The propaganda portal Sputnik started a new confrontation with the Estonian media. On April 23. the portal presented a complaint to the Press Council, which accused ERR, Postimees and Õhtuleht of publishing false information about Sputnik.
The complaint relates to an incident that was covered by Propastop. In the middle of March, Sputnik sent a letter to the Estonian Defence Forces speculating that a wounded Kuperjanov battalion soldier that was of Russian ethnic background and had been shot when he attempted to escape from the military. The whole incident supposedly happened due to poor ethnic relations in the military unit. The Defence Forces did not respond to the provocative false statement from the propaganda portal but instead sent the letter on to the Estonian media. The media wrote several articles, which relate to Sputnik’s complaint.
The press council’s webpage shows that Sputniks Chief Editor, Elena Cherchashev, each with different media coverage but with similar content, has filed four complaints. According to the complaints, the articles contain false allegations against the Defence Forces with no mention of Sputnik in the complaints.
The Press Council is a self-regulating body for journalism set up by the Estonian Newspapers Association (EALL). Media subscribing to EALL are committed to voluntarily following the code of journalistic ethics. The Council deals with people’s complaints against members of EALL, a sort of ethics committee, as without pay volunteers but able to deal with cases much faster than regular courts. If the Council finds that good journalistic practice has been violated, then the guilty party is obligated to put out a notice to that effect and add a corresponding remark to the original article.
According to Mart Raudsaar, executive director of EALL, this is the first time Sputnik has appealed to the Press Council. „The Press Council has no grounds for not processing Sputnik’s complaints,“ said Raudsaar. „ The Council proceeds on its working statute which says that any physical person or legal entity that has a complaint about material published in the press may appeal the Press Council.“ Raudsaar added that it is likely that Sputnik’s complaint will be dealt with in June and a decision should be reached then.
Propastop predicts that no matter what the decision is, it still will find application in propaganda. If journalism ethics have not been abused, the Kremlin’s propaganda channels will accuse the Council of biased treatment and the persecution of Sputnik. If however it should happen that Sputnik is found vindicated in its claims they can then gloat over the unethical behaviour of Estonian media.
The incident illustrates the extent to which the activities of media propaganda channels in Estonia are not regulated. Openly Estonian- hostile portals that publish daily biased information, lies and fake news, are not subject to any supervisory authority and cannot be forced to rebut their lies. For example, Sputnik cannot be brought forth in front of the Press Council for any wrong doings because they are not a member of EALL.
Propastop hopes that this incident will encourage both the state and professional organizations as well as media outlets to find solutions to help control Russian propaganda channels in Estonia.
A screenshot of the ERR article, which was appealed to the Press Council.
Jelena Tšerõševa. A screenshot of her Facebook profile picture.