Prime Minister: Free media best antidote to propaganda
Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas (Reform) made the point in the Riigikogu on Monday that the best defense against propaganda was ensuring the freedom of the media. Estonia thus wouldn’t ban Kremlin-controlled Sputnik.ee as long as it didn’t break the law.
Rõivas said that the government didn't treat Sputnik as a journalistic organisation or a member of the free press, and that the Estonian authorities didn’t treat Sputnik’s queries as requests for information by journalists.
The Prime Minister said the government’s reaction was based on Estonia’s openness and its appreciation of free speech. “We won’t ban them so long as they don’t break Estonian law, but we’re following their activity,” Rõivas said. If they did anything that was against Estonian law, or if they abused the right to free speech, that’s when the authorities would react, he stressed.
Rõivas explained that Estonia’s reaction to Russian propaganda was in line with NATO and the EU’s strategic communication goals, the priority of which was not to give up its openness and its values in terms of free speech.
The government’s strategy had four sides, the Prime Minister explained. Awareness was one, namely monitoring propaganda, uncovering its workings publicly, and also to develop students’ critical thinking in schools.
Providing alternatives to the audiences most affected by propaganda was another, leading to a diverse media landscape. Rõivas brought up ERR’s new Russian-speaking TV station, ETV+, as an example.
Readiness was also very important. The government needed to actively present its point of view, and repeat it whenever necessary. This would mean technical as well as human readiness to react to increased demand for information in the case of a crisis, Rõivas said.
The fourth and last point was the necessity to react quickly to the changing legal requirements related to developments in the media, he added.
The parliamentary group of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) wanted to know if the government considered labeling and linking the opposition to the Kremlin a means of psychological defense as well. To this, Rõivas responded that feeding xenophobia in the guise of far-right conservatism was generally in the interest of the Kremlin.
The European Union crumbling away and Estonia standing alone on its border was in the interest of the Kremlin, no matter if what led to it was hidden behind insistence on language, culture, tradition, and rights, the Prime Minister said.
“EKRE’s leaders have said that Estonia should leave the European Union, that Estonia was threatened by mass immigration, that sinking the ratification of the border treaty with Russia was their goal, and that as a result of this it would be possible to build relations with Russia on a more constructive and friendly basis,” Rõivas said.
EKRE’s statements sounded eerily similar to those of the Kremlin, he added, and that the patriotism expressed in them was deceptive. “And of course I think it is necessary to point that out, too,” Rõivas said.