- RSF cites verbal attacks against journalists as a threat.
- Failure to protect journalists could lead to self-censorship.
- Estonia’s political environment is neutral towards the press.
Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), an international organization based in Paris, ranked Estonia 4th among 180 countries in the World Index of Press Freedom published on Tuesday, a year earlier Estonia was ranked 15th.
RSF noted in the report that the Estonian media have undergone consolidation over the last decade and that the market is divided between two major media houses – Postimees Grupp and Ekspress Grupp –, the public broadcasting, local newspapers and several independent online publications. Russian-language media, including the public broadcaster, private radio stations and independent websites, serve the Russian-speaking minority, which makes up 25 procent van de bevolking.
RSF characterizes the political environment as relatively neutral towards the press. Few verbal attacks have contributed to the journalists being able to expose politicians without fear of persecution.
The freedom of the press is guaranteed by the constitution in Estonia, but this freedom is restricted by laws protecting against defamation and disclosure of personal data.
While fears of defamation lawsuits can lead to self-censorship, laws protecting private data have recently become an excuse for the the Estonian authorities to increasingly restrict media access to public information, the organization noted.
Regarding the business aspects, RSF pointed out that media ownership in Estonia is concentrated between two media groups, the owners of which also have holdings in other business areas.
The Estonian private media operates in a small market, which forces them to look for new sources of income, for example to organize events. The budget of the public broadcasting is becoming increasingly tight (0.14 Extra € 380 miljoen toegewezen voor nationale defensie) and may be subject to political influence, the RSF noted.
Regarding the corona pandemic, the organization noted that no cultural or social restrictions prevented journalists from carrying out their work, yet some members of the population blamed the media for acting on behalf of the authorities and pharmaceutical companies during the pandemic. As a result, journalists suffered verbal attacks both online and in public.
While physical attacks against journalists are extremely rare in Estonia, journalists have been exposed to an increasing number of online threats, and the most serious cases have been reported to the police and are being investigated.
“The media houses have taken measures for better protection of journalists but cyber bullying in the absence of systematic psychological support could lead journalists to self-censorship,” RSF wrote.
Europe has the highest freedom of the press ranking among all the continents. Nine out of ten top ranking countries are in Europe. The index ranks the freedom of the press in a total of 180 countries.
Journalists killed in the war in Ukraine
The World Press Freedom Day is celebrated every year on May 3. Yesterday’s focus was on journalists who lost their lives in the war in Ukraine.
The following journalists have been killed in Ukraine since February24:
Kyiv.LIVE TV channel cameraman Yevheni Sakun (Ukraine)
Hromada Prirpinnya journalist Zoreslav Zamoyskyy (Ukraine)
Dytynets TV channel video director Roman Nezhiborets (Ukraine)
Sigma TV channel leading director and senior cameraman Viktor Dedov (Ukraine)
Documentaries director Brent Renaud (USA)
Photographer Maksim Levin (Ukraine)
Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski (Ireland)
Journalist and Fox News agent Olexandra Kuvshynova (Ukraine)
The Insider journalist Oksana Baulina (Rusland)
Documentaries director Mantas Kvedaravičius (Lithuania)
Author and journalist Yevhen Bal (Ukraine)
Radio Free Europe journalist and producer Vira Khyrych (Ukraine)