Tarmu Tammerk: ERR's coverage of the 2023 Riigikogu elections

ERR ethics ombudsman Tarmu Tammerk.
ERR ethics ombudsman Tarmu Tammerk. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

This spring's Riigikogu elections are being covered by Estonian Public Broadcasting, and ERR journalism ethics ombudsman Tarmu Tammerk has provided an overview of the public broadcaster's 2023 election coverage — which will include TV, the radio and online, and in Estonian, Russian and English.

Election debates on ERR will begin at the end of January and continue through election week, which will conclude with Election Day on Sunday, March 5.

Rules for election coverage are outlined in procedures approved by the Public Broadcasting Council (link in Estonian).

ERR must take particular care to adhere to the principles of independence, impartiality and balance in covering elections ⁠— the most important event of Estonian political life.

Election coverage procedures provide the framework and rules for special election programming being broadcast by ERR on TV via ETV (in Estonian) and ETV+ (in Russian) and on the radio via Vikerraadio (Estonian), Raadio 2 (Estonian) and Raadio 4 (Russian).

A summary of programming as well as practical election-related info will be published in Estonian on ERR's elections portal, where readers can track party ratings, read elections-related news as well as find candidate lists. The National Electoral Committee (Vabariigi Valimiskomisjon, VVK) will register candidates for the 2023 Riigikogu elections no later than January 24.

For fans of three-minute clips, ERR's elections portal will also be publishing a program of videos by political parties and independent candidates running for election.

Also set out in the election coverage procedures are the principles on the basis of which ERR's editorial staffs are to select participants in election debates, as is the fact that the same candidate cannot save the day on their party's behalf each time ⁠— otherwise a party could end up in the government, but not have anyone to appoint as minister other than their chief. For versatility's sake as well as to demonstrate the party's capabilities, parties running for election have to field different candidates on different programs.

Programs will span various formats, ranging from major to one-on-one debates. Eligible to take part in the bigger debates are all parties with at least 101 candidates running for election and which are represented in each of Estonia's 12 electoral districts.

ERR won't be limiting its campaign coverage merely to the requirements set out in the election coverage procedures, however. In addition to the aforementioned, ERR will also be airing other programming involving elections issues, which will adhere as usual to the principles of balance and impartiality that comprise part of ERR's everyday journalism ethics.

It is also important ahead of major debates to recall what campaign promises were made during the previous elections as well as what realistic opportunities exist to deliver on new promises that have already been made. To help with this, various political commentators and scientists will be invited to participate in various programs.

As has become customary, candidates for election cannot continue to host programs on ERR; this would be unfair to other candidates.

Some candidates are active in public offices, so news coverage of them to a certain extent will continue. At the same time, election rules stipulate that ERR will not provide an unjustified advantage to candidates active in public offices during the elections. This requires careful consideration of when it is justified to cover a candidate and when information can also be provided through other sources.

Fair and equitable coverage of the elections is ensured by journalists maintaining an equal distance from all candidates therein.

The 2023 Riigikogu elections, in which all of the Estonian parliament's 101 seats are up for election, will be held on Sunday, March 5.

MPs are elected to the Riigikogu for a four-year term.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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