The implementation of the MPM2014 for Estonia shows a medium risk for media pluralism in the country. The results collected by implementing the MPM in Estonia, show risks in the country as follows: 35% (12 indicators) of the indicators assess a high risk; 18% (6 indicators) of indicators indicate medium risk, and 47% (16 indicators) refer to low risk.
Graph 7: Average level of risk for each type of indicator – Estonia
Legal Structure Type of Indicators Assessing Risks to Media Pluralism
Indicators assessing the national legal framework show the following level of risks: 7 indicators highlight a high risk (indicators 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 11 and 16), 5 indicators show a medium risk (indicators 5, 6, 10, 12 and 13), and 8 indicators score low risk (indicators 1, 2, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20).
Freedom of expression (indicator 1), freedom of information (indicator 2) are generally guaranteed. Estonia belongs to the group of countries in which there are few laws specifically regulating the media field. Indicator 3, technically, scores high risk, as there is no over-regulation in the media sector.
Indicator 4 on regulatory safeguards for journalistic profession scores high risk: the profession is open. Journalistic sources are protected according to the law: the effective implementation in court cases of this principle is difficult to assess, as protection of sources cases in Estonia are rare. It must be stressed that the Supreme Court of Estonia ruled that online media are responsible also of comments posted online by the users. The case of the portal Delfi, that was considered responsible by the Estonian Supreme Court, was submitted to the European Court of Human Rights that decided with a controversial ruling, that there was no infringement of article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The ruling was referred to the Grand Chamber of the Court.
Estonia is a country running liberal economic principles, introducing the value principles that are directed by the EU. The Electronic Communication Act foresees that two agencies are empowered to supervise the sector. The medium risk for indicator 5 comes from the fact that most government agencies are underfinanced, thus there is no particular discrepancy with the agencies for the media sector.
In Estonia, the law does not address media ownership concentration (except for Article 32 in the Media Services Act, which, however, is a mere declaration and is hard to implement in real life). The results of the pilot-test implementation on this country must be evaluated in the light of the size of the media market (indicator 12). A small country, with a small media market and low GDP, in fact, is more likely to develop a concentrated market. Transparency of ownership (indicator 14) has been legally granted – e.g., access to the commercial register is available online 24/7. The data on a legal entity are stored at the commercial register, the contents of which are publicly available over the internet. Journalists seldom use this information. However, in cases of media acquisition, the media’s attention is strongly drawn to the topic.
Indicators 7, 8, 9 all relate to how media content is regulated. In this respect the last 20-25 years of liberal tradition applies, and the government generally avoids legislating on media content. The risk for indicator 7, for instance, is high, because there is no regulation granting access to the PSM by various social and cultural groups. However, the law prescribes among the functions of the public service that it must (1) “distribute the programmes and media services introducing Estonian culture and society all over the world”, and (2) “transmit programmes which, within the limits of the possibilities of Public Broadcasting, meet the information needs of all sections of the population, including minorities” (Art. 5). The autonomy of the journalistic output is the most esteemed value. In the field of broadcasting it has been insisted upon, both for the public broadcaster (Art. 3 in the Estonian Public Broadcasting Act) and the private broadcasters (Art. 13 in the Media Services Act). Internet traffic management is exceptional (indicator 20) and open internet is de facto protected.
The medium risk for indicator 5 on Regulatory safeguards for the independence and efficiency of the relevant national authorities comes from the fact that most government agencies are being underfinanced. The Competition Authority – more than in any other field in Estonia – regularly specifies the natural monopolies in the field of electronic communication and it imposes the relevant obligations on those who dominate the market. Again, in a small market, a question about the reasonability of fragmenting the market due to economic policy always stands.
When it comes to political communication (indicator 15, low risk), commercial broadcasters have a regulation in one Article of the Media Services Act (regulating communication during the active pre-election period – providing all political subjects with equal opportunities. Before the adoption of the Media Services Act the then Broadcasting Act stipulated that there should be equal access to the electronic media. The regulation of the code of conduct applies also to all broadcasters. Beyond that, the PSB has its own detailed regulation through the Estonian Public Broadcasting Act 1 which states that “the programmes of Public Broadcasting shall be politically balanced.” (Art. 6). These principles have also been enforced by the Principles of Good Practice. In regard to political balance, the document (approved by the PSB’s Broadcasting Council) stipulates that in programmes in which political actors have been involved, the principle of airtime balance shall be applied. As to making complaints, one can apply to the corresponding supervisory body – the Broadcasting Council, in the case of the PSB, and to the Technical Surveillance Authority for cases deriving from the Media Services Act. According to the Constitution, anyone has the right to appeal to the courts under any circumstances, in order to uphold his/her rights. The issues are not very frequently monitored by the supervisory agencies.
There is no advertising allowed in the PSB’s output.
The law does not offer provisions against excessive ownership and/or control of mainstream media by politicians (indicator 16, that, therefore scores high risk), however it does not appear that there is an acute need for this in Estonia. It is unwritten good conduct that politicians do not interfere with media, especially in a disguised manner. It has not been the case in Estonia that politicians hold shares in media undertakings. However, there is not legal framework to prevent them from doing so if they decide to.
The code of ethics for the Estonian press stipulates that “Freedom of communication is the basic premise for a working democratic society, and the free press are the means and prerequisite for attaining it.” (cl. 1.1); “the press and other media shall serve the right of the public to receive true, fair and comprehensive information. The critical observation of the implementation of political and economic power is the main obligation of the press.” (cl. 1.2) and “Editorial staff members may not be obliged by their employer to write or perform any like activity contradicting their personal convictions” (cl. 2.4).
The National Public Broadcasting Act declares that “Public Broadcasting shall be independent in the production and transmission of its programmes, programme services and other media services and shall be guided exclusively by the requirements of law.” (Art. 3).
Indicator 17 scores low risk as to the PSM council. This is appointed by the Parliament’s permanent commission (committee) on culture and the law, which also clarifies rules here (Art.-s 13-22). Inter alia, every political party represented in the Parliament shall be represented by one member on the Council, in addition to four expert members.
Indicator 19 scores low risk, as regulatory safeguards for the objective and independent allocation of resources to PSM exist. Indeed, this result should be read in the general context of the overall budgetary possibilities in Estonia, but studies indicate that even proportionally the PSB is underfinanced for long-term goals. Whilst the financing is not long-term based (allocations given annually from the state budgets) the PSB still writes three-year development plans which indicate the financial needs in detail. On the other hand, the state policy is not to plan the annual state budget by various laws, thus not leaving room for political debate over the state budget allocations. The option to politically determine the financial allocations thus leaves room for the possibility to politically manipulate the PSB. However, this has actually not been the case (i.e., the implementation of politically motivated punitive measures against the PSB).
The official documents of ERR (the PSB) indicate that the public broadcaster has been underfinanced and needs additional professional resources (Loit, U. (2013) Mapping Digital Media. Estonia Report http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/reports/mapping-digital-media-estonia, 34, referring to the Development Plan 2012-2015).
Economic Type of Indicators Assessing Risks to Media Pluralism
Four indicators concerning the economic dimension of media pluralism in Estonia assess a high risk (21, 23, 25 and 26), while only 2 indicators (22 and 24) show a low risk. In Estonia, the media market has an oligopolistic character – as it is tiny and thus cannot accommodate too many owners. The most problematic aspect here is the paucity of local and regional media. Local terrestrial television is disabled due to technological restrictions that are related to the digital turn – it needs to fit into a multiplex that is provided in the state radio frequency plan and, cost wise, it would be preferable to have a national terrestrial coverage, even for local content (as in the case of Tallinn Television (Tallinna Televisioon, TTV). The only locally licenced terrestrial television (Alo TV) ceased to exist after the digital change over on 1st July 2010, and continued on two national cable networks after that. The above-mentioned Tallinna Televisioon, in the capital city, is the only terrestrial television providing local news, but it is broadcast nationally all over the country. This TV-station is predominantly financed by the city government and has been heavily criticised for political favouritism towards the single-party sway in the capital city. The mainstream media also criticises the newspapers issued (and paid for) by local municipalities – mainly for “infringing” the local advertising market. The counter-claim is that the “big media” do not cover local issues sufficiently and the local powers need alternative ways to disseminate their messages. Journalistically, the output varies from papers published under conventional journalistic standards to papers under political influence (offering self-promotion for the local politicians and administration, rather than offering objective information).
The share of local radios is also diminishing. There is no media policy addressing the local media, thereby providing support for the production of high-quality output. The local advertising market is indigent in providing enough resources to run comprehensive media content. Yet, the audience still very much wants this and, for instance, the Estonian Rescue Board relies on local media (especially radio) for crisis management. The latter, again, has no financial backing.
Media for minorities is mostly related to the Russians and Russian speaking minorities. The Estonian media system as a whole has not succeeded in addressing Russian-language Estonian media to this segment of the population. It must be outlined that many Russophones appear to be culturally bound to media produced in Russia, which, for financial reasons, has the capacity to offer incomparably more diverse content than any of the Estonian channels. Daily papers in Russian have not proven to be profitable, whilst the public service Radio 4, in Russian, has been the most, or the second most listened to radio station among Russophones.
There are some linguistic (dialectal) minorities in south-Estonia (Võro, Seto, Mulgi), who receive some subsidies to run their newspaper and newscasts on the national public radio.
Socio-political Type of Indicators Assessing Risks to Media Pluralism
A generally low risk is assessed by combining the indicators included under the socio-political structure. In particular, 6 out of 8 indicators assess a low risk (27, 28, 29, 30, 31 and 32), only one indicator (33 Level of independence of PSM considering mechanisms of its financing) scores a high risk, while the 34 Independence and ownership of news agencies assesses medium risk. However, indicator 29 Political bias in the media, which was measured by a content analysis of TV programmes over only few days, appears to be problematic. During the week designated for the data gathering, the real European Parliament pre-election campaign was in its very initial stages and the full debate occurred only the following week. Either way, the monitored period of time is rather short to be representative.
Indicator 27 Guarantees for universal access to media regarding special needs groups, is essential as an indicator and scores low risk. Indicator 31 Political control over media funding by advertising would benefit from a more detailed definition of “state advertising”. In Estonia, both state and public institutions buy advertising in all media types (public awareness campaigns) and give grants for producing specific programmes or articles. However, “state advertising” does not appear to be a tool with which to unequally distribute state funds among media organisations. In Estonia, the media plan is made by media agencies, based on target audiences and the actual ratings of the chosen media. Some public campaigns are run through the Broadcasters Association, during which the particular ad is on air in all member stations. Altogether, this is a “grey area” in terms of the transparency in using state funds, and this is difficult to track. However, there is no evidence that advertising that is bought by the state institutions would unavoidably induce “political control over media”.
Since 2002 the law prohibits advertising on PSM and therefore its only source of financing would be allocations from the state budget. The allocations are not made by the government, but by the Parliament according to routine parliamentary procedures. They include at least some political debate and economic reasoning. It is the general level of national need, which influences the distribution of funds. This was a political decision not to bind PSM’s financing with long-term state obligations. In the years of economic recession the finances of the PSM have also been cut (indicator 33).
Graph 8: Level of risk for each risk domain – Estonia
 CMPF (source http://www.openforumacademy.org/library/ofa-research/OFA%20Net%20Neutrality%20in%20the%20EU%20-%20Country%20Factsheets%2020130905.pdf)