
Council for Mass Media in Finland