Kalle Muuli: Shooting the messenger vol 2

Kalle Muuli.
Kalle Muuli. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Kalle Muuli asks in his comment of Marko Mihkelson's photographs scandal whether the fault is with the messenger who dared break the story and read out a part of an image description or the one who made the inappropriate snapshots in the first place.

All of it has happened before. Quite a few times even. Most recently in the spring of 2011 when 60,000 people in Estonia started the Facebook group "We believe Andrus Veerpalu." The Olympic hero shed a tear at the press conference and the paid manager of the skiing association said that journalists are lying if they write that Veerpalu has been caught doping.

The tricks used to distort the truth also tend to be the same time and again. "Both the police and child protection officials have checked the complaint and all suspicion has been overturned," [now resigned] chair of the Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee Marko Mihkelson said after the scandal broke on Facebook.

Not a word on the detective describing Mihkelson's conduct as ethically condemnable and adding in his report: "Mihkelson shows remorse and realizes that such images should never have been taken. /.../ In a situation where a child is unaware of nude pictures of them being taken, the principle of the inviolability of the child's body needs to be observed."

This denial relies on a defense erected by politicians and several media publications that emphasize legal aspects in favor of fundamental ones. "Marko Mihkelson is not the subject of any investigation," Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) repeatedly said, as if unaware that there are at least 50 shades of gray between a criminal offense and indecent behavior. National Opera Estonia Director Aivar Mäe, Vice President of the Riigikogu Taavi Rõivas and Foreign Trade Minister Marti Kuusik all had to resign even though none of them committed a crime.

Unto arriving at blatant lies. Talk of innocent bathroom pictures of small children that every family photo album has and claims that the scandal is "motivated by a child custody battle" even though the matter had been settled by the court beforehand and the photos dispute had no bearing on it.

Ethics advisers and journalistic theorists climb the battlements next to pontificate and suggest that the "media does not cover disputes involving children."

This during a time when even the most cursory web search produces an endless array of stories on how a father abducted their child from kindergarten; how the people of Türi are shocked after three and four-year-old children were taken from their mother under child protectors' very eyes; how ETV's "Pealtnägija" investigated artist Elisabeth Salm's struggle against Dutch child welfare officials to get back her five-year-old daughter Anna etc.

Children and their parents who are not public figures often appear under their own name, often complete with relatively detailed descriptions of where they live.

No moralist has protested against any of those stories, while things suddenly look bad now. Even the justice chancellor speaks up to suggest that it is suddenly no longer permissible. But why now? Could the reason be that unlike in previous cases involving children covered by the media, this time, the main character is Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee chair, well-known politician and public figure in whose person the press is obligated to take an interest?

Finally, when nothing else works, accusations are leveled not at the one who took the inappropriate and unethical photos but those who have shed light on these actions.

Indeed, mere descriptions of the photographs Mihkelson took make one sick, not to mention the images themselves. It is not easy reading or listening.

But irrespective of how revolting the material, we need to ask whether the public has the right to know the detective's assessment of photographs a well-known politician took of naked girls? Is the voter entitled to know the details of why one of the top politicians in the country ended up compromising in court? Is the fault that of the messenger – the one who dared break the story and read out a few sentences of a single photo's description – or the one who took the said pictures?

All of it has happened before. Several times. I only have one more question: If Marko Mihkelson did not take indecent photos, what exactly are we protecting the children from?


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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