Public broadcaster ERR is on its general elections regime between now and polling day on 3 March, and its coverage will be in line with these regulations, explains ERR ombudsman Tarmu Tammerk.
Campaign coverage at ERR, including ERR News, the English-language portal, is to be in accordance with procedure approved by the public broadcaster's council. Needless to say, independence, impartiality and balance are a daily requirement, and continue to be so in the pre-election time.
At the same time, these rules of engagement need to be made as clear as possible to the public and to the political candidates running in the election.
Procedures provide for the arrangements regarding special election broadcasts, and the means to facilitate the most comprehensive and all-round picture of the political scene.
Balance on who can appear when
Written conditions, which are in sync with national electoral rules and regulations, are available online describe how the electoral broadcasts are organised, conditions which parties must meet in order to participate in broadcasts, and how many times the same candidate may appear in radio and TV debates, and more.
The electoral rules detail how candidates for public office should not receive undue advantage over other candidates. Complying with this requirement means that all those running for election, be they government ministers, sitting MPs or MEPs, local politicians, businesspeople, cultural figures, celebrities etc., can get a say when it comes to a topic within their field of speciality, when the content requires just that person's position. However, if anyone else with competence in that field can talk appropriately on the same subject, he or she should be used as an alternative source.
Government ministers, for example, are likely to appear in news on a regular basis. But not every statement a minister running for re-election merits quoting in the media. Quarterly crime statistics can be commented on by a head of department at the justice ministry, not necessarily the minister.
Furthermore, candidates may not work as broadcasters, commentators or reporters, with ERR, regardless of the topic under discussion.
Election interviews with ERR are already underway, and radio and TV debates are soon to follow.
Sometimes people ask why the ERR needs these special election guidelines. One reason is that, as a public media channel, it needs to be as accountable and as clear as possible about how it handles such a critical juncture for democracy as the pre-election campaign.
Providing absolute equality in coverage to all candidates is not possible and would not fit into any journalistic model. But the guidelines provide a solid framework for aspiring towards maximising fairness.
Example set to commercial media too
The ERR guidelines, which date back to many previous elections, are having a positive effect on other media in Estonia, too. Commercial and municipal broadcasters have taken on the principle that journalists and programme hosts who decide to run for political office abstain from their journalistic work during the pre-election campaign.
For instance, two presenters on a Tallinna TV political broadcast recently stepped down from their role for the duration of the elections. Naturally should one or both get elected and take up their seat at the Riigikogu, that situation would continue.
Former daily Postimees editor-in-chief Lauri Hussar had to step down from his role after announcing he was running as a candidate, and media personality Anu Saagim did the same, of her own volition, from her role as creative director at daily Õhtuleht.
Tarmu Tammerk, ERR Ombudsman
Election overview additional info
From Wednesday, 23 January, outdoor political advertising is banned through to the general election as per national electoral rules. Parties can still advertise on the TV, via social media, leafleting and other avenues. They can also display indoor advertisements, which in some cases can mean posters are visible at street level from outside the building they are placed in. Other past loopholes have included displaying a party name, logo, slogan etc. on a private vehicle. The outgoing parliament failed to cancel the ban on outdoor advertising, despite pressure to do so.
Just under 1,100 candidates are running across Estonia for all registered parties or as independents, the highest number in 20 years.
As well as the online portals in Estonian, Russian and English, ERR operates three TV channels (ETV, ETV2 and ETV+, the Russian-language channel) and five radio channels (one of which is broadcast in Russian).
The electoral broadcasting regulations (in Estonian) are here.
Complaints and feedback about the ERR election coverage can be sent to [email protected].
Estonia currently ranks 12th in the world for press freedoms, according to the Reporters Without Borders press freedoms index.
Editor: Andrew Whyte