ERR Official: Pealtnägija Gag Order Seems Like Censorship

The Pealtnägija team, led by Mihkel Kärmas (center) (ERR)
10/16/2014 2:22 PM
Category: Politics

The head of Estonian Public Broadcasting's administrative and legal department says the organization will appeal yesterday's decision by Harju County Court to prohibit the airing of a segment on an investigative journalism program, while the press ethics representative said such cases must not be allowed to occur regularly.

The head of legal, Karin Victoria Kuuskemaa, said disputes involving reputation and privacy were always complicated, but maintained that freedom of the press had to be protected at all times.

The investigative program "Pealtnägija" (Eyewitness) obtained materials from a closed court hearing over claims made by a retired naval officer regarding improprieties in the service. An individual named in the retired officer's allegations, who maintains that the allegations against him are false, filed for provisional legal protection, which was granted by Harju County Court on Wednesday, just hours before the segment was supposed to air.

Kuuskemaa also said that several days before the Pealtnägija case, ERR had received an injunction in another matter where the publicly funded broadcaster was ordered to remove the family name from an article on one of the news sites. In that case a person who happened to share the same name with a defendant in a sex crimes case said his reputation would be damaged.

She said ERR would be appealing that case as well, as it was in the public interest to write about such incidents, and suggested more information, not less, was a better hedge against mistaken identity. She said the police should supply a photograph of the defendant to clear up any possible confusion.

Tarmu Tammerk, ERR's press ethics adviser and a Estonia media doyen, called the Pealtnägija ban "regrettable." "The material published to this point by 'Pealtnägija' and the words of the presenter give reason to believe that this is a story in the public interest where the content creators are trying to point at a systemic problem," he told uudised.err.ee.

"Under no circumstances would I want to see this practice [of courts muzzling the press] become ingrained in Estonia. From the media's point of view, this is judicially enforced censorship."


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