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Sputnik submits complaint about ERR, Estonian newspapers to press council

At the opening of Sputnik's Estonian press centre, February 2017.
At the opening of Sputnik's Estonian press centre, February 2017. Source: Rene Suurkaev / ERR

Russian news agency Sputnik has submitted a complaint about ERR's online news as well as several Estonian newspapers, accusing them of having spread false information about them in a case concerning a conscript of the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) injuring himself.

The incident the agency is referring to in its complaint was reported in mid-March this year. An EDF conscript shot himself in the shoulder with his assault rifle, later stating to doctors as well as various authorities including the police that he had done so because he "wanted a cool gunshot scar".

Sputnik submitted questions to the EDF suggesting instead that the incident was the result of the deliberate bullying of Russian-speaking conscripts, and that the man had been injured during what the agency said "sources" confirmed to have been an escape attempt.

The EDF left the questions unanswered and instead handed them on to the media along with a comment.

ERR reported that beyond the entirely baseless accusations of bullying and other misdeeds on the part of the EDF, the conscript in question wasn't actually a Russian speaker.

ERR's ethics ombudsman, Tarmu Tammerk, commented on Tuesday that as a result of the EDF's publication of the questions, Sputnik couldn't report the incident as it planned, and the Russian propaganda machinery remained without a story to hint at supposed internationally charged events in the Defence Forces.

Tammerk referred to Sputnik's loaded questions to the EDF as a case of classical demagoguery, asked in the style of "Are you still beating your wife?" Whatever the EDF's response would have been, Sputnik could have written that the EDF denies the discrimination of Russians and hence produced a new artificial scandal for the Russian state media.

Sputnik could hardly be treated as a news agency in the classical sense, Tammerk added, seeing as it was started with the clear objective to publish pro-Kremlin propaganda. Tammerk rejected Sputnik's complaint as unjustified.

ERR never published misleading or false information about Sputnik, as it published the latter's questions in exactly the form they were submitted to the EDF, Tammerk pointed out.

To the complaint that ERR never asked them to comment the issue, Tammerk responded that Sputnik was present in ERR's reporting in the form of its own questions as submitted to the Defence Forces, including mentioning the alleged existence of Sputnik's sources, and hence ERR didn't need to get any additional comment from Sputnik.

Beyond that, the subject of ERR's reporting in this case was the EDF's preventive measures against falsehoods published by Sputnik, Tammerk added.

Sputnik is not satisfied with ERR's response. As a next step, the Estonian Press Council will look into the matter.

Conscript who shot himself not even a Russian speaker

The Russian state-controlled media portal Sputnik submitted a number of questions to the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) in mid-March this year about an incident involving a conscript injuring himself with an AK4 battle rifle. The questions aimed to establish a connection between the accident and supposed anti-Russian sentiment and discrimination in the Estonian military.

The conscript shot and critically injured himself with his AK4 battle rifle on Mar. 1, 2018. The 7.62-caliber round did so much damage that he needed to be taken to Võru and later on to Tartu to be resuscitated. According to media reports, more than 12 litres of blood transfusions were necessary to save the man's life.

According to statements the conscript made to medical personnel, the police, and later on the EDF as well, he shot himself in the shoulder because he wanted what he referred to as "a cool gunshot scar." He did not take back this statement later on.

Sputnik's questions as submitted to the EDF referred to "sources" of the Kremlin-controlled portal that allegedly suggest the wound was a result of an escape attempt followed by the conscript getting arrested by military police.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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