Regional Newspaper Editor: Government Media Influence Growing
"If the Cabinet issued a newspaper, that would seem absurd in a democratic society, but it has become the norm for local governments," noted Põhjarannik editor in chief Erik Gamzejev in an opinion that aired on Vikerraadio.
Free city and municipal papers clamor to put a spin on local events from the point of view of those in power, he said, while at the same time, even the information in legal acts often doesn't get published on websites at the right time.
It is just as illusory to think that municipal papers are published free. Due to the costs of producing them, other things go undone - for instance roads are not repaired or toys are not purchased for nursery schools.
Gamzejez makes it clear he's not just talking about Tallinn, where municipal media, roads and nursery school places are hot issues, and called on the Competition Authority to fight media market distortion.
His piece argues that besides being propagandistic, municipal papers actually weaken the footing of local commercial papers, which provide an average of 20-30 jobs.
"No doubt it is presumed that the deeper the economic hole for the latter, the fewer inconvenient questions will come from them. But if the tendency deepens, it will be just a small step to restricted free speech on the local level. Those in power will start controlling the media sphere just as strongly as in Russia."
Fortunately, surveys show that local commercial newspapers have the highest readership in most Estonian counties, and most people prefer balanced, objective news to propaganda, being able to distinguish between them. But a shift could happen if the population continues to dwindle and advertising money dries up.