Pioneer of English news portal in Finland

Nahid Riyasad | Published: 00:00, Jan 05,2020 | Updated: 14:19, Jan 05,2020

Nahid Riyasad, Ofiul Hasnat, European Union, Finland media, Finland, English newspaper in Finland, Finland youth, Bangladeshi journalist, EU, digital media, online news portal,

Ofiul Hasnat

Ofiul Hasnat Ruhin graduated from University of Chittagong and started his career as a journalist in the late 1990s. He went to Finland to pursue his doctoral studies in 2007 and worked in the EU. He later went on to establish the first English news portal in Finland in 2013. After six years, The Daily Finland has gained significance in English news in Europe, except England and Ireland. During a conversation with Nahid Riyasad, Ofiul Hasnat shares his journey with New Age Youth

New Age Youth: When did you start your career as a journalist?

Ofiul Hasnat: During my fresher year in University of Chittagong, I started working as the campus correspondent of the Daily Star. I also worked as a staff reporter in a local newspaper, the Daily Life. In 1996, I worked as the Chittagong bureau chief of The Bangladesh Observer.

In 2003, I started working in the New Age. I also held the post of Chittagong bureau chief of the New Age. After I became a special correspondent for the New Age in 2007, I went to pursue my doctoral studies in Finland; my focus was on global aspects of digital media.

New Age Youth: How did you start The Daily Finland?

Ofiul Hasnat: While pursuing my PhD, I got a job in the European Union as a communication co-ordinator in 2010. I worked there for five years on global aspects of digital, social and new media.

By then, I have observed there were no English newspapers in Finland. I took that opportunity and launched an English news web portal, titled Daily Finland, as a project of the EU in 2013. Within a year, we received tremendous support from different communities.

Our reputation went to such extend that our first anniversary programme in 2014 was attended by four ministers, twelve law makers, at least fifteen mayors, top newspaper editors and press council top members of Finland.

New Age Youth: How are you doing with the news portal right now?

Ofiul Hasnat: Our first true recognition came in 2015 when the Finnish government embedded the link of our news portal in a foreign ministry website.

We also have an on-going agreement with the Chinese government. Under the agreement, they bought a separate space in our portal for their materials. To maintain transparency, as we usually do not publish promotional articles, we title that segment as ‘sponsored contents’.

We also had agreements with two separate city corporation of Finland. Universities started collaborating with us because we were the only available English news portal and they used that chance to attract international students.

With these initial reputation and advertisements, we slowly but steadily started our journey.    

New Age Youth: As you mentioned, Daily Finland is currently doing great in that region. How have you come this far?

Ofiul Hasnat: Last year, in an international technological event, where big names like Microsoft and Huawei participated, we were the media partner. I personally asked the organisers to know the reason of our selection. They informed that if we refused to partner with them, they would go the second name on their list — The Baltic Times. Considering the popularity and reputation of The Baltic Times which is one of the most popular newspapers of that belt this was a great success for us.

A pillar of our success would be the cultural plurality that we practice in our house and the member of staffs would prove that. Currently, the Daily Finland team is made of thirteen people of different nationalities — British, American, Finnish, Chinese, Russian and Bangladeshi.      

New Age Youth: What were the initial challenges that you faced?

Ofiul Hasnat: The major challenge that we are still facing is lack of manpower. During event coverage, we often feel this drawback. However, as we started as a project under the EU, we did not face any financial obstacles of any sort. EU allocated Euro 300,000 for the project.

When the project ended, there was some uncertainty around the future of the Daily Finland. However, EU sold the project to me for a token money to run commercially. Then I formed Finnish News Network and currently run the portal under that company.

New Age Youth: You worked as a journalist in Bangladesh and in Finland. Could you reflect on the basic differences in journalistic practices?

Ofiul Hasnat: In essence, Bangladeshi journalists are comparatively sharp, brilliant and newspapers readers of Bangladesh have more curiosity about the news than average Finnish. For example, Sanna Marin entered office on December 10, 2019 as the youngest prime minister of the world at the age of 34 and it did not create hype in Finnish communities. However, a lot of Bangladeshi news portals run that news for readers demand.

This social tendency is reflected on newspapers too. In Bangladesh, it matters who breaks the news even if the report is incomplete or incorrect; however, in Finland, correctness is of utmost importance.

I would not say Finnish people are apolitical but they are not very interested in politics, particularly in their everyday lives. They practice their political awareness during votes.

Remuneration for journalists is also significantly different. A leading newspaper in Finland would pay a columnist, according to reputation, up to USD 500 for a single column.

Before Finnish parliamentary elections, I strongly criticised the previous PM and argued that voting for that person would mean the state is turning into a business enterprise because she was shrinking welfare funds and increasing taxes. During an even, one of her officials approached me and pointed out some of the good initiatives of that government and that was the only criticism from their part.

Clearly, that is not the case for journalism in Bangladesh.

New Age Youth: As the Daily Finland is the first regular English news portal of Finland, one might ask, why?

Ofiul Hasnat: First of all, Finnish people would not use English unless it is absolutely necessary. That is why a Finnish could speak in their mother tongue for hours on without a single English word. This is an indication of their cultural consciousness and individuality.

Our newspaper created confusion among Finnish people that we are catering to foreigner clients. However, our primary target group is Finnish, especially the youth segment, as they are more open to embrace English than the previous generations.

Even in the last decade, there were many important government offices which would tell a client to come on another day as their English speaking employee was absent on that day. That scenario is gradually changing and more people are using English.

New Age Youth: As Daily Finland has opened up a new market space in Finland, what are your future plans with the news portal?

Ofiul Hasnat: I am a member of Finland’s journalists’ association. They have a regular publication and in one of their cover stories, they honoured me as the pioneer of journalism in English in Finland.

This is a huge responsibility to bear but I am confident that Daily Finland is independent right now and it is set to make lasting contribution in Finnish news industry.

In case of any major event in Finland, large international media houses prefer a quote or more information from Daily Finland. We want to carry on that legacy.                                   

Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team.

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