Decisions regarding the banning of specific Russian websites in Estonia are made by the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority (TTJA) in cooperation with ministries and the police, however there is no joint working group dedicated to this, said Helen Rohtla, director of the TTJA's Information Society Department.
"Previously, one consideration has been that we will trust people's media smarts, media freedom, and the freedom of speech, and believe that balancing information is sufficient," Rohtla explained. "Freedom of speech still remains a very important freedom, but we have to take into consideration that freedom of speech is not absolute. It can be restricted in situations where it threatens national security or public order or infringes on someone else's rights."
According to the official, it needs to be taken into consideration that Estonia is home to a significant Russian community as well as a continuously growing Ukrainian community, and efforts must be made to ensure that these societal groups don't end up in conflict here.
The seven websites that the TTJA announced Wednesday that it would be banning included incitements to hatred against Ukraine, Ukrainians and other European countries, war propaganda as well as warmongering, she noted.
"Right now, we need to take into consideration what effect it has on those people who exist exclusively in this information sphere in Estonia," Rohtla said. "This has turned into such an acute security threat that we must act."
She said that a balance must be struck to ensure that all information from Russia's media sphere isn't restricted, as people need to be aware of what information is being spread about Europe in the Russian media sphere.
"This doesn't yet restrict this information sphere in such a way that it isn't possible to receive any information," the official explained, adding that when it comes to subsequent steps, how far they can go without fully blocking out the Russian perspective must be taken into consideration.
She stressed that the Estonian authority cooperates with other European states in the decision-making process regarding which websites to block, and that the list of websites being monitored is long, but that that doesn't necessarily mean that they will all end up blocked. "All of these decisions need to be thoroughly considered, and the content needs to be assessed," she added.
The TTJA is the one to make the final call regarding which websites to block, but the authority does also consult with security and media experts as well. Nonetheless, there is no joint working group dedicated to the task.
"We consult with the Government Office, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) and the Estonian Internal Security Service, for example," Rohtla said. "There are likewise some Russian content experts with whom we've exchanged information and consulted."
She added that a website is considered in its broader context, and the bigger picture, including whether it publishes balanced and objective opinions, is more important than the running of any one specific story.
Rohtla noted that she couldn't say exactly where the line is drawn regarding whether a website can be considered a security risk and whether it should be blocked or not. She stressed, however, that the agency consults with other bodies on the issue and does not make any decisions alone.
Website bans follow TV channel bans
The TTJA on Wednesday ordered communications companies to block access to seven Russian websites that, according to the regulator, disseminate propaganda and incite hate.
According to the resolution, the TTJA is requiring communications companies to block and restrict end user access to seven websites: ntv.ru, ren.tv, 5-tv.ru, 78.ru, 1tv.com, lenta.ru ja tass.ru.
On February 25, the TTJA ordered Estonian telecommunications providers to stop broadcasting one Belarusian and four Russian channels: RTR Planeta, NTV Mir (including NTV Mir Baltic), Belarus 24, Rossia 24 and TV Center International.
Editor: Aili Vahtla