Newly-appointed Postimees editor-in-chief Mart Raudsaar is a conservative, 'Christian' choice made by Ekspress Meedia's competitor Postimees Grupp, according to Ekspress Meedia owner Hans H. Luik.
Luik, owner of the rival Ekspress Grupp, whose stable includes daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) and weeklies Eesti Ekspress and Maaleht, said the incoming Postimees editor-in-chief was a solid character who did well heading up the Association of Media Enterprises (EALL).
"[Postimees Grupp owner] Margus Linnamäe has made a conservative, I'd dare to say even Christian choice. It's a great challenge for the 'young' man," he said, appearing on ERR's politics discussion show "Otse uudistemajast" Wednesday morning.
One of Raudsaar's former roles was as editor of Eesti Kirik, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Estonia's newsletter.
Mari-Liis Rüütsalu, managing director at Ekspress Grupp, agreed that Linnamäe had made a conservative choice, adding that there was probably no danger of Raudsaar having too much inside information on his competitors from his time as EALL chief, as sensitive information was not shared with the organization anyway.
Luik also noted, playfully, in the light of the global trend for urbane, left-leaning journalists based within big-city bubbles who are not appreciative of what happens to the wider populations.
"The press community also needs more conservative voices," he said.
At the same time, Rüütsalu denied any particular slant within Ekspress Grupp.
"We certainly have no united front leaning one way of another," she said.
Luik said Ekspress Group was a financial-economic unit, where companies are managed via a budget.
"We manage the content by hiring the chief editors - the best in Estonia - and we don't change them very often. The freedom is to create their own teams is their," Luik explained, adding that his publications also looked beyond the editorial board for sources and opinions, in order to get a 'bystander's' perspective.
"We are not just talking about ideological orientation here, but also about the length and editing of the texts, the videos, the overall design," Luik said, adding that Mart Raudsaar has previously been a participant.
As to Postimees' recent management and editorial woes, Luik said that the reason why Postimees' management has become so turbulent is that its ownership had considered implementing a hidden agenda, where journalists were not explicitly told about the publication's worldview, Rüütsalu opined.
This, in turn, creates internal discord, where one line is publicly driven and another, conservative line is pushed, but behind the scenes.
"As a former marketing person, I say that you should define your brand: what you do and whom you do. We have also recently reviewed our brands, who we aim our product at and what this product actually is," Rüütsalu said, adding that it also raises questions as to whether and how to cover things.
In doing so, Ekspress Grupp says it does not brand itself along the lines of a worldview, but rather with what subscribers want. This would include the plain-speak of daily Õhtuleht, which Ekspress Grupp currently owns a 50 percent stake in.
"We did not talk about the ideological direction of our products," Rüütsalu claimed, noting that in any case in journalism an ideology is probably expressed by journalists' attitudes inevitably being reflected in content or in the choice of topics.
Luik also noted that that since its creation, Eesti Ekspress's header slogan had been "independent weekly newspaper", perhaps best embodied by its weekly editorials, which are never anonymous, he said.
Luik did however uphold the right of owners to have the final say.
"This is not a case of journalists getting together to choose an editor-in-chief, or officials at a ministry choosing their own chancellor," he said.
"No, the owner always has that right," Luik said, noting that he himself has in the past unsuccessfully tried to get some topics published in his own papers.
Luik recalled that the owners of Postimees had not been in direct contact with the public, as this was simply not Linnamäe's style.
A precedent existed with Postimees' previous owners, Heldur Tõnisson and the Schibsted group, Luik said
When asked about media speculation that Ekspress Grupp was due to sell its stake in Õhtuleht, Luik said that until offers acceptable to the competition authority emerged, no sale would take place. In any event, there was no reason to sell just for the sake of it, as the paper was turning a profit, he said.
Rüütsalu also said that Ekspress Grupp's digital subscriptions had doubled over the past year, with the target of 50,000 set for this year. The number of digital subscribers increases each month by the thousands, he said, helping to provide a hedge against any future downturns with paper publications.
At the same time, the competition authority's failure to see Google and Facebook as important players in the Estonian market was regrettable, both guests said, as they are able to operate at a far lower cost, from a tax perspective, and bear a strong influence on local advertising.
The introduction of an international digital tax that would treat internet giants equally in all countries, would help alleviate the situation, they said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte