Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) leader and finance minister Martin Helme says that a social media post by one of his MPs, Urmas Reitelmann, did not represent offensive words concerning television presenters at public broadcaster ERR, adding that this was a relative term, though he added it was "recommended" not to offend people.
Reitelman, who is EKRE's representative on ERR's supervisory board, directed homophobic comments at the presenters of ETV current affairs show "Ringvaade" in a now-deleted social media post Thursday night.
"[Reitelmann] was certainly not motivated by anger," Helme told ERR journalist Arp Müller Friday morning.
When asked by Müller whether the post was nonetheless offensive, Helme answered that this depended on a person's point of view.
"I imagine that those people referred to felt bad, concerned. This is relatively likely to be the case," he added.
In response to a follow up question on whether the post contradicted a coalition statement made just hours earlier that offensive rhetoric or behavior should be put to rest, Helme said that: "We should try to avoid labeling such people, yes. That is true."
Reitelmann post came just hours after coalition statement
The three coalition party leaders, Helme, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) and Isamaa leader Helir-Valdor Seeder, issued a joint declaration Thursday stating that: "The governing coalition is unequivocally opposed to inciting hatred. We want to campaign focusing on substantive arguments and worldviews, avoiding offensive and threatening rhetoric and behavior."
The statement followed a rift in the coalition on the back of a Russian-language interview given by interior minister Mart Helme to German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle late last week, in which he said that gay people in Estonia might be better off relocating to Sweden, where the atmosphere would be more amenable to them, adding that he looked at gay people in a hostile manner.
Helme's words had met with condemnation from the prime minister and also social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center), prompting speculation of Helme being forced to step down, or the coalition itself collapsing – something Thursday's joint statement was aimed at dispelling.
Reitelmann's post appeared on his Facebook page around 10 p.m. Thursday night and was removed some time Friday morning. It contained homophobic language about two "Ringvaade" presenters and a further, distinct attack on two more journalists, noting that the broadcaster would need to get used to the current government in office.
ERR chief: Wholly inappropriate comments for supervisory board member
ERR has a supervisory board made up of one representative from each Riigikogu party (currently five) plus three independent experts. It is aimed at overseeing impartiality and other aspects of broadcasting, in line with the 2007 act which founded ERR, and is separate from the broadcaster's management board.
ERR Management Board Chair Erik Roose issued a statement on the matter to ERR staff Friday, saying that while it was not necessary to repeat the words contained in the post, due to there nature: "Suffice to say that these types of words and expressions are not appropriate for anyone, especially for an ERR supervisory board member."
While the post has since been deleted, this did not mean that it had disappeared and was not available for dissemination, Roose added, noting that: "ERR's work can always be subject to feedback, but in a constructive, substantive and polite manner. Supervisory board member Urmas Reitelmann's post was anything but that and I can assure all employees that the management board views such offensive choices of words with condemnation."
Roose added that he will be continuing dialog with the supervisory board on the matter.
Editor: Andrew Whyte