Insults must not become accepted part of media landscape, says president

President Kersti Kaljulaid.
President Kersti Kaljulaid. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

President Kersti Kaljulaid recently expressed her concerns about political party-controlled media in Estonia, and the scope for attacks on social groups and their lifestyles on such broadcasts.

Appearing on Raadio 4, ERR's Russian-language radio service, on Tuesday afternoon, the president said she was worried such phenomena could become the norm.

"I remember the time when a good colleague of mine on Raadio Kuku (a commerical radio station-ed.) Rein Lang left to enter politics. And others have done the same. Noone had to be asked if they were no longer going to broadcast – the people simply went to the editor-in-chief and said they weren't going to be on air any more," the president said, speaking in Russian.

"This was elementary. We all remember how [Reform Party member] Jürgen Ligi had to step down after referring to [SDE outgoing leader] Jevgeni Ossinovski as the sone of an immigrant, and the reference by [current foreign minister] Urmas Reinsalu to flocks of chickens," she explained.

"I am very concerned that what seemed to me to be a normal situation has now been replaced by a situation where attacks on people, their lifestyles, their children, are totally acceptable in the media, to an extent," she continued, giving two concrete examples – TRE Raadio, owned by Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) MP Siim Pohlak, and Tallinna TV, effectively a mouthpiece for the ruling Centre Party in the Estonia capital.

With rights come responsibilities, the president continued.

"We have the impression that we have absolute freedom of speech. But the danger with freedom is the likelihood of it being abused. Sooner or later, this will become so widespread that we'll start demanding rules and standards. So far, what we might want to regulate by law has stayed at home," she added.

"As soon as you make it the law that you must not spit on the ground, let's say, other offensive things get legitimized. We can't control everything, and that is not our desire either. As a result, some phenomena have to remain a reality in the civic space. I am of the opinion that our legislative framework is sufficient for speecht o remain free, but only if we take responsibility," she continued.

The president also acknowledged that articles published in the international media in Estonia in recent weeks do not benefit the country's reputation, its economy or the well-being of the populace.

"We can take the headline in Bloomberg, that Estonia dreams of a racial purity. Building our reputation has been on-going for 30 years now, and what we've achieved in that time is incredible. We are a small and successful digital country, with our own story in the world.

"However, my question is, what is positive side in what we have received as against the decline in our reputation? I can't see this positive side. This won't help to make our economy grow faster. It's also worth remembering that reputations are destroyed faster than they are built up," she continued, adding that she didn't think most Estonians, especially the younger generation, were not content with simply growing potatoes and keeping cows.

"We need a science-intensive economy. We need a good reputation where Tallinn is seen as a great place to live and work, regardless of skin color," the president noted.

The president was in Germany earlier in the week, and will be in Slovenia Wednesday, and the U.S. from Thursday, ahead of the vote on Estonia's candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the UN's Security Council.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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