As a mentioned in my introductory first posting about a month ago, part of my inspiration for joining the world of blogging was the blog Finland for Thought – the viewpoint of American Espoo resident Phil Schwarzmann on Finnish politics and life.
Schwarzmann mentioned the author/publisher Alexis Kouros in several articles in his blog during the last year or so. Kouros clearly is not one to take any criticism of himself and so decided to make mischief for Finland for Thought, according to that blog itself. According to Schwarzmann’s blog, in 2007 Kouros wrote to Google’s advertising service falsely claiming he was acting for several Finnish organisations (including the national broadcaster Yle and the news agency STT-FNB) in an attempt to convince Google to pull their adverts from Finland for Thought. Finland for Thought reported that after this smear failed, he reported Schwarzmann to the police who swiftly concluded that there was nothing worth investigating.
This year, 2008, Kouros launched legal action against Schwarzmann in the Helsinki court. Schwarzmann, via Finland for Thought, described that in this process Kouros refused to meet with Schwarzmann or his legal team or to enter into any negotiations. Schwarzmann, via his blog, stated he would fight Kouros’ action, writing in Finland for Thought on 2.3.2008 (in an entry as of 24.3. deleted):
“I hired the best lawyer in Finland when it comes to defending the rights of bloggers, Herkko Hietanen of Turre Legal, co-founder of EFFI (Electronic Frontier Finland), a non-profit advocacy and legal organization with the stated purpose of being dedicated to preserving free speech rights in the context of today’s digital age.
Finns are strong believers in free speech and Finland has an excellent judicial system, I couldn’t be in a better place for a situation like this. I’d be scared if I were in the U.S. where big money and big businesses like Kouros’ can always beat a little guy like me in the courts. The Finnish police have already dismissed these charges, and I know a judge will too. Justice will be served!!”
Yet, mysteriously on the day before the actual trial, Schwarzmann agreed to an out of court settlement with Korous (although notably not even mentioning him by name in the announcement of this) – the terms of which they have agreed to keep secret for 20 years. It has become immediately apparent that the terms must include the removal of all references (no matter how minor) to Alexis Kouros from Finland for Thought. Indeed, all the entries that mention him and even the court case (other than the settlement announcement) have been removed. Hardly living up to the ideals of free speech that Schwarzmann has claimed he would defend.
It’s hard to know what to make of this. Disappointment perhaps. A feeling that Finland for Thought, which had previously allowed freedom of speech on all sorts of controversial matters, is now tainted. Perhaps both of these but also a certain sympathy for Schwarzmann. It is very easy to condemn him for not standing up for free speech but only because it’s easy also to forget that he is one private person who has had to face action from a more influential individual with more resources to fight his case. Finland for Thought will doubtless suffer from a loss of credibility for at least a short time amongst its regular contributors and commentators. Let’s not forget though, that this attempt to prevent the freedom of expression did not start with Schwarzmann.