Opinion digest: Only press alone can regulate the free press ({{commentsTotal}})

Estonian newspapers (picture is illustrative).
Estonian newspapers (picture is illustrative). Source: Postimees/Scanpix

Press executives and journalists have no excuse for allowing some kind of roundtable to take charge of the press freedom situation in Estonia — this is and must remain their job, writes political observer Martin Kala in an opinion piece originally published by daily Postimees on Sunday night.

A week and a half ago, ERR ran an article announcing that Estonia's press freedom had been ranked 11th in Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) World Press Freedom Index, noting that journalists here work in a "broadly favorable environment," but highlighting the fact that "media ownership is still highly concentrated," Kala noted in the opening of his opinion piece (link in Estonian).

This has been followed recently by news of several top journalists being forced to leave their positions due to differences of opinion, fanning fears regarding the independence of Estonian journalism. In a move approved by several politicians, ex-Postimees editor-in-chief Lauri Hussar, now a member of Estonia 200, reacted by recommending that the Estonian president convene a roundtable consisting of media chiefs and owners, journalists, representatives of civil society, media experts and representatives of political powers.

State intervention concerning

"Let's be honest: this current so-called 'crisis' in Estonian journalism isn't the result of firings at dailies, internal conflicts in public media or the forced leave of journalists — these examples are just exciting ripples," Kala wrote. "At stake is something much more important — the re-evaluation of understandings worked out by a democratic society and affecting journalism."

What is concerning is when representatives of executive powers or the state are asked to get involved under the banner of freedom of speech, as suddenly efforts begin to be made, allegedly in the name of good, to legislate the media or mess with existing journalistic ethics — and the more such incidents occur, the more fuel is added to this particular fire.

"Estonia's fantastic positions in international press freedom rankings are great recognition for us, but the actual goal here is to assess the Estonian state, which cannot restrict society's freedom of expression or the press without a compelling reason," he noted, adding he was very interested to see where, in light of recent events, Estonia would rank come next year.

We have to defend journalists

"Freedom of speech is part of Europe's bloodstream, and we have to defend our journalists even when their taste leaves something to be desired, for example, or the tone of something they write may seem biased to some," Kala said.

Press executives and journalists have no excuse for allowing some kind of roundtable to take charge of the press freedom situation in Estonia — this is and must remain their job, the observer wrote, stressing the importance of the self-regulation of the free press.

"In a country where the state interferes — or, to put it more gently, is involved — in the process of developing standards for the free press, or begins regulating the fulfillment thereof, ceases to be a full democracy," he warned.

Editor: Aili Vahtla



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