According to the Estonian Newspaper Association, publications of local councils shouldn't be allowed to earn money by selling ad space. Chairman of the association, Mart Raudsaar, thinks that if self-regulation doesn't lead to a result, local papers funded with taxpayer money will need to be regulated.
"Paragraph 45 of the Constitution says that everyone has the right to freely express and circulate ideas, convictions and information," Mr Raudsaar told ERR's Vikerraadio on Monday. "I think that this applies to local government as well. They have the right to publish their own papers, but they have to use the taxpayers' money sensibly."
Mr Raudsaar added that it is the task of these publications to fill a niche where the media don't cover everything a local council does for the community. Anything going beyond this objective is "pointless waste" and local government unduly influencing the advertising market, he said.
Political messages need to be kept in check
While Estonia's larger publications and media groups subscribe to the ethics code of the Estonian Press Council and can be held accountable, those controlled by local politicians at times don't adhere to the same guidelines.
Thus controls are needed where those in power on the local level use these papers as a channel to work against their political opponents. "Larger publications give the different parties the chance to express their views, but this isn't always the case at the local level," Mr Raudsaar said.
According to Mr Raudsaar, the Newspaper Association signed an agreement last year with the Association of Estonian Cities and Rural Municipalities (AECM) which requires the latter to deal with these issues.
Mr Raudsaar's main issue is with the overinflation of local papers in order to make money off the advertising space that can be sold this way. "It seems to me we need regulation on the part of the state to avoid diluting the advertising market, and local papers shouldn't be allowed to sell ad space," he said.
"This doesn't mean that a local paper couldn't advertise cultural events and all that touches on the activities of the local council," he added. "And why not include the phone number of the local cobbler. But that would have to be free of charge."
Editor: Dario Cavegn