Journalists: Political pressure causing media self-censorship

Andrus Karnau (left) and Ahto Lobjakas, current Olukorrast riigis presenters.
Andrus Karnau (left) and Ahto Lobjakas, current Olukorrast riigis presenters. Source: ERR

The expression ''responsible use of freedoms'' refers to a desire to restrict press freedoms; compliance with it leads to increasing self-censorship amongst journalists - so say Andrus Karnau and Ahto Lobjakas, presenters of politics show Olukorrast riigis, on ERR's Raadio 2.

Speaking on the show Sunday, the pair noted the growing phenomenon of pressure being put on the media, including at ERR, to avoid rocking the boat, the broadcaster's Estonian online news portal reports.

The show was the first broadcast after the announcement that Mr Lobjakas would be standing down from presenting the weekly slot, after his last instalment on 2 June.

Mr Lobjakas had noted in a social media post Saturday that he had not been fired, but had found his situation untenable after continued pressure to self-censor, especially following the Centre/Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE)/Isamaa coalition discussions in March and April, which resulted in that lineup entering office this month.

Mr Karnau noted concerns over the words of EKRE chair Mart Helme at the press conference at the Kadriorg Palace, following the coalition's signing into being by President Kersti Kaljulaid on Wednesday.

''I note that whilst there were no restrictions on democracy, no mass arrests at cultural institutions, no interference in press freedoms, referred to, still there's the expectation for press freedoms to be used responsibly. When I listened to it [ie. the press conference] I began to feel queasy,'' said Mr Karnau, co-presenter of the show, adding that to his astonishment, neither Jüri Ratas nor President Kersti Kaljulaid responded to Mr Helme's statement.

Rhetoric from an easterly direction

''This 'sense of responsibility' means freedoms are to start being restricted and the government will push for self-censorship. A journalist will start to realise that if he or she says something about Mart Helme, it will be clocked,'' Mr Karnau continued.

Ahto Lobjakas stated that the term ''responsible use of freedom'' is straight out of the rhetoric of Russian president Vladimir Putin, and his counterparts in Kazakhstan and Belarus, Nursultan Nazarbajev and Alexander Lukashenko.

''It is in this context and mentality, and Helme is sticking to his announced respect for Russian civilisation and current political scene. This is not a big surprise to me, and is extrememly normal in such societies,'' Mr Lobjakas said.

Mr Lobjakas went on to say that several months of pressure has been taking its toll on the liberal media space, for instance with Vilja Kiisler's departure from daily Postimees, adding that the daily had not reproached him for any stories he had had published there (Mr Lobjakas is also a Postimees columnist).

''In a situation where liberal-leaning journalists are finding it hard making headway on a publication with a conservative line such as Postimees, naturally the question arises where they can go next,'' he continued.

Online news portal Delfi, which belongs to rival Ekspress Group, earlier reported that Postimees' owner Margus Linnamäe, an Isamaa member and donor, wishes to make the newspaper a conservative flagship, with the hiring of Peeter Helme, whom the report said shares that world-view, as editor-in-chief, part and parcel of that drive.

The original Raadio 2 Olukorrast riigis broadcast is here, for readers with Estonian.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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