At the end of 2020, the Russian Embassy in Estonia organized a press conference. Looking at the activity with which the Estonian media channels covered the event, Propastop became interested in the connections between Estonian publications and local embassies.
To illustrate the situation, we looked at the Russian-language editorial of the national broadcaster rus.err.ee and counted all the times in 2020, when the word посол (Ambassador in Russian, as well as part of the word embassy) was mentioned in the stories. We picked out all the foreign embassies in Estonia from the results and looked at who gets written about and in what tone.
Can we confirm the hypothesis that publications are particularly open to the messages from the Russian embassy?
More than half of the mentions are about Russia
Last year, the Russian-language portal ERR published 82 stories (you can find an overview of them here), which mentioned embassies and ambassadors in Estonia.
Eight countries were limited to one mention; two articles mentioned the ambassadors of Finland, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Ukraine or Brazil. The USA and China had four articles, six on the Moldovan embassy and seven on the Belarusian embassy.
However, as many as 45 stories, or 55% of all articles, concerned the activities of the Russian Embassy in Estonia and Ambassador Aleksandr Petrov. At the same time, many embassies are not mentioned at all. For example, neighboring Latvia and Estonia’s important ally the United Kingdom are ignored, both with exactly zero coverage.
Russia is in the picture
There is a difference between mentioning and being mentioned. Some embassies are mentioned in a short sentence in the text, others are included in the heading, and their story is quoted or mediated in the form of an interview, in either audio or video. Some of the ambassadors are also in photos.
The Russian Embassy again gets preferred treatment with higher quality coverage.
Embassies or ambassadors are in the headlines of 24 articles, with as many as 19 of them being about Russia. Of the other embassies, Moldova, Finland, Georgia, the USA and China, are in the headlines all at once.
Video or audio interviews have been conducted with the people from embassies 17 times, of which 12 are interviews with the ambassador, an embassy adviser or other person in charge from the Russian embassy. People associated with the Swedish, German, Finnish, Belarusian and Lithuanian embassies are interviewed only once.
If the article is illustrated with a photo, it is usually Ambassador Aleksandr Petrov or the Russian Embassy. Other ambassadors have only had their photo posted once; the lucky individual was the attractive former Georgian ambassador to Estonia. Of course, Petrov also looks good in the pictures, but this does not justify such a one-sided photography policy.
Kremlin talking points are being published without criticism
The Kremlin embassy’s talking points are thoroughly covered. ERR’s Russian-language portal covers our neighbour’s embassy in matters concerning inter-state movement, as well as when the bronze soldiers monument is being repaired, paying pensions to veterans or talking about a Russian vaccine. ERR distributes social media posts from the Russian Embassy and provides links to the embassy’s social media account. Petrov is even invited as a studio guest-expert in a discussion program about various interpretations of history.
No other embassy can come close with the amount of its talking points, as a rule, the stories are limited to one topic. For example, in the case of the embassies of Belarus and Moldova, it is about elections, for Finland it is about entry issues, for China, being mentioned in the KAPO (security police) yearbook.
On the other hand, only four or five articles are critical of the activities of the Russian Embassy.
Why is ERR so favourable to the Russian embassy?
The number of Russian citizens in Estonia can explain part of the attention given to the actions of the Russian Embassy, with near 89,000 at the beginning of 2019.
The subsequent articles on embassies does not correlate with the number of citizens of these countries in Estonia. For example, the Ukrainian embassy (with almost 10,000 individuals in Estonia, 9x fewer citizens than Russian citizens) has been mentioned only twice (22x less coverage), in connection with the plane crash in Iran. In addition, Finland’s nearly 9,000 local citizens living in Estonia does not correlate with having only two articles.
Propastop considers the reason for the situation to be that Russian authorities have seized the potential that the Estonian Russian-language media offers to spread its messages. Through a common language space, Russian-language editorials have been force fed in to express the Kremlin’s talking points with little filtering and to show Petrov as an important opinion leader. The publications act as the Kremlin’s news agencies.
Estonian publications do not seem to have an understanding of their role in publishing information from the Russian embassy. According to Propastop, ERR must review the principles of reflecting the Kremlin’s messages and be more critical of information from a regime hostile to Estonia.
Pictures: screenshots, in the picture Russian Ambassador to Estonia Aleksandr Petrov. Infographics: Propastop