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Opinion: If ERR goes down, the rest of the free media drowns with it

Editor-in-chief of Estonian foreign policy magazine Diplomaatia, Erkki Bahovski.
Editor-in-chief of Estonian foreign policy magazine Diplomaatia, Erkki Bahovski. Source: (Postimees/Scanpix)

Erkki Bahovski, Editor-in-Chief of Diplomaatia, newsletter of the International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS), has argued in an opinion piece on daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) that, while recent attacks on public broadcaster ERR are nothing new, their scope and somewhat brazen nature is a notable development. Nonetheless, there are plenty of lessons to be learned, and the broadcaster can simply dig in and weather the storm, he says.

Attacks, criticisms, demands and the like are part and parcel of the cut and thrust of the media landscape, both public and private, Mr Bahovski argues; in this case the focus has been public broadcaster ERR, which has seen demands from Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) vice chair Martin Helme that journalists be removed from the airwaves for displaying ''bias''.

Mr Helme's words were particularly resonant since he is EKRE's representative on the independent broadcasting supervisory council, which oversees ERR and its TV, radio and online channels (each elected political party has a member on the board). However, it was Centre's representative, Marika Tuus-Laul, who first named names, citing TV anchors Priit Kuusk and Johannes Tralla as being too aggressive in their interview technique with leading members of her party.

After a supervisory council meeting on Tuesday evening to discuss Mr Helme's complaint, its independent chair, Rein Veidemann, said that there is no reason for ERR to make any changes in its approach.

Mr Bahovski states that, noting the role of the Russian media in getting Boris Yeltsin into office in 1996 and forcing his opponent, Gennadi Zjuganov, out into the cold, naturally the broadcaster should not be beyond criticism – if it didn't receive any that would mean it were either already subject to censorship, or was simply not relevant or significant – and that he himself had voiced criticisms on, for example, the preponderance of football in ERR's sports coverage, as well as tussled, openly and honestly, with individuals from the organisation.

However, this snowballing effect, which has also sucked in elements of the private media as well as political parties other than EKRE – a party which attracted a lot of ERR coverage long before it was in any coalition negotiations – is likely to be counter-productive, he says, on the principle that, if you are silent when they come for others, they will one day come for you.

Centre, for instance, has to be accountable in its switch from saying it wouldn't work with EKRE, to then signing a coalition deal with the party, Mr Bahovski says, and noting from history the capriciousness of, say, those who suddenly realised they were the ''reds''' biggest supporters in Estonia in 1940, only to equally fervently don the blue-black-and-white from the late 1980s, ERR should make the best of the situation in digging in and giving its rivals in the media some tough love, rather than acquiescing, and ultimately dragging its competitors down with it.

The original EPL piece (in Estonian) is here.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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