Broadcasting supervisory council meeting to discuss Martin Helme charges

Martin Helme, right, together with his father, EKRE leader Mart Helme.
Martin Helme, right, together with his father, EKRE leader Mart Helme. Source: ERR

The broadcasting supervisory board is due to convene on 9 April, according to its chair, Rein Veidemann, when, amongst other topics, a complaint from Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) MP Martin Helme will be examined, BNS reports.

Mr Helme sent a letter to the board on Wednesday, which later appeared on online news portal Delfi, in which he called for the removal of journalists he described as ''biased'' from the airwaves, and accused the broadcaster of bias in its coverage following the 3 March election.

Citing the 2007 act which governs the public broadcaster and which Mr Helme said ERR was in violation of, he also stated that the offending journalists should be ''punished''.

The supervisory board includes Mr Helme himself, as EKRE representative, together with members from each of the other elected political party, plus four independent experts.


Comment on the complaint has come from a variety of quarters.

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) told ERR's Estonian news on Thursday that: ''No politician has the right to take journalists off the air, or tell them they cannot work somewhere".

Executive manager of the Estonian Newspaper Association and journalism professor Mart Raudsaar agreed that which journalists are suitable and which are not was not a matter for politicians to decide.

"It is a matter of the editorial board's autonomy," he said.

Supervisory board member Paavo Nõgene noted that in the absence of naming names or concrete examples, Mr Helme's complaint was difficult to evaluate off the bat.

"Personally, I value the work of ERR professionals, from cameramen to journalists, very highly," Mr Nõgene said.

ERR's ethics ombudsman Tarmu Tammerk also stated that only specific complaints can be addressed, not general statements.

"It is not appropriate to talk about punishing journalists on the backdrop of such vague descriptions, especially if the idea comes from an MP," Mr Tammerk said, adding, however, that he has reminded journalists of the need to maintain impartiality during such turbulent times in politics.

"The style of some interviews has raised questions as to whether ERR is holding to the principle of neutrality," Mr Tammerk said.

Nevertheless, when looking at the post-election coverage picture in its entirety, Mr Tammerk said he finds no reason to describe ERR coverage as unbalanced.

On Thursday, ERR Head of News and Sport Anvar Samost said that journalists at the public broadcaster did their best to comply with journalistic standards at all times, and that such a request from a politician, in particular one who sits on the broadcasting supervisory council, was inappropriate.

While Mr Helme did not mention any names or specific incidents, and notwithstanding Jüri Ratas' comments, the Centre Party's supervisory board representative Marika Tuus-Laul said that she partly agrees with Mr Helme's criticism.

"Looking at Priit Kuusk's interview with Prime Minister Jüri Ratas, it was very ugly, aggressive and pushy. Entirely unbecoming," she said, adding presenter Johannes Tralla's name to her brief litany.

"He interjects and interrupts," Ms Tuus-Laul said, in reference to an interview Mr Tralla conducted with Centre MP Mikhail Kõlvart.

Centre is into its third week of coalition negotiations with EKRE following the 3 March election, together with Isamaa. When asked, the latter's representative on the supervisory board, Viktoria Ladõnskaja-Kubits, simply said that: "If a proposal has been made, we will discuss it''.

ERR faced protests from the Richness of Life party in February, when members picketed the broadcaster's TV house in central Tallinn. The party claimed its exclusion from a series of pre-election discussion broadcasts was unfair and unconstitutional. ERR's own regulations required that parties run the full 125-candidate list nationwide, for inclusion in the debates. While Richness of Life ran in all 12 electoral districts in the election, it did not run a full list of candidates, sending on average two or three candidates per district.

EKRE MP and leader of its youth wing, Ruuben Kaalep, had at least one opinion piece published in daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) in 2018, under a pseudonym. He had reportedly also been behind social media comments posted under fake, or pseudonymous, accounts. ERR's ethics ombudsman stated in January that these activities constituted fraudulent activity.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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