Journalist: Press often holds back stories to protect children's interests

Risto Berendson
Risto Berendson Source: ERR

Risto Berendson, head of the investigative editorial department of Estonian daily Õhtuleht, said the paper had decided not to publish the story about Marko Mihkelson until all parties involved had had the opportunity to explain their sides publicly. Speaking on ETV show "Ringvaade," Berendson said, that the press often refrains from publishing stories in order to protect the wellbeing of children.

Berendson said, that Õhtuleht had been working on Mihkelson's story for a few months, before ultimately deciding not to publish it.

"As the court had said that (the incident) was not a problem, and the police, the Prosecutor's Office and the child protection agency had (also) said that this was not a problem, we were faced with a pretty difficult decision," said Berendson.

"On the one hand, it is a very interesting story and we may have assumed that the politician involved was being blackmailed, as there have been allegations of this kind today. However, it turned out that the politician was not being blackmailed, because both his party chair and the security services knew about the case," Berendson continued.

"Then we were left with the question of what is in the public interest and how we could justify (publishing) it, because whichever way we write it, however we publish it, the characters at the beginning, end, and throughout the whole of this story are the children, for whom the publicity from this case could get really serious, "Berendson said.

"And we made the decision that, until all the people involved are willing to explain what happened publicly, then it's a matter of insinuations and speculation, and that's definitely not something that's going to be published," Berendson said, adding that that did not mean Õhtuleht had ruled out publishing the story indefinitely.

According to Berendson, the press often chooses not to publish stories in order to protect the interests of children.

"In such sensitive cases, the press sometimes says 'no,' we won't do the story. I can certainly think of a couple of very strong stories from my own experience, where we realized that publishing in the media would probably lead to a suicide attempt by the child, so we said we were not going to do the story. Here the press, I tend to believe, often says that if the child's interests are at stake, we won't publish the story. However, there are different examples," Berendson said.

Berendson believes that publishing details of the Mihkelson story would be extremely damaging for the children involved. "The more we pursue this case, the greater the damage will be. This is not some kind of fake story I am talking about here. Children are really sensitive subjects. /.../ I have to say that I was a little saddened by this journalistic process," he added.

Asked why Postimees and Eesti Päevaleht opted to publish the Mihkelson story now, Berendson said it was probably the last opportunity for them to do so.

"If this story had come out, let's say, two months later, it could have been considered as interfering in the election campaign," said Berendson. "At the moment, it is more or less the last chance (to publish), because Marko Mihkelson is a very well-known figure in Estonian public life and politics. If I had to make a prediction, I think it will be very difficult for Marko Mihkelson to continue in politics," he said.

On Thursday, Estonian media outlets Postimees and Eesti Päevalaht both reported that Marko Mihkelson, chair of the Riigikogu's Foreign Affairs Committee, had taken inappropriate pictures of a minor. According to Mihkelson, the incident is connected to a family dispute over the custody of children.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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