ERR supervisory chair calls for EKRE MP's removal from board

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Urmas Reitelmann (left) at an ERR supervisory board meeting.
Urmas Reitelmann (left) at an ERR supervisory board meeting. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Chair of public broadcaster ERR supervisory board Rein Veidemann is to propose replacing Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) MP Urmas Reitelmann, the party's representative on the board, following a social media post which attacked ETV presenters and used homophobic rhetoric.

Veidemann says that Reitelmann, who posted the remarks to his Facebook account late on Thursday night, is not a suitable person for the board, echoing comments made by ERR chief Erik Roose earlier on Friday.

Reitelmann is also a member of EKRE's extended board.

The post was deleted by Friday morning but has been widely disseminated on social media via screenshots.

EKRE leader Martin Helme said that the remarks offensiveness depended on one's perspective, adding avoiding labeling others was to be recommended.

The post came just hours after a joint declaration by Helme, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) and Isamaa leader Helir-Valdor Seeder, to the effect that incitement to hatred had no place in the Estonian political sphere.

The declaration itself followed comments made by interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE) late last week that gay people in Estonia should relocate to Sweden where the atmosphere may be better for them, a development which sparked a furor through the week and which the joint declaration was supposed to put to rest.

Opposition Reform Party MP Heidy Purga, who is deputy chair of the Riigikogu's cultural committee, says that the party will be initiating a motion to recall Reitelmann from his post on ERR's supervisory board on Monday.

"The language directed against employees of the public broadcast was deeply offensive," Purga said.

"This is particularly shocking given the situation where just hours earlier the coalition partners had issued a statement promising to curb insults against Estonian people."

Purga says that the 2007 law dealing with the public broadcaster permits parliament to recall a supervisory board member.

Presenters of ETV's 'Ringvaade' to take Reitelmann to court

"Ringvaate" presenters Marko Reikop and Grete Lõbu. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

"Ringvaade" presenters Marko Reikop and Grete Lõbu are considering suing member of the supervisory board of public broadcaster ERR and Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE) MP Urmas Reitelmann, daily newspaper Postimees reported on Friday.

"Such use of words is absolutely unacceptable, defamatory, insulting and unheard of. It is unbelievable that a member of the Riigikogu uses such words," Reikop told Postimees.

Reikop and Lõbu have not yet decided whether they will file a joint action against Reitelmann or take him to court separately.

"I have consulted lawyers and they have all unanimously said that I should definitely go to court. Everyone has suggested it. At the public broadcaster, too, all colleagues and management are of exactly the same opinion," Reikop said.

Reikop has not yet decided what he will specifically demand of Reitelmann in court, whether to ask for a public apology, compensation for non-patrimonial damage or something else. "I would not focus on the details right now, it is important that people's honor and dignity are being openly insulted. If a member of the Riigikogu does so, this is an unprecedented case," he said.

According to Reikop, the least that can happen to Reitelmann after such use of words is leaving the supervisory board of ERR.

"It is inconceivable that such a person oversees a large and dignified organization. It is unbelievable that such a person is on the supervisory board of ERR," Reikop said.

He added that he could not guess what might have irritated Reitelmann on Thursday's broadcast of "Ringvaade" so much that it prompted him to write the offensive post on social media.

Reitelmann: Word I used merely descriptive, ERR uses taxpayer funds to attack coalition and 'promote' same-sex attraction

Reitelmann says that he removed the social media post because of the backlash, adding that he does not believe he crossed a line.

He also gave as his reason an interview on "Ringvaade" and another slot on news show "Aktuaalne kaamera (AK)", which he said was biased.

"'Ringvaade' was one of the factors that prompted the post, the other incentive was AK," he said.

"When it comes to the public broadcaster, it is not acceptable when people assume political positions. Marko Reikop's interview with Urmo Soonvald was dripping with indignation and spite that the government remained standing," he said.

Urmo Soonvald is editor in chief at portal Delfi and daily Eesti Päevaleht, part of the Ekspress Meedia Group and not bound by the same legal requirement for balance that the public broadcaster is.

Reitelmann said that nevertheless, Soonvald's appearance on "Ringvaade" was deliberate in that his track record showed that he would attack the coalition.

"Private media can afford to do this, but the public broadcaster must be strictly unbiased and cannot assume a stance in this form. When there is a stance of one person, there must also be expression of a contrary opinion. This program was blatantly one-sided," he said, going on to say that a similar approach was taken by AK presenter Johannes Tralla and senior political journalist Toomas Sildam, in an interview the latter gave on Thursday's agreement and its implications.

"There have been many violations of the Broadcasting Act and I have been talking about them for as long as I have been on the supervisory board of the public broadcaster, but to no avail. The supervisory board considers that everything is in the best order, but it is not. It is simply not done in this way, it is not appropriate for a public broadcaster," he went on.

As for his post, Reitelmann said the homophobic slur he used was a descriptive term, though added that ERR, in spite of his tenure on the supervisory board, distributes: "Doses of same-gender attraction ... practically every week; it is not appropriate for an employee of the public broadcaster to promote their preferences. This is not a place to spread any ideas using the taxpayer money," he said.

Editor's note: This story was updated to add comments from Marko Reikop and Grete Lõbu, and from Urmas Reitelmann.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Helen Wright

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