The steps taken by Latvia and Lithuania in recent weeks to curb the spread of Russian propaganda have also led to more vigorous containment of the Kremlin funded information channels Sputnik and Baltnews, operating in Estonia.
While individual freedom of speech and plurality of opinion, regardless of content is generally recognized, activities whereby one nation’s state funded activities attempt at dividing another country’s society, can only be regarded as hostile propaganda and must be restricted.
What has been done?
In recent years, there have been many examples of restricting, closing or curbing channels on the Russia Today network.
Latvia closed access to the Baltnews site at the end of July, citing EU sanctions restricting commercial activity in EU member nations. Since the RT ownership of Baltnews is now public, this restriction extended to the channel’s operation in Latvia.
Lithuania restricted access to Sputnik’s site in mid July because the channel used a number of national broadcasting materials in violation of copyright and did not stop doing so after repeated requests. The Radio and Telecommunications Committee has now allowed access again as the channel deleted the infringing material.
In October 2017, the USA decided to require Russia Today associates to register with the foreign agency registry. This was based on the Foreign Agents registration Act (FARA). At the beginning of 2018, Sputnik’s associates were also required to be registered there.
In March 2016, Latvia closed its Sputnik domain Sputniknews.lv. The closure was based on the position of the Latvian Foreign Ministry that the information channel is not a reliable media publication but a propaganda tool. The Ministry referred to stories on Ukraine published in Sputnik that denied the country’s territorial integrity.
Several private companies have also restricted Russia Today and its subsidiaries. For example, Twitter does not allow the purchase of advertising in its environment by Russia Today and Sputnik channels because the platform detected massive intervention in the 2016 USA election. Facebook has closed numerous webpages created by employees associated with Sputnik over the past year.
What can be done?
The above list shows how different countries have used opportunities to limit the spread of propaganda. Without further analysis, it is clear that Baltnews and Sputnik operating in Estonia also share all of these characteristics.
Propastop has published several propaganda attacks against Estonia launched by the Estonian branches of Baltnews or Sputnik.
At the end of 2017, we highlighted five major attacks on Estonia. We have brought out similar cases in subsequent years, not to mention noting the aiding of anti-Estonian activities, where we have reported local Russian minded activists.
In November of last year, we wrote about the possibility of restricting Russian funded TV channels.
There are other solutions besides closing the channels. In 2016, we made a recommendation to flag Russian propaganda channels accessible in Estonia. To inform readers / viewers what content is being broadcast on the channel.
What could be the technical solution?
Let us start by saying that technical restrictions on the Internet do not necessarily last, those that are interested can always find solutions to bypass them. At the same time, it is not necessary to silently tolerate hostile propaganda against our nation and society, perpetrated on Estonian soil as well as give them the opportunity to use Estonian resources for that purpose.
Both information channels of the Russia Today propaganda network operating in Estonia, currently use a web address ending with the Estonian domain.ee (baltnews.ee and sputniknews.ee).
Latvia has now restricted the use of the .lv national domain by both Baltnews and Sputnik. Sputnik’s material was moved after the restriction to https://sputniknewslv.com, which is like any other .com address.
Lithuania continues to allow access to their national domains but restricted access to Sputnik’s webpage material from the country’s Internet network. As a Russian server hosts the website, it is still accessible from outside Lithuania.
In the case of Estonia, the Baltnews material is on Russian servers, but the Sputnik newsletter is on the Zone Media server in Estonia.
After the restriction of Baltnews and Sputnik in Estonia, it is likely that their activities will be relocated elsewhere and will continue for some time to the same extent. By excluding the opportunity to stand out as an Estonian news channel, the Kremlin’s voice is further marginalized. It can expect the same fate as Sputnik in the Nordic countries, where the network itself stopped operating the channel.
We call for further discussions on restricting subsidiary channels in Russia Today Estonia and taking the first possible steps to marginalize Kremlin propaganda channels.
Photos: Ian Britton/Flickr/CC, screenshot from the Lithuanian Television and Radio Committee