The Estonian Press Council found on Tuesday that Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR) didn't break the media ethics code with its reporting in March this year about an attempt on the part of the state-owned Russian news agency's Estonian branch to start a disinformation campaign about the Defence Forces.
Russian news agency Sputnik submitted a complaint in May this year about ERR's online news as well as several Estonian newspapers. The Estonian branch of the state-owned Russian news agency accused the Estonian media 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.
Press council: ERR didn't break ethics code
The Estonian Press Council deliberated the issue and on 26 June handed down its finding that ERR has not broken the common ethics code of the Estonian media. The council commented that Sputnik released the story on 2 March and thus started both the reporting on the incident in the media as well as a disinformation campaign. The council also found that Sputnik's actual views were reflected in the reports that followed in the Estonian media.
ERR also 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.
Tammerk: Sputnik's complaint not justified
ERR's ethics ombudsman, Tarmu Tammerk, commented following the complaint 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 at the time.
Editor: Dario Cavegn