Written by Staff Writer, CNN Berlin, Germany
As the leader of a nation with a largely older population, Finland’s prime minister knew his age would be a consideration when planning a visit to an island where he could hop in a car for a hiking and boat trip.
In a hastily called press conference, Juha Sipila — age 65 — said he made a mistake.
The chance to check out the southern island of Keri triggered an invitation for him to take a spin in a car and walk on a shoreline path on the remote island. A driver then led him to a pub on the river banks, where he drank a beer, ate cake and chatted with locals.
Hisself an honorary member of the pub’s society, Sipila didn’t act out of the blue — he signed up to the local get-together with a note of invitation.
“I should never have gone in the car, and I regret having gone in the car and had a driver bring me there,” said Sipila, adding that he was happy to contribute to the fun even though the experience was not 100% romantic.
According to video taken by the night’s photographer, the prime minister seemed “quite happy” after he and his companions passed a rainbow and then paused on the shore. That’s when a photographer snapped the now-viral photo.
The trouble starts when the world — on social media at least — demands an explanation, and the prime minister is forced to apologize.
“Finland’s world comes down to family, friends and our homeland. No matter how busy we are, we know it’s important to balance things out and do stuff that we can’t afford to stay away from. By sticking around for a ride with one of our neighbors, I’ve made myself look bad. I have no excuses,” he wrote in a public letter of apology.
For some, the photo is merely a reminder that age is a factor in Finland.
Ola Häkkinen, a filmmaker, found the picture interesting.
“It’s just a funny shot. But it’s good that people can share something, even if you look like an old man,” he said.
For those in his country, the timing of the photo and the apology was notable.
Veiko Risonen, a Stockholm-based Finnish journalist who covers Southeast Asia, said she found the idea “vintage,” adding that she’d heard it would be a good photo to illustrate her upcoming story on intimacy between men and women in the workplace.
The photographer who took the photo, Janita Paekkojärvi, helped write part of the piece on a weekend field trip to a city in the south.
“He gave me as much as I would expect from a professional journalist, and that was the reason why I liked him,” Risonen said.
If any journalist had a story worth telling on intimacy between men and women, it’s the late, late 20th century, she said. The photo, she added, was a “stepping stone” to that story.