Olukorrast riigis: Press must serve the public ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Andrus Karnau and Marju Himma.
Andrus Karnau and Marju Himma. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

Journalists Andrus Karnau and Marju Himma discussed developments at daily Postimees on Raadio 2 talk show "Olukorrast riigis." Himma said that because Estonia is a small country, she is not in favor of publications ideologically positioning themselves.

Marju Himma was pointing to a Postimees article from Friday where owner of Postimees Grupp Margus Linnamäe describes the main message of Postimees publications as being based on core Western cultural values and its goal as offering a forum for global and conflicting topics. Linnamäe urges journalists to voice their ideological and political positions, adding that journalists always serve someone's interests, possibly including those of their publication. The goal of the press according to Linnamäe is to give meaning and offer a public forum.

"What I couldn't fully understand from the text is whom the press is supposed to serve in the end. The goal of the press as outlined in the article differs from its traditional professional description where the only purpose of the press is to serve the public, not the employer, media organization, political organizations or social groups of any kind," Himma said.

"In that sense, the article is contrary to all principles of professional journalism," she added.

"On the other hand, it is good Linnamäe gave that comment after he was asked several times to voice his understanding of what Postimees stands for as its owner in light of the events of recent months," Himma said.

She asked whether journalists voicing their political or ideological views has the potential to render the press more neutral and balanced or journalism more transparent in general.

Himma said that it is often pointed out in such debates how media houses in Germany, USA and the U.K. have also positioned themselves either ideologically or politically and that it is entirely proper for journalists to be tuned to a certain frequency so to speak.

She added, however, that these examples cannot be compared to the situation in Estonia because it has a tiny media market.

"It would not be wise in Estonia because if the press serves the public, it needs to cater to all public groups, not just those adhering to a certain worldview. At least that is what we have been prioritizing at the University of Tartu, even though journalists have always been free to voice their preferences and understanding of the world, whether political or cultural," Himma said.

The journalist explained that if a media outlet adopts a clear position of preferring to see and interpret the world from a certain angle, whether it concern occidental or traditional Western values, it means interpreting all of the information through that particular filter, leaving aside other voices.

"It also means that it will first and foremost serve social groups that prefer similar values."

That is why most Estonian publications have tried to position themselves somewhere in the middle so to speak. "Without taking a political side, honoring the principle of balanced coverage, keeping the author's opinion out of it. That is the foundation of Western media culture," she said.

"That is one of the things Margus Linnamäe is highlighting – that he wants the journalist's position to be clearly visible. I say that emphasizing it is not characteristic of Western journalistic culture," Himma added.

She emphasized that the press must appeal to all social groups, adding that aligning with a specific set of political values would immediately alter a third of the Estonian media.

Andrus Karnau emphasized that Margus Linnamäe's declaration, according to which Postimees follows core occidental moral values, means absolutely nothing as it stands for everything. "It's like saying abortions are prohibited and divorce is only possible under extraordinary circumstances in the same breath as saying same-sex marriages can be divorced and all immigrants are welcome as the occident is based on the concept of mercy," Karnau said.

We do not know what that moral core entails according to Linnamäe, Karnau explained.

"If we issue from the aspect of worldview and look at the interviews Mart Raudsaar (new editor-in-chief of Postimees) has given, he said something quite remarkable when speaking to ERR. He said that he is 'a normal Estonian person.'" A sentence that also means absolutely nothing or meant nothing two of three years ago, Karnau said. "However, that 'normal Estonian person' is very clearly ideologically charged today in that someone who defines themselves as 'normal' seeks to emphasize they are the opposite of that which is abnormal. If that is really the case, it is a sad perspective when the editor-in-chief of Postimees adopts such clear politically and ideologically charged positions and abandons the principle of impartiality," Karnau said.

Karnau added that the owner's worldview is not the problem when it comes to Postimees. "We would have a problem if the editorial board was no longer independent in its choices. What has been positive about recent changes is this emphasis on there no longer being any pages in Postimees or employees who are out of the editor-in-chief's control. In this, the owner has taken a clear step toward dissipating suspicions that Postimees is a publication strictly under the control of its major businessman owner and no longer independent," Karnau said.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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