Limiting the right of the editor-in-chief to decide which programs can air would constitute censorship, the CEO of ERR Erik Roose said, commenting on a recent decision not to broadcast the final episode of satirical talk show "Kinoteatri õhtune vöönd."
Urmas Oru, editor-in-chief of ETV, said last Friday that the final episode of "Kinoteatri õhtune vöönd" is unsuitable to air on the public broadcaster's network as it crosses the line of humor and satire. The decision to replace it with another program was met with spirited and critical reactions in other media channels and social media.
Erik Roose described how programming decisions are made in an interview to Vikerraadio. First, the supervisory board approves the budget. From there, the management board provides television, radio and news departments with general guidelines, while editors-in-chief are responsible for individual shows.
"It has been said that Estonia does not have enough humor, editorial content that takes a more lighthearted look at the daily grind. That was the background," Roose explained, adding that ERR's editor-in-chief for entertainment programming Karmen Killandi then asked the theater group Kinoteater whether they would like or be willing to put something together.
Roose said that after the first four episodes aired during the week before Christmas, it was up to the editor-in-chief to decide whether the fifth program, which had a new style, was suitable or not, and limiting the decisions of the editor-in-chief would constitute censorship.
"The editor-in-chief has the final say in terms of whether something is suitable or not. The institution of editor-in-chief has been the vessel of media freedom in Estonia for over 30 years, and Estonia has been on top in Europe, at least in Eastern Europe in those terms for a long time," he said. "It is because editors-in-chief are free in their decisions."
Roose added that ERR's board was up to speed on Oru's decision and might have been able to talk him out of it, while this was not deemed necessary.
"Being on the receiving end of criticism, whether just or unjust, and downright verbal abuse comes with the territory," ERR's CEO admitted.
Roose said he has only seen a single episode of "Kinoteatri õhtune vöönd" and was not impressed. What was commissioned was a friendly program taking a humorous look back at the year's problems, while Roose feels that the show did not match these criteria. The CEO compared the situation to ordering dessert in a restaurant only to be served rotten herring.
"Next time you might think twice about working with people who are bound to let you down. It's that simple. I would say that such decisions and making sure sides stick to agreements is even more important in private media. Time will tell whether contractual conditions or agreements carry weight or not. These decisions are up to editors-in-chief," Roose said.
Urmas Oru said on December 22 that the final monologue of the show takes aim at ERR and the people working there, disparaging and insulting people on personal grounds. "The activities of ERR have been criticized in virtually every episode, and presenting a concentrated version that has also been blown out of proportion based partly on rumors is unjustifiable. As editor-in-chief, I find that the program does not correspond to what the producers have promised to deliver, which is why it will not air."
The decision merited widespread criticism in private and social media, with publications and commentators accusing ERR of censorship and fossilized management practices.
Editor: Madis Hindre, Mirko Ojakivi, Karin Koppel, Marcus Turovski