The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), an influential body of journalists in Europe, unanimously adopted a statement at a meeting in Tallinn on Friday expressing great concern about "rising pressure on press freedom and independent, critical journalists and journalism in Estonia."
The federation's general meeting, held at the conference hall of the Riigikogu on Thursday and Friday, paid particular attention to current state of affairs and developments in Estonian journalism. The host of the general meeting was the Estonian Union of Journalists (EAL), which is celebrating its centennial this year and is among the oldest journalists' associations in Europe.
"The arrival of the European Federation of Journalists' general meeting in Tallinn was meant as an expression of support for Estonian journalists and the aspirations of the EAL, which became more important still in light of recent events and statements related to the freedom of the press," EAL chairwoman Helle Tiikmaa said. "We had the opportunity to offer firsthand information about Estonia's journalism field and the state of affairs of our press freedom to nearly one hundred representatives of European journalists' organizations."
In her speech preceding the federation's general meeting, President Kersti Kaljulaid said that the establishment of the predecessor of the EAL in 1919, just one year after the establishment of the Estonian state, demonstrated from the very beginning that freedom of speech and a free country go hand in hand, and have been and remain almost synonyms.
The head of state highlighted the importance of free speech, and noted that, in her opinion, neither freedom of speech nor that of the press have decreased in Estonia in recent months. She admitted, however, that current trends in society are forcing people to increasingly commit to recreating said freedoms. She noted that neither freedom of speech nor of the press have decreased in Estonia during the past few weeks and months; what matters, however, is the surrounding reference system.
According to Kaljulaid, the only thing that politicians and economic leaders can do to support freedom of the media is communicate with journalists, answer their questions honestly, and leaving ensuring quality and high-level journalism to media managers themselves.
"Having no freedom of the media is tantamount to having no freedom at all," Kaljulaid said. "It is not possible to say that a society is democratic and free as we only have a few restrictions on the media."
Asked by President of the European Federation of Journalists Mogens Blicher Bjerregård how freedom of the press should be preserved and what Estonia could do in support of it, the Estonian head of state replied, "We in Estonia, but definitely also in Latvia and Lithuania, are in a situation in which many still remember what it means when the media is not free. Currently, in the current state of affairs, this is very important knowledge from direct, firsthand experience."
Improve, don't hinder, journalists' work conditions
In its statement, the federation's general meeting called on Estonian journalists and the media to continue with their critical work, as an example of democratic normality. It also called on them to reject all kinds of pressures that could lead to authoritarian, populist and intolerant media content and politicization of Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR).
The general meeting reminded the Riigikogu and the Estonian government to revere press freedom and bear in mind that journalism belongs to the cultural field, and journalists should be treated and supported equally alongside other creative persons. It called to improve, not hinder, journalists' work conditions, including establishing grants and freelance support structures With traditional media models and journalism under pressure globally, it is high time to invest more in better journalism, the meeting said.
"Information is a public good and must not be left only to the market," the statement read.
Headquartered in Brussels, the European Federation of Journalists is the largest organization of journalists in Europe, representing over 320,000 journalists in 72 journalists' organizations across 45 countries. The federation fights for the social and professional rights of journalists working in all sectors of the media across Europe through strong trade unions and associations. It promotes and defends the rights to freedom of expression and information as guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The umbrella organization for the European Federation of Journalists is the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which brings together journalists from all over the world.
The Estonian Union of Journalists (EAL), successor to the Estonian Journalists' Association established in 1919, is a politically independent, voluntary professional association of journalists and media professionals.
Editor: Aili Vahtla