Media adviser: Estonia needs proactive legal measure to protect media space

Andres Jõesaar.
Andres Jõesaar. Source: Kadri Purje/ Ministry of Culture

According to media adviser at the Estonian Ministry of Culture's arts department Andres Jõesaar, the recent controversial proposal by the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority (TTJA) that media ought to be monitored for bias, was badly worded. However, in his view, Estonia needs a proactive legislative measure to restrict harmful foreign media outlets, in addition to the sanctions imposed on Russia.

According to Jõesaar, the Ministry of Culture will continue to review proposals received in relation to the creation of the draft bill, of which there have been around a hundred. The more rational suggestions will be passed on to those putting together the text of the draft, will those that are not supported will be put aside, Jõesaar said.

As the work is extensive, as yet there is no final clarity on which proposals will be considered when creating the final draft.

The Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority's (TTJA) recent proposal to to add a requirement to monitor the truthfulness, impartiality and balance of news programs to the Media Services Act was met with considerable criticism from media executives.

Jõesaar also said, that checking media content for balance would be an over-the-top approach. However, he added that there is a need to find an alternative way to close down problematic TV channels, in addition to the current sanctions against Russia.

"Basically, one of the biggest questions is: 'what are the most effective ways to protect Estonia's information space?' At the moment, there is no clear solution. When the sanctions are lifted – Today, the Estonian information space is protected by sanctions, TV channels and websites owned by sanctioned individuals can be, and have been, be shut down. The law must also provide for a mechanism that is not only reactive, but proactive, and that would make it possible to disallow channels or websites with the worst intentions, from entering the Estonian market. At the moment, this is not well addressed in Estonian law," said Jõesaar.

According to Jõesaar, there ought to be an authority tasked with assessing whether or not a company is planning an activity considered dangerous to the Estonian state. At the moment, there is no concrete proposal regarding whether the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS, KAPO) or a  different authority ought to be tasked with this responsibility.

It will therefore also be necessary to discuss with the relevant authorities to determine if they see themselves as being capable of fulfilling the role.

Media executives could come forward with their own proposals

"The TTJA's proposal, which received an explosion of feedback from media executives – it's a bit sad that they didn't look into it and propose a (different) solution to the situation," said Jõesaar.

"If media leaders say that no authority should have the right to judge their activities and everything is self-regulated, then Russian TV channels should also be welcome on the Estonian market and no one has the right to interfere in relation their content, balance and objectivity," he argued.

According to Jõesaar, it is understandable that media houses are afraid of possible interference in their field. However, he also expects that proposals should then come from the media themselves regarding how channels, which are dangerous for the state can be (legally) shut down.

"Let's look a little further than our own table. The media is not just good Estonian media. The Estonian media is very good, but there is also malicious media. How can the same regulations be used to deal with malicious media?"

According to Jõesaaar, the wording of the TTJA's proposal was unfortunate. However, it was aimed at Estonian media and the real problem, which has to be solved is that of the information war. "What is required, is a solution regarding how to survive in the information war and how to protect the Estonian people from the harmful effects of the media. This is not (from) the Estonian media."

Jõesaar added, that even after restrictions were placed on Russian TV channels, a large number of people have found ways to remain in this information sphere.

"It has to be understood clearly, that we are not in this ideal situation when it comes to media freedom. We are in a situation, where there is an information war where we are under attack. This attack has a purpose and so we have to defend ourselves. If we throw up our hands, say brainwashing is allowed, physical violence is allowed, anything is allowed, then we will have given in," Jõesaar said.

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Editor: Michael Cole

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