Following the decision of Harju County Court to impose a fine on two journalists with investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress, after the publication of an article disclosing money laundering suspicions against former management at Swedbank, the two major organizations representing both the private and the public media in Estonia have issued a joint statement.
The Estonian Association of Media Enterprises (EML), representing private media companies in Estonia, and public broadcaster Eesti Rahvusrinhääling (ERR) issued the statement jointly.
The statement has been sent separately to the Minister of Justice, Maris Lauri (Reform), the Minister of Culture, Tiit Terik (Center) and the Office of the Prosecutor General and follows in its entirety.
Tuesday was a good day for Estonian democracy, as Estonia rose from 15th place to 4th place in the one year, in the World Press Freedom Index rankings published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Wednesday was, however, a sad day for Estonian democracy, a day when the prosecutor's office interfered with the workings of a free press and fined Eesti Ekspress journalists for their professional and heart-felt work. Ekspress Meedia, which publishes Eesti Ekspress, was also fined.
With this decision, a dangerous and frightening precedent has been set, as suspicions of money laundering at Estonia's largest bank are without question a matter of public interest. With it, the prosecutor's office requires the press publish only that information which has been agreed with it beforehand. This is not an expectation of the press within a democratic society. It is a muzzling of and restriction on freedom of expression. It constitutes a threat to and intimidation of journalists.
The justice system's role is to understand and accept the role of the media in Estonia and in all free societies. Thanks to the media, a large proportion of the major transactions, processes, decisions and choices have been significantly more transparent in the re-independent Estonia than elsewhere in central and eastern Europe.
This has surely made a huge impact on Estonia's rapid development and transparency, especially compared with our peers.
The war in Ukraine and the destruction of the independent media in Russia and Belarus by their regimes remind us particularly vividly of the importance of the freedom of the press.
We support our colleagues at Eesti Ekspress. The publication and its publishers intend to appeal the judgment, a judgment which sets a dangerous precedent for press freedoms.
A journalist should not have to inform the prosecutor's office, ask for their permission or let the state decide on public interest in order to carry out their job. The media is conducted along such lines in other countries.
Speech is free in Estonia!
Editor: Andrew Whyte