Experts: Kallas' high international media exposure benefits Estonia hugely

Kaja Kallas giving a Skype interview to CNN recently.
Kaja Kallas giving a Skype interview to CNN recently. Source: Social Media.

The high visibility in the international media of Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) continues to be a huge benefit to Estonia internationally, in particular since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, several media experts told ERR.

While Kallas had made many appearances in the international media even prior to being prime minister, this had grown since Russia invaded Ukraine two-and-a-half months ago, with spots including those with the BBC and British broadsheet the Times.

In the past, Estonian leading politicians appearing in the international media and speaking in English was fairly exceptional, ERR reports, whereas for Kallas this has become virtually a weekly activity.

One media expert, who wished to remain anonymous, told ERR that: "In this sense, we are fortunate - to have an intellectual leader - this is worth its weight in gold."

This not only applied in Estonia's image internationally, but also within domestic politics.

"This image of a smart politician also gets passed on to the public," the expert added.

University of Tartu media expert and former ERR journalist Maarju Himma-Kadakas told ERR that this was part of a conscious government communications strategy, while Kallas' personality dove-tailed into that.

She said: "[Kallas] is also a pleasant person who is at the same time competent in foreign policy and has a very good command of English - she can speak," adding that this fits with international media needs.

A concrete testimony to Kallas' standing in the international media, ERR reports, is an article by columnist Timothy Garton Ash which appeared in another U.K. broadsheet, The Guardian, and which listed Kallas alongside Europe's most influential and prominent, current politicians.

Government office: Kallas referred to over 11,000 times in international media online, since invasion

As to concrete figures in terms of media appearances, the government office's communications department reports a minimum of 11,560 references to or quotations from Kallas in the international media online, in the two months from March 1 to May 2.

While the bulk of these were English-language media outlets – Kallas was cited 6,300 times by the U.S. media and 2,110 times in the U.K., she was also referenced 3,050 times by the German media, though the figure for the French media (100) was significantly lower.

The figures overall outstrip by far the combined number of similar references to Latvia's prime minister, Krišjanis Karinš, and Prime Minister of Lithuania Ingrida Šimonyte, over the same time-frame and in the international media.

U.S. cable news service CNN and Britain's public broadcaster the BBC, both of whom have audiences in excess of 100 million globally, are regular ports of call for Kallas, while interviews and articles given to the major, series news sites read almost like a who's who of widely read media, all with audiences in the tens of millions and including: Bloomberg, CNBC, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Time magazine, the FT, the Times, Euronews, Deutsche Welle, Le Monde, and several other German publications including Süddeutsche Zeitung and Die Welt.

The messages from Estonia's prime minister also get amplified when picked up by major news wires such as AP, Reuters, AFP and Bloomberg, then appearing in many further, smaller media publications.

One recent example of this effect comes from an AP article which reproduced Kallas' tweet condemning atrocities committed by occupying Russian troops in the Ukrainian towns of Irpin and Bucha – the AP original was directly reported on 430 more times, ERR reports, while figures in the hundreds also applied to articles from newswires AFP (France), PA (U.K.) and DPA (Germany).

Kristi Raik, director of the Foreign Policy Institute at think tank the International Center for Defense and Security (ICDS), said that Kallas: "Seems to be the most visible politician in the Central and Eastern European region today, and one who is being sounded out for her views."

"I have very frequently had times when in communication with colleagues from other countries who then announce that they saw the Estonian Prime Minister appearing on this or that media channel. This is noticed, and acknowledged," Raik added.  

Raik noted that this had already been the case even when Kallas was an MEP (until summer 2018-ed.).

Another journalist who wished to remain anonymous said that: "She has now become super-active, and has given some great interviews to so many publications," noting that this had had the effect of broadening Estonia's image within Europe beyond that of the already-familiar pioneering digital state.

Marju Himma-Kadakas said all this serves to consolidate Estonia's reputation and position as a European country, a point which Kristi Raik concurred with.

Raik said: "The international reputation and visibility of our country is certainly important for our security."

"The impact is difficult to measure, but if, for example, a security crisis breaks out in Estonia or Estonia is attacked and needs to be supported very quickly, such a relationship – that we are known about and cared for – will certainly have a positive effect on crisis management," Raik added.

Arlo Olesk, former lecturer in communications at Tallinn University and current adviser to President Alar Karis said that key is:

"The symbolic capital which such performances amass. Impression matters - who says what, and where. It also means how seriously the country represented by this person is taken."

Olesk compared this unfavorably with Kallas' predecessor and his administration, which left office in January 2021.

He said: "This is something that we really missed during the second cabinet of Jüri Ratas," stressing that this was his personal viewpoint.

From among the political corps, former defense minister and current MEP Sven Mikser (SDE) said that it: "Is surely a good thing for Estonia that we have such an internationally visible prime minister."

This was particularly important in keeping Ukraine front and center in the international arena, Mikser said.

"Since the world's public interest in this issue may not last forever – the public is getting fatigued and we are already seeing a return to ordinary communication in some parts of Europe – it is all the more necessary that in the short time we have been given, our concerns and expectations get aired," Mikser said, adding that the consistently Russia-critical stance of Estonia going back many years is also a bonus for international audiences, who may not always have had the same exposure to such opinions to such a degree, in their own media.

The skills and media-savvyness of Kallas and her team were highlighted by all the experts, noting that the effect tends to snowball once some strong appearances have been made by media companies' competitors.

Arlo Olesk also noted how Kallas and her team had joined the dots between today's situation and the past, something the prime minister is able to do from a personal perspective; members of her family had been deported to Siberia during the early stages of the Soviet occupation, while as a child she herself, with her parents and brother, had visited the Brandenburg Gate, from the East Berlin side, a point she emphasized during a speech given at the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung in the German capital last month.

This type of approach by Kallas: "Demonstrates that this is not some anonymous event happening somewhere thousands of kilometers away, but one which may affect many, many Europeans," Olesk said.


Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!

Editor: Andrew Whyte

Hea lugeja, näeme et kasutate vanemat brauseri versiooni või vähelevinud brauserit.

Parema ja terviklikuma kasutajakogemuse tagamiseks soovitame alla laadida uusim versioon mõnest meie toetatud brauserist: