300 Helsinki Billboards Blast Both Trump and Putin for 'Attacking' the Free Press
As President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Helsinki for a joint summit on Monday morning, they were greeted by nearly 300 billboards across Finland's capital city, criticizing them for attacks on the press in both English and Russian.
"Mr. President, welcome to the land of free press," one billboard read. "Trump calls media enemy of the people," read another. "Trump attacks New York Times on Twitter," reported another billboard. "Fact checkers find numerous mistakes in Trump speech." Oh, the horrors!
Along with these Trump billboards stood many denouncing Putin in Russian. "Putin increases attacks on the media," one declared.
Nearly 300 such billboards line the route from the airport to the center of the Finnish capital, bearing headlines taken from editions of the Helsingin Sanomat. This newspaper, founded in 1889 and currently the largest newspaper among the Nordic countries with a subscription circulation of around 360,000, erected the billboards to send Trump and Putin a message.
"[Trump] is really questioning the fundamentals of free press, which is problematic," Kaius Niemi, senior editor-in-chief of the paper, told Newsweek. "It is also creating a problem in how people are trusting the media. He is giving a very bad example for other countries by speaking about 'fake news.'"
While Niemi admitted that Russia's government attacks against journalists were far worse, he warned that his newspaper was equally concerned about Trump's "appalling" criticism of the media.
These billboards send a very dangerous message of moral equivalence between Putin and Trump when it comes to government treatment of the media. No matter how aggressive Trump's rhetoric, America's president has come nowhere near the extent of Russian attacks on the free press.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Russia ranks 148 out of 180 countries for press freedom. "Between draconian laws and website blocking, the pressure on independent media has grown steadily since Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin in 2012," the organization reports. "Leading independent news outlets have tiers been brought under control or throttled out of existence." Lovely.
Saturated with "state-run propaganda," the media climate has grown "oppressive." At least five journalists are detained, and more and more bloggers are being jailed. Human rights nonprofits have been declared "foreign agents," and murders and physical attacks against journalists go unpunished.