In mid-April, at the peak of the coronavirus, there was news that Estonia had dropped three positions in the press freedom index and is now ranked at 14th. One of the reasons for the decline is the suspension of Sputnik Estonia’s operations.
Propaganda and political pressure
The website of the report contains an overview of each country, where the result is presented together with a brief description of the reasons for its formation. The Estonian part contains a summary entitled “Russian Propaganda and Political Pressure”.
In the summary, we can read about three reasons that influenced the result, one of which, concerning the suspension of Sputnik’s activities, is quite ambiguous: “Another factor that defines the discussion on press freedom in Estonia is Russian propaganda. At the end of 2019, Estonia forced the closure of the pro-Kremlin editorial office of Sputnik in Tallinn.
The authorities based their move on the fact that EU sanctions have been imposed on the CEO of the umbrella organization of Estonian Sputnik for undermining Ukraine’s territorial integrity. As a follow-up, the Russian government launched a global campaign against Estonia, claiming that Estonia is oppressing the Russian media. ”
Although the above is quite general, it can be read that the compilers of the index consider Kremlin-minded, state-funded, propaganda to be free press and the application of European Union sanctions as restricting the freedom of press.
Yana Toom read about the negative impact of the suspension of Sputnik’s activities on the index. According to Toom, she was surprised that one of the reasons for the decline of Estonia’s position was what happened to Sputnik. According to Toom, considering the overall anti-Russian background, this is a good message.
The news of the fall in the press freedom index received lively attention in the Russian media, as it was a continuation of the campaign against Estonia for suspending the activities of the Sputnik editorial board.
Although the methodology of the index is available on the website of the Journalists with Borders, it is not clear on what informational basis Estonia lost their placing at this time. Estonia has remained in the high 11th place for years.
Russia’s active work towards Reporters Without Borders
The Russian media reports that several attempts have been made to bring the issue of closing the Sputnik editorial board to the leaders of Reporters Without Borders. For example the editor-in-chief of Estonia Sputnik, and the executive director of Russia Today, met at the Russian Embassy in Paris with Christophe Deloir, Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders.
Russia Today also sent a written statement to the organization compiling the index, in response to which Jeanne Cavelier, the head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia section of Reporters Without Borders, promised to investigate the situation in Estonia and consider making a public statement about it.
At the moment, it is difficult to assess whether the fall in the press freedom index is the first real result of Russia’s campaign against Estonia. Russia’s lobbying in international organizations to put pressure on Estonia is quite considerable, and the Estonian press should ask the leaders of Reporters Without Borders for explanations as to why the fight against Kremlin-like propaganda worsened Estonia’s position.
Photo: Screenshot from the Press Freedom Index page