Chancellor of Justice rejects Richness of Life ERR complaint

Richness of Life members, including Artur Talvik (second from left) picketing ERR's TV house for the first time on 6 February.
Richness of Life members, including Artur Talvik (second from left) picketing ERR's TV house for the first time on 6 February. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The Richness of Life party's complaint against national broadcaster ERR has been rejected by the office of the Chancellor of Justice.

The party had filed the complaint after ERR broadcasting rules meant it was ineligible for automatic inclusion in a series of pre-election televised debates. The regulations stated that only parties running the maximum 125 candidates at the general election, ie. a full list of candidates in every district, would appear on the broadcasts. Richness of Life is running candidates in all 12 districts, but on average only around three candidates per district.

Richness of Life challenged the requirement as discriminatory, but the regulations were not found by the chancellor of justice's office to be in breach of the Estonian constitution.

This is not the first time ERR has faced a challenge, when it comes to its election coverage, though not always at the justice chancellor's office. This time the justice office asked ERR for an explanation of the regulations.

Chancellor's office found ERR regulations satisfactory

ERR in turn justified the distinction, between parties who met the 125-candidate criterion and those who did not, with reference to the obligation to ensure journalistic content and accountability.

The chancellor or justice office wrote to Richness of Life, on finding ERR's explanation satisfactory, noting that it takes a holistic approach to the media in electoral broadcasts.

"The electoral debate regimen covers all television and radio channels as well as the web portal, thus the established procedure must be dealt with in its entirety, not just one confined to one channel or programme. Everyone concerned must be given the opportunity to present their views,'' the letter read, before noting that the party candidate restriction implemented by ERR is not a new thing, having already been in place ahead of the 2015 elections.

''Thus this is not the first such restriction,'' the letter noted.

One issue which smaller parties such as Richness of Life, which was only formed in the latter part of 2018, is that, lacking state subsidies (which only elected parties receive) or a large income either in the form of membership fees or donations, individual candidates often have to stump up election deposits themselves.

Not the only small or under-funded party out there

''It is now doubt difficult for a party currently unrepresented in the Riigikogu or one which is newly formed to pay the maximum amount of deposits. However, in the current election, both new and currently unrepresented political parties have, despite a lack or even complete absence of state budget support, have submitted full candidate lists,'' the letter went on.

Another new party on the political scene, Estonia 200, is running a full list, as is the Green Party, which has no Riigikogu seats at present.

The chancellor of justice office also noted that even if ERR's board had amended its regulations green light Richness of Life for the TV broadcasts, this would have resulted in some justified dissatisfaction amongst those parties which had brought full lists of candidates and the related deposits, only to find an exception made after the fact.

There will be a total of four 75-minute election debate specials, called Election studio, the first of which aired at 21.40 EET on Wednesday, 6 February. Richness of Life picketed ERR's TV house ahead of the broadcast.

The board regulations does not exempt Richness of Life, a party which polls around 1% of support in most opinion surveys, from other ERR broadcasts or items. Within the week or so preceding the time of writing, Richness of Life candidates had been invited to an ERR-hosted all-woman English language debate (which it did not provide anyone for), a similar debate organised by the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) and live-streamed by ERR at the Tallinn Hilton Park Hotel, replete with buffet lunch and a panel including a former prime minister (which the party did send a candidate to), a Vikerradio interview with Arp Müller, and a lengthy English-language interview with founder member Artur Talvik.

Artur Talvik's father, Mati, was a veteran ETV journalist, whose funeral service was held at the TV House in late summer 2018.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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