Leader of the coalition Isamaa party Helir-Valdor Seeder has criticized the handling of media allegations made against a Reform Party MP, and called for that MP, Marko Mihkelson, to stand down as foreign affairs committee chair.
Allegations that Mihkelson had taken photos of children which, while not adjudged by the police at the time (in 2020) to have been inappropriate, were reported by daily Postimees and portal Delfi as nonetheless having been so, surfaced on Friday, October 28.
While opposition MPs have called for Mihkelson to step down from the committee chair post, until now the coalition partners had not joined those calls.
Seeder said Friday that: "Most likely, every political party has its own different opinions, while people have been getting differing information; those who are more familiar with the topic and have more information, as against those who have been relying only on snippets of information obtained from the media."
"We need to be in a common information space and then we will probably form a common position. We may have different opinions, but the general attitude is that they are critical of this whole story [toward Marko Mihkelson]," Seeder told ERR.
"Nobody knows the details, because it was a closed session, but as much as anyone has been able to get any information – via Mihkelson's comments, people communicating with each other etc. – I think that a lot of people in Isamaa are of the opinion that it is in Mihkelson's own interest, in that of his party, of the health of the current governing coalition, and of his family and his children, that it would have been better for him to have resigned by now," Seeder went on.
"Then, attention to the story would have been significantly lower and all parties would have suffered less in this process. But now, the saga has been in the epicenter of the media here, and continues to be so," he went on, adding that the allegations are also being used "by different people for different purposes".
The backlash against Kalle Muuli, close to the Isamaa party, and adviser to its IT and foreign trade minister, who had mentioned delicate details taken from the materials of Mihkelson's civil case on a show on Raadio Kuku (the show has now been canceled – ed.), is a threat to Estonian press freedoms.
"Should the information that is being propagated instead be concealed? I understand that the press has been fighting for free speech, while recently there was a trial involving the prosecutor's office concerning materials that the investigative bodies did not want to publish. The media has fought for freedom of speech and the publication of information, and now we blame a journalist for publishing this information on a topic that has generated a great deal of public interest," Seeder went on, referring in the latter case to the fining of journalists at Eesti Ekspress after disclosing information from a money laundering hearing involving Swedbank.
"I would say that the above is a very dangerous tendency in Estonian journalism," he added, saying that Isamaa MPs, too, are mostly critical of Mihkelson.
The party will discuss the Mihkelson question at Monday's Riigikogu group meeting, and also on Tuesday, when Isamaa's regular leadership meets.
The Isamaa leader was also critical over the fact that Estonian media houses were already aware of Mihkelson's civil case in 2020, but did not make it public at the time, something which he referred to as "corporate silence".
" If we believe in a free press, we could have directed this [topic] objectively. But now it has come out somehow unexpectedly, and all those publications that decided to hide this topic for a long time did a disservice to those involved," Seeder added.
While both opposition parties, Center and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), have spoken out against Mihkelson's continuation as chair of the Riigikogu's foreign affairs committee, his own party, Reform, via Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, have so far stuck by him.
The media allegations first appeared a week ago, and both Mihkelson and his wife, Tuuli, have maintained his innocence, adding that the allegations have emanated from Tuuli Mihkelson's ex-husband as a result of a custody battle over their children.
The fact that these children have also become caught up in the scandal has met with criticism.
Mihkelson, who gave an interview to ETV's "Pealtnägija" this week, says he intends to stay in politics for the foreseeable.
Editor: Andrew Whyte