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Russian-Language Delfi Has Started to Sound Like Kremlin's Outlet

The abduction of security police official Eston Kohver again points up the major differences in the media space inhabited by Estonia's ethnic Estonians and Russians, writes ERR radio editor and former Eesti Ekspress literature editor Peeter Helme. In this case, it's not just television from the Russian Federation that's the problem, he says.

Sure, it's natural for writing and thinking in different languages to end up quite differently, due to reasons of the speakers' grammar, culture, history and temperament. But these factors can't entirely explain or excuse the fact that there are some countries where the media tries to cover things truthfully, and others where the media is a political weapon, a psychological means of influence and instrument of the government.

It doesn't astonish us that the free press is very restricted in Russia and that the media must be followed with an extremely critical eye. On the other hand, it is odd that we aren't floored by what is taking place in our own country right under our noses.

Take a look at how Kohver's abduction was covered in Russian-language Delfi. It wasn't the differences in temperament, culture or psychology; rather it seemed that the Russian-language and Estonian-language Delfi were two publications from two countries with completely different political systems.

In this case, the Estonian-language Delfi was like the pluralistic news site in the official language. Sometimes overly fond of scandal, but online media has to be a little noisier to attract the wavering attention of readers.

The Russian-language Delfi seemed more like a hysterical Kremlin propaganda mouthpiece that talked about how an Estonian spy had been caught in Pskov [Kohver went missing on the Estonian side of the border in an ambush] and delighted in the clumsy exploits of the fascist Yankee bootlickers.

OK, not that such words were used, but that was the backdrop and the context for Delfi Rus's coverage. 

I can understand that every click counts and that Delfi is locked in a battle with Postimees and other Russian-language sites, and the last thing that AS Eesti Ajalehed wants is to start influencing the editorial content of Delfi Rus. Thus journalists are given extensive liberty.

But this has little to do with freedom of the press. The click-driven approach will only produce production of the kinds of articles that convey reality in a distorted fashion.

It's strange to think that Delfi Rus is part of the same media group as Eesti Ekspress, the weekly paper that was the flagship of the Estonian free press from way back in the 1990s. Or Päevaleht, which traces its democratic traditions back to 1905. Or the Estonian-language Delfi, which despite its yellow tone is undoubtedly one of the most efficient and diverse news sites in all three Baltic states. 

In other words, my question is to the media magnates: Hans [H. Luik] and Urmo [Soonvald], what the hell are you doing? You're sawing down the same free press tree that you planted! 

Freedom of the press is not about letting a journalist write whatever he or she wants - or what the Kremlin wants - as the unvarnished truth, it's about letting the facts be treated and discussed freely. What will happen to freedom if Estonia's biggest news site represents the propaganda from a hostile state as fact?

Peeter Helme's piece was originally published here

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