ERR's approach to local elections campaign coverage

Tarmu Tammerk.
Tarmu Tammerk. Source: Ken Mürk

ERR's press ethics ombudsman Tarmu Tammerk outlines the national broadcaster's code of conduct for local election coverage this October.

Estonia goes to the polls on October 17, with television, radio and online coverage of the local elections at public broadcaster ERR already geared up for the event and pre-election debates already starting.

ERR has drawn up its own code of conduct for local election coverage which will ensure the broadest overview possible of candidates and parties while, as a public channel, paying particular attention to independent, impartial and balanced coverage, ERR's press ethics ombudsman Tarmu Tammerk writes.

ERR will in particular be keeping an eye on avoiding the encroachment of non-local issues into election campaigning, which some parties or electoral blocs may be tempted to bring in – for instance tax reform, coronavirus vaccinations or globalization.

Journalists must then be reminded that, in the context of local elections, local issues are covered. 

Local government has its own competencies, and these must be the focus of election programs.  

Electricity price rises or cursing the "dictatorship" in Brussels are not issues with which local election debates can be furnished.

In the coverage of the election campaign, ERR must, among other things, take care not to give some candidates undue advantages over others.  

The most difficult aspect of this comes with those candidates who work through the campaign in public offices which command the attention of the press: Mayors, council leaders, Riigikogu MPs, government ministers. 

If there is significant news about their work, this must of course be reported. However, other sources should be used where possible, so that some candidates do not become too dominant due to their position.

Candidates cannot present ERR shows, appear regularly on shows or regularly co-authors on ERR's news portals throughout the campaign. 

Special election debates are taking place on ERR's two TV channels (ETV, in Estonian, and ETV+, in Russian) and on two radio channels (Vikerraadio (Estonian) and Raadio 4 (Russian)). 

ETV + started its debates on September 22, followed by ETV, Vikerraadio and Raadio 4. 

There are a total of 79 local governments in Estonia, with a total of 10,029 candidates running.

As a nationwide channel, ERR programs can organize election debates on the topics facing the larger local governments (in Tallinn, Tartu, Pärnu and Narva). 

In order to get a birds-eye view, ETV + is also conducting debates relating to some of the Ida-Viru County cities in Ida-Virumaa, and in some Tallinn districts.

The programs covering larger municipalities are of wider interest, because the battle lines among the lists of candidates there also reflect the state of national politics. 

Less than two years from now, in the spring of 2023, the next Riigikogu elections are to take place. How are the parliamentary parties currently doing in Estonia's largest cities, and how are newcomers doing? This should also be demonstrated by the forthcoming election debates in the ERR. 

The editorial board makes a choice about the circle of participants within election debates, taking into account the length of their election lists and the integrity of their election manifestos. 

The application of these criteria will help to ensure that an actual debate can take place during the broadcast and that voters will get a better understanding of the candidates' substantive ability to manage local life. 

The daily course of the election campaign across Estonia and the summaries of the election debates can be followed on the local elections section of the ERR News portal. 

ERR's regional correspondents also provide an overview of what is happening on the ground. As mentioned, the keywords for ERR's campaign coverage are independence, impartiality, and balance.

The full list of ERR's party debates (in Estonian and in Russian) is here.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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