The Estonian Media Companies Union (EML) is categorically opposed to the idea that the Estonian Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority (TTJA) could serve as an independent media regulator for the entire media market.
The Ministry of Culture sent the draft proposal for the amendment of the Media Services Act (MSA) to over 40 organizations and institutions on June 2 for coordination and feedback.
The amendment will make the TTJA an independent media regulator in terms of the overall media market, according to the proposed text.
The Estonian Media Companies Union (EML), a private media association, said in its response that it strongly opposes the position in the draft opinion that the executive (TTJA) could serve as an independent media regulator for the entire media market, even if, as said in the draft opinion, the competition for radio licenses would be thus shortened by a month.
"The press can only be independent if it is not subject to direct or indirect executive control. The primary objective of the EMFA (European Media Freedom Act - ed.) is to protect the independence of media outlets and pluralism on the media market, and by subjecting the press to executive control, Estonia would be acting in the opposite direction of the EMFA's primary objective, the media union states.
The association added that it does not object to the TTJA conducting technical supervision of audiovisual media, issuing licenses and taking measures to restrict access to inappropriate content, including propaganda from the Russian Federation.
Significant increase in the TTJA's duties
The drafting intentions distributed for consultation and comment indicate that the proposed regulation will affect the workload of TTJA officials. This is especially important during the transitional period of the regulation, when license applications for all third-country television programs currently broadcast in Estonia and for television programs of private legal entities holding a media service license in a member state of the European Union would need to be reviewed and assessed.
"Controlling public service television programming in the member states and media service licensees in Estonia is unnecessary. The procedure for authorizing the retransmission of television programs may also increase the workload of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and the security authorities, as they may need to be consulted in order to identify the actual recipients of the re-transmitted television program."
The draft opinion also observes that after the transitional period, the TTJA's monitoring burden will increase as it will be responsible for supervising the retransmission of unlicensed programs, reviewing applications, and making decisions regarding the retransmission of new television programs.
"The transformation will have an impact on a portion of the Estonian population's media consumption. Each week, nearly 90 percent of the Estonian population watches television programming. Due to the restrictions imposed by the TTJA and EU sanctions, the number of rebroadcast television programs in Estonia may decline, while it is already substantially reduced in 2022. Assuming that the majority of detrimental media content to Estonia's information space is already restricted for end-users, the amendment would not have a significant impact on them."
TTJA wants to consult with the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS)
Before issuing both TV and radio licenses, the TTJA would like to consult with the Estonian Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and Internal Security Service (ISS, also known as Kapo), the authority stated in its own feedback to the draft proposal.
The TTJA would also like to include in the draft the obligation of media service providers to ensure the truthful, impartial and balanced presentation of facts and events in news broadcasts in order to support the free emergence of opinions.
"In recent years, disinformation has had a particularly negative impact on people's health and livelihoods, democratic processes and their legitimacy, public order, and national security. Both the Covid-19 outbreak and Russia's full-fledged war against Ukraine are manifestations of the threat posed by disinformation. Therefore, it is critical that the state take all conceivable steps to safeguard ethical free press, public health and constitutional order from disinformationists posing as media fronts," the TTJA reasoned.
In addition, the TTJA wanted to look into the possibility of granting the TTJA the authority to request market statistics (such as the number of Estonian users) from media service providers targeting the Estonian market, particularly on-demand audiovisual media service providers (such as Netflix, HBO).
Editor: Urmet Kook, Kristina Kersa