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Conservative activist Varro Vooglaid threatening ERR with protests

Varro Vooglaid at a SAPTK-organized protest.
Varro Vooglaid at a SAPTK-organized protest. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

Varro Vooglaid, head of the Foundation for the Protection of Family and Tradition (SAPTK), has launched a nationwide signature drive with the goal of putting pressure on the journalists and leadership of Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR), and is threatening ERR with the possibility of demonstrations, daily Postimees writes.

In the petition, Vooglaid is accusing ERR's board of there being no political broadcasts led by hosts with a conservative worldview. Postimees noted that attempts by Public Broadcasting Council member and Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) politician Martin Helme to start punishing ERR journalists for their alleged mindsets fell through, and now Vooglaid is attempting to get the nation riled up.

"If the public broadcaster is not prepared to voluntarily take the proposals into consideration, it is possible to start organizing demonstrations and drawing attention in the international media," he told the paper. "This is a very serious matter."

Late last week, Vooglaid sent out the first batch of letters by direct mail to Tallinn and Rapla County. Each envelope included five pages of text criticizing ERR, with Vooglaid highlighting radio programs "Sildam ja Samost" and "Olukorrast riigis" as well as TV programs "Esimene stuudio," "Foorum" and "Ringvaade" as negative examples. Also included was an envelope with which it is possible to return the signed approval to the foundation. SAPTK is also asking for money to support the campaign.

Asked what he wishes to achieve in terms of ERR's programming, Vooglaid replied by asking the Postimees journalist whether they could name any political broadcasts led by national conservative people at ERR.

Roose: No need for any changes

ERR CEO Erik Roose said that Vooglaid's signature drive would not affect ERR's programming and content. "This would serve as a precedent in our 70 years of operation if we were to start shaping our programming according to some kind of petition," he remarked.

Roose noted that ERR's programming and presenters are reviewed each season, but added that there was currently no need for any changes.

"We have a record number of viewers, and do not have the issue of people not loving us," he said, adding that journalists are not hired according to their worldview. "We do not ask them who they voted for at the job interview. That would be absurd. It would not be possible to do our work by holding a vote and then hiring or firing people accordingly."

Andres Kuusk, senior editor of ERR's political broadcasts and longtime presenter of the debate show "Foorum," added that there are only independent journalists working at ERR.

According to Vooglaid, he is hoping to mobilize people with the help of the letter.

"It is possible that we must put pressure on the public broadcaster for a longer period of time in order to achieve actual changes, but this also requires serious first steps," he stressed in the text of the petition. "For example, Vikerraadio has the show 'Samost ja Sildam.' Why not include a show led by people with a national conservative view an hour later? Or perhaps replace [Ahto] Lobjakas with someone with national conservative views. For example, some radio stations could feature less music and instead include some new broadcasts."

He also cited examples of people that would be suited to hosting a political broadcast. "These people exist — for example, Markus Järvi, Hardo Pajula, Ivan Makarov, Peeter Espak, Maarja Vaino," he listed. "There is no shortage of suitable hosts."

Seeking not just signatures, but donations

Vooglaid is an experienced petition organizer, Postimees highlighted. In 2013, he called on people to vote against the gender-neural Registered Partnership Act.

With the current petition, however, he is also seeking donations of €50. "But if you find this impossible at the time, can I hope for a donation from you in the amount of €25 or €10?" the letter read.

Vooglaid declined to disclose to how many people he has sent the request for donations and support. "We will initially send it to our supporters, but it also isn't ruled out that we will go about including a larger circle of people," he explained. "We will also be able to turn to thousands of people by direct mail."

Public Broadcasting Council chairman Rein Veidemann said that the ideological scope of ERR's broadcasts is broad, and this petition is an influencing attempt originating from the extreme.

"Let this remain [Vooglaid's] belief," he said. "These petitions crop up nearly every day. They are coming incessantly from one direction, and thus I would not pay them much heed."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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