Court Prohibits ETV From Airing Segment on Navy Scandal (6)

(ERR)
10/15/2014 6:44 PM
Category: Politics

Last night's "Pealtnägija" was cut short by six minutes due to an 11th-hour Harju County Court decision ordering Estonian Public Broadcasting not to air a segment following up on claims made by a former naval officer over violations in the military.

Reactions from producers of the investigative news program were indignant. "Thus for the first time in Pealtnägija's 15-year history, a story was banned and the program will be six minutes shorter. A case that was already farcical just got more absurd," the program team said on its Facebook site.

ERR director Margus Allikmaa said the organization would respect the decision, while expressing concern over the unprecedented case and saying it was possible ERR would appeal the injunction.

The story was first covered by "Pealtnägija" in 2011, and that segment (in Estonian) is still available in archives.

The whistle-blower, 2nd Lieutenant Georg Kirsberg, started out as a conscript in 2004 and in his seven years in the Navy, rose up the ranks.

He put in an application for a discharge in 2011. Along with filling out the form, he tacked on a 14-page memo containing detailed criticism of what he alleged was corruption and other problems in the Navy.

Cheating on examinations crops up as an issue in Kirsberg's memo. He also criticizes education in general. Many naval officers were trained in Western military academies, but typically the degrees conferred were not the equivalent of the required bachelor's degree required by Estonian law, so allowances were made on the legislative level.

Yet descriptions of other alleged violations tended to be quite graphic and involve alcohol.

These claims caused a furor at the time, with even defense chief Gen. Ants Laaneots commenting on the case, calling Kirsberg mentally unstable.

The Navy says the claims are fiction, with the exception of the shoddy state of infrastructure on the base and shortage of personnel, which it admits are problems.

"His memo caused astonishment and disgruntlement among many naval personnel. He writes about things that have no basis, they are fictitious and the stuff of rumor," said Captain Lieutenant Ivo Värk, then commander of the navy staff, in 2011.

The alleged episode that prompted the court action concerned an officer who, Kirsberg claims, showed up to work aboard ship drunk, defecated behind the cabin door of his superior officer and ordered a conscript to clean it up.

In December 2011, the officer accused of the undecorous behavior sued Kirsberg and the Delfi news site. Delfi deleted its story and apologized in 2012 as ordered by the court.

Kirsberg maintained the accuracy of his claims, and additional court hearings were held. "Pealtnägija" now says it has transcripts and recordings, including a part where the officer is speaking. Those recordings and documents were the reason for Wednesday's injunction - the program was planning to air them.

"Pealtnägija" maintains the problems on the Miinisadam base are endemic and the military has covered up the issue.

The military denies that it has tried to hush up unpleasant allegations, and said it had no link to the current court action. In comments given last night to Postimees, the Defense Forces said: "The Defense Forces and the Navy have no connection to this county court decision and the prohibition on showing the clip, as the Defense Forces are not a party to this court case."

The Estonian military generally has a reputation for being free of problems such as hazing and corruption that have plagued other countries that emerged from the Soviet system after 1991.


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