Russian info channels in Estonia viewed, trusted far less than year ago

On-screen announcement stating that the channel in question is now barred from broadcast in Estonia.
On-screen announcement stating that the channel in question is now barred from broadcast in Estonia. Source: ERR

The proportion of people from among the Russian-speaking population in Estonia who still consider media channels of Russian Federation origin to be an important source of information has dropped drastically in the past year, to around a third of the original figure, authorities say.

While the domestic ban on Russian-language TV channels put in place by the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority (TTJA) in the immediate aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022 has now expired, these are now caught by an EU-wide sanction, meaning the net result is the same.

The TTJA's social information chief, Helen Rohtla, said the sanctioned channels number as many as 50.

"There are a total of 50 TV channels that cannot be broadcast in Estonia for one reason or another - albeit due to financial sanctions or the content of the channel - at present," Rohtla said.

"In addition, there are 80 websites which are similarly subject to sanctions, and whose availability is limited in Estonia," Rohtla continued.

While is almost impossible to measure exactly how many people circumvent these bans, studies commissioned by the Government Office reveal that the importance of Russian news channels has fallen.

Marianna Makarova, adviser at the office, said: "Whereas in February 2022, 33 percent of the population of 'other nationalities' (than Estonian, meaning in practice overwhelmingly native Russian-speakers-ed.) chose Russian TV as one of the three most important information channels, by February of this year that figure had shrunk to 11 percent,"

Confidence that the war in Ukraine is covered honestly via Russian channels has also more than halved. Whereas in February of last year, before the start of the full-blown, current phase of the war, 40 percent of people of other nationalities considered war reports as reliable, that figure is now 18 percent, Makarova said.

While one can always question the extent to which all respondents answer questionnaires truthfully, the change is big enough to constitute a trend, ie. that Russian TV channels are watch less, and trusted less – significantly so, she said.

Of those who do contravene the bans, around 40 percent do so by watching channels online, an issue which is being addressed too, Rohtla said.

Simply barring Russian-origin channels is not enough, however; accurate information in Russian must be provided too, she added.

"Unfortunately, nobody learns Estonian overnight," Rohtla went on.

Additionally, social media has gown in importance as an information source, including for non-Estonian speakers, and is not as easy to monitor, nor to bar as a vector for Russian information channels.

The fight in this regard is somewhat a case of tilting at windmills, Rohtla added, and no easy solution will arrive, though the issue is still being worked on.

ERR provides news, information and entertainment in Russian online, on TV (ETV+) and over the radio (Raadio 4).


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi

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