Media criticizes justice minister's wish to investigate journalists

Estonian newspapers (photo is illustrative).
Estonian newspapers (photo is illustrative). Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

In a public letter sent to Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center), the Estonian Association of Media Enterprises criticized the wish of Minister of Justice Raivo Aeg (Isamaa) to investigate the activities of journalists in investigating the use of ministry cars by Mailis Reps, who last week stepped down as minister of education and research.

"Each team has its own leader's face. The Cabinet, which is lying, inciting hatred, insulting and intimidating the people of Estonia, is not only the face of its individual members, but also of the prime minister," the association said.

"In light of the whole scandal concerning the minister of education, the issue of threatening journalists and the media has once again been raised. Members of the government have attacked both publications and journalists in the past, but so far only in words. Last week, Minister of Justice Raivo Aeg attacked the Estonian free press with a telephone law, publicly reading out a section of the law by which the prosecutor's office could prosecute journalists who exposed corruption and sent a text message to the state prosecutor to investigate possible media violations," it is said in the public letter.

"As you know, the role of the media is to check the behavior of political decision-makers and to ask them relevant questions in the exercise of their powers. There is a minister of justice in your office who threatens to prosecute journalists in doing so. As Õhtuleht writes, they were not afraid before the story was published and are not afraid even now, they trust the Estonian law enforcement agencies, they treat their hard work with the utmost respect. Like all other Estonian media houses. We are absolutely convinced that in case of our possible mistakes, the prosecutor's office or any other Estonian law enforcement agency will be able to notice themselves and act if necessary," the association said.

"Thanks to the media, a large part of the major transactions, processes, decisions and choices of the re-independent Estonia has been significantly more transparent than elsewhere in eastern and central Europe. This has definitely had a huge impact on our rapid development and transparency. We will not be calm bystanders as your Cabinet undermines freedom of the press and through that, free democracy. There has been no government in Estonian history whose members treat journalists and the media as the current government does," it is said in the public letter.

"Jüri Ratas, your silence regarding the threatening of the media is acceptance. We are waiting for your position on the statements of the minister of justice," the association said.

Last week Reps stepped down over allegations she had misused a ministerial car following a report by newspaper Õhtuleht.

Association of Journalists also critical of Aeg

On Saturday, ERR News reported the Estonian Association of Journalists had criticized Aeg for proposing that the prosecutor's office assess the legality of journalists' activities.

"Minister Raivo Aeg sending a text message to Prosecutor General Andres Parmas requesting for journalists' activities to be investigated on the basis of section 137 of the Penal Code - a section on unauthorized surveillance - is unprecedented and inevitably brings to mind the occupation-era telephone law, albeit at a more technologically advanced level," the association said in its statement.

The management board of the Estonian Association of Journalists said that journalists of the daily Ohtuleht were doing their job drawing attention to Minister of Education and Research Mailis Reps not being permitted to use the ministry car for personal use.

The topic requiring investigation is also confirmed by Reps deciding to resign from her ministerial position. The justice minister's reaction constitutes an attack on the freedom of press, the association's management board said.

According to section 137 of the Penal Code, unauthorized surveillance by a private individual is punishable by a pecuniary punishment or up to three years' imprisonment, and by a pecuniary punishment if committed by a legal person.

"Pursuant to the code of ethics for the Estonian press, the media has the obligation of critically observe the implementation of political and economic power, and holds the right to disseminate materials violating the privacy of an individual if public interest outweighs the right to privacy," the statement said.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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