Finnish Newspapers' Positions on Drug Policy between 1993 and 2000

Article excerpt

Based on an analysis of editorials published in five Finnish newspapers from 1993 to 2000, this article discusses the role of the print press in the 1990s efforts to bridge the gap between restrictive drug policy and drug-harm-minimization policy in Finland. The analysis shows that from 1993 to 2000 there was a tone of "moralpanic" in Finnish newspapers' assessment that drug trafficking originating from abroad and the related crime were the prime challenge for Finnish drug policy. However, none of the five newspapers considered a restrictive drug policy sufficient. They maintained that while police control was necessary, further steps were needed so that the problem could be properly tackled as the internal national problem that it in fact constituted. The editorials recommended three lines of action: (1) an extensive drug treatment system should be developed, (2) young people, families, and communities should be urged to support a drug-free way of life, and (3) the authorities should be cautious in the introduction of drug testing. However, the analysis shows that the newspapers did not actually deal with the ideological ruptures and tensions that the promotion of drug-harm-reduction techniques caused for the dominant restrictive drug policy. The papers just pragmatically stated that more resources needed to be allocated to the strategy of prohibition as well as to the techniques of harm reduction.

KEY WORDS: Drug policy, media studies, content analysis, discourse analysis.

According to David Garland (2001), two separate criminologies have evolved in Western countries since the end of the 1960s: a "criminology of the other" and a "criminology of the self." In the criminology of the self, state agencies seek to build alliances with non-state organizations with an understanding that crime control is in part beyond the reach of traditional state intervention. In drug policy, the needle-exchange programs, drug-harm-minimization efforts, and different kinds of preventive multi-agency network projects represent the criminology of the self. In this strategy, the control is focused on "criminogenic situations," "hot spots," and "hot products." The aim is to reduce harms and risks among drug users as well as to mobilize and harness the third sector and its "informal social control" to play its part in drug prevention (Garland, 2001: 127-131).

In the criminology of the other, on the contrary, the state adopts a punitive stance. In drug policy, "war on drugs" strategies using "moral panic" rhetoric, for example, represent the criminology of the other. In these policies, drugs and drug users are categorized as alien "others," as threats that need to be rooted out of our midst and to be punished with impressive ceremonies. Garland (2001, 131-138) describes these kinds of strategies as archaic. They imply a denial of the real problems in society, of the real effects of punishment on the targets, and of the limitations of administration. Instead, the general public is offered a cathartic sense that the state and the police are sovereign powers capable in every situation of quickly restoring law and order by repressive measures such as chasing down the offenders, locking them up in prison, and punishing them.

In Finland, drug policy from the 1960s till the 1990s was based on the criminology of the other. In many European countries, such as the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain, drug policy has been more tolerant and been based more on "criminology of the self techniques. Furthermore, AIDS led many European states, including, for example, Belgium, France, Germany, and Switzerland, to introduce harmreduction approaches among drug users at the end of the 1980s (Berridge, 1999). In Finland these techniques were taken into consideration later, in the 1990s, when it was noticed that the use of hashish and amphetamine had increased, the availability of heroin had expanded, and the number of drug abusers had grown.

The authorities reacted to the new challenges of the drug situation in Finland by modernizing the drug legislation in 1994. …