Supreme Court throws out government press conference access complaint

A government press conference in progress.
A government press conference in progress. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

A media firm has lost a law suit it took out against the government office, after the organization had been barred from attending regular government press conferences in person. Two lower-tier courts found that the government office has the right to establish the circle of participants attending such press conferences, while the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.

The courts found the government has no obligation to ensure the admission of all or any of those who desire to attend a press conference, and rejected the argument from the plaintiff, Telegram Media MTÜ, which operates the news portal of the same name, that the conditions for access to the press conference should be based on legislation.

The plaintiffs' constitutional rights had not been disproportionately restricted, the courts had found, as the plantiff was guaranteed the right to participate in the government's press conference online.

While the government office had questioned the extent to which Telegram Media MTÜ followed in essence the principles of responsible journalism, the courts did not assess this pint.

The government office's formal reason for denying entry in-person to government press conferences, which are held regularly at Thursday lunchtime, was that Telegram Media MTÜ was not a member of either the Association of Media Enterprises (EML) or the Press Council (Pressinõukogu).

Additional government press conferences are held where needed; the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic saw an upsurge in the incidence of such events.

The first-tier Tallinn Administrative Court had handed down the original ruling outlined above, which was upheld on appeal at the second-tier Tallinn Circuit Court. Since the Supreme Court declined to hear Telegram Media's appeal, the ruling is in force.

Defense counsel for the government office, Merlin Liis-Toomela and Ants Nõmper, said that the government press conference time and capacity was limited, meaning the number of attendees from the media should be restricted in line with that.

Media organizations and publications who are EML and Press Council members, as well as journalists from permanently accredited editorial boards, are awaited at the press conferences, while, the courts found, it is legitimate to establish a press conference where representatives from the professional media can participate directly and ask questions. 

The major media providers in Estonia include the Postimees Group, publisher of the daily of the same name as well as radio and TV channels, the Ekspress Group, which publishes daily Eesti Päevaleht, and public broadcaster ERR.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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