Postimees sees no conflict of interest in funding MS Estonia expedition

Marti Aavik.
Marti Aavik. Source: ERR

Even though Postimees is funding an expedition by MS Estonia next of kin to the wreck of the ferry, Postimees journalists are merely observers to the process, Editor-in-Chief of Postimees Marti Aavik says, adding that looking for a conflict of interest is useless.

Because Postimees Group is sponsoring the alternative MS Estonia disaster investigation both financially and fundamentally, have you considered how Postimees will ensure the state's investigation will also find fair coverage by Postimees? Head of the alternative investigation Margus Kurm has said he does not trust the state's expedition.

(Laughs.) Postimees was the only media house to accompany Rene Arikas on his expedition on board research vessel EVA-316. Our photo and video reported Madis Veltmann was there for the entire operation, and we are very interested in the Estonian Safety Investigation Bureau's activities and the results of their research. It seems to me that we are the only media house to have taken a serious interest, which is why we also want to be there for the next of kin and former prosecutor Margus Kurm's expedition. Therefore, Postimees is an impartial observer. Every one of our employees realizes they are there in journalistic capacity. We will report it if something goes wrong or should anything unexpected happen. Postimees will dispatch its journalists and that is all there is to it.

What is more. Funding such ventures through the sale of media rights – funding private expeditions or investigations – is quite common in the world. That is what Postimees Group has tried to do. It is not somehow ideological support for a particular expedition – we want to know what is happening and where we will end up. That is the reason we're on board.

Does your decision to fund a private expedition mean you also do not trust the official investigation?

(Laughs.) Look, it is not a matter of trust. It is a matter of the Estonian people's right to know about various investigations. And I would leave it at that. There are no grounds for trust to be made into an issue. I believe that Rene Arikas and his team – that he has now hopefully put together – deserves respect as does his work – in the form of fair and unbiased coverage.

Could the sale of media rights cover the expedition's cost (€800,000 – ed.) at least partially?

That is the only way for a business venture to operate. The point is that we are dealing with a topic of interest for Estonians and people elsewhere. It was a major disaster for us and for people in Sweden. It has also touched me personally, although that is perhaps not important here. Returning to your question – it is a way to finance such expeditions.

Doesn't it include a potential conflict of interest in terms of certain material…

Again, Postimees is not the organizer of the expedition. Postimees has not phrased any of the questions it seeks to answer. We are simply a journalistic observer. As are Duo Media reporters from Radio Kuku and Kanal 2. We do not have an agenda either way. We want to know what kind of arguments, new finds or confirmation of existing ones the team will produce. We are in suspense just like everyone else.

Perhaps it will prove difficult to sell media rights should the result corroborate the initial investigation's conclusions?

(Laughs.) Don't you worry about that. We have our own supervisory and management boards and CFOs to handle relevant calculations. Do not trouble yourselves too much.

You are not organizing the expedition and are merely there as journalists, while funding the whole thing. Was organizing the expedition yourself ever on the table – being in control of the ships, cameras and the research?

Tell me again, you're with ERR, right? I think that no media house has a research fleet, marine scientists on their payroll, divers etc. We will be there just as we were there for the international preliminary research expedition on board EVA-316. We take an interest and will be keeping our eyes open.

What about should there be different conclusions?

Different conclusions from different places? That will leave the entire Estonian public with the question of how to gauge the quality of proof. It would constitute the next step, the next public debate. It is entirely possible conclusions will differ in terms of details or even the main story. However, we do not know the results of the safety bureau's investigation today. We know a little something, while their report will not be coming out for some time. Let us not get ahead of things.

Because you are funding one expedition but not the other, what will you do should conclusions differ?

What would be the distinction? We are all funding one expedition as taxpayers, while we have a somewhat different funding architecture regarding the other. There is nothing unusual about it. We want to see what the expedition will be doing there and will be telling you and other people in Estonia about it.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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