The Russian Embassy and ERR: the opinions of experts


Last week, Propastop published a post about the coverage of the Russian Embassy’s messages on the Russian-language portal of ERR. The activities of our Eastern Neighbor’s Embassy and Ambassador Aleksandr Petrov are reflected in more stories than those of all other embassies in Estonia combined. The Russian embassy also airs on with its topics (Bronze Soldier Repair, Coverage of History, Sputnik V Vaccine), which are not available to any other embassy. Propastop stated the belief that ERR should be more critical of the publication of embassy messages.

The topic was echoed on social media. Propastop also sent a letter to several media experts asking them to comment on the issue raised in the posts. We now publish an overview of different opinions and assessments.

Ilmar Raag, a media expert, ERR’s former head director and program manager, published a strong text about Propastop’s post on Facebook on the same day. Due to the volume of the text, we will publish a short summary, the full version can be read here.

Raag is critical of Propastop’s post and writes that the analysis behind the post is completely unprofessional. Not only should the number of coverage of the messages of the Russian embassy be counted, but also the broader context there. Since the rest of the ERR’s Russian-language press material is balanced and uses sources critical to the Russian regime (such as stories of demonstrations demanding the release of Navalny), then there is no justification for criticizing the Russian embassy’s publication of messages. “It is clear that if the target group of the channel is the Russian-speaking population of Estonia, then it can be assumed, at least to some extent, that they have stronger cultural and other kinship ties with Russia than with France or England, for example,” writes Raag.

Olesja Lagašina, the head of the Russian-language section of Postimees and an associate contributor of ERR, agrees with Raag: “My friendly recommendation: do not look for enemies of the people where they do not exist. Another witch-hunt will not honour you, disrupts the work of journalists and ultimately will divide society. I do not find that the local Russian media, and the ERR in particular, serve the interests of the Kremlin, and I find such an assumption offensive. The discussion itself seems unnecessary to me and Ilmar Raag has already written very well about your methodology, I agree with his opinion, ”replies Lagašina to Propastop’s letter.

Journalist Pavel Ivanov and historian Igor Kopõtin discussed the topic on the Kuku radio show “Kirillitsas Eesti” (“Cyrillic Estonia”). A clear idea is presented from their conversation in that it is reasonable for the Estonian Russian-speaking press to consider the Russian embassy as a source of information, as Estonian Russians have strong ties with Russia. However, it was incomprehensible why Estonian Russian-speaking journalists do not use the opportunity to pose critical questions to the embassy, ​​rather than directly publish the talking points of the Russian embassy. An example of such an attitude brought forth by Ivanov and Kopõtin is the promotion of the Sputnik V vaccine by the Russian embassy.

Communication expert Raul Rebane thinks that the Propastop survey is definitely not enough and more is needed to discuss the trends of the ERR Russian-language portal. “More accurate and thorough research is needed. At the same time, he greatly highlighted the problem that is and will become even more important in the organization of all Estonian lives in the future.

The use of Kremlin propaganda channels in Estonia is again fully normalized. Between programs and texts that are very critical illuminations of us and our lives, Estonian companies calmly buy advertising, which become massive during election periods. Neither businesspersons nor politicians have any problem buying their political messages in between the rows of hostile texts. The political impact of these texts is obvious, the last example is the refusal of part of East-Virumaa’s medical staff to receive the vaccine, because the Russian produced „Sputnik” is better! The source of such an image comes only from the Russian media and information field.

The Center Party’s agreement with a United Russia has cooled down, lapsed or is not politically important to party politicians. Of course, this is not the case, its impact is felt in our lives every day, because the termination of the agreement would affect a very large number of voters living in the Russian information field, and if that is not a policy, what is it?

The Propastop survey was an incentive to sharply raise this issue again. If we do not deal with it now, we will once again discover during the election campaign that a large part of Estonian life is held hostage by voters living in the Russian information field, ”Rebane wrote in a comment to Propastop.

Security and communications expert Eerik-Niiles Kross is more inclined to condemn the editorial practice of ERR. “Public television channels should be at least neutral in covering the activities of the embassies of Russia, China, Belarus and other autocratic countries that are rather hostile to Estonia. For example, it is obvious that at a minimum, Estonia’s official position should also be broadcast on the air during or after press conferences or official talks at the Russian Embassy. Passing messages from countries like Russia without a filter using Estonian taxpayers’ money is irresponsible and may be directly against Estonia’s interests.

It is also obvious that the disproportionate share of coverage of the activities of the Russian embassy compared to the representations of other countries, especially our allies, is a fundamental communication policy omission that the ERR management will hopefully address. The aim of ERR’s Russian-language channel is to offer the Estonian Russian-speaking audience an independent, view of our own coverage of what is happening in the world, not to amplify the messages of non-democratic countries, especially those with documented anti-Estonian information war-like activities, ”Kross writes in response to Propastop’s letter.

Journalist Ainar Ruusaar, a former member of the ERR board, writes in response to a letter from Propastop: Propastop’s statistical study of the diplomatic sources of the Russian-language national broadcasting portal suggests how the agility of the sources on the one hand and the convenience of the editors on the other hand can shift the balance of media coverage. The Russian Embassy in Estonia stands out from other permanent foreign missions located here in that they are not very receptive to Estonian-language media publications and prefer to transmit Russian-language information to Russian-speaking residents through Russian-language channels. Media monitoring could be a monthly tool for all trust-seeking publications. The numerous mentions of Kaja Kallas, Tanel Kiik and Aleksei Navalny in the January news were certainly justified and supported by the events. Edgar Savisaar, once constantly mentioned in the news for many years, is now withdrawn from politics, and even his rare posts in the public media are often not covered.

Russia was, is and will probably remain the most mentioned Estonian neighbouring country in our news in the coming years. However, it would be worthwhile to analyze the content of the information provided by the embassy of this country. It is not possible to find a single embassy press release or news item on the Estonian language website of the embassy. The embassy’s Russian-language page contains quite a number of press releases – from condolences of the death of a World War II veteran to the introduction of study opportunities in Russia and the 77th anniversary of the breakup of the Leningrad blockade. All press releases from the Russian Foreign Ministry can be read in Russian.
It is not really a question of the number of statistical entries of one country or another, but of the checking and balancing of their content. When observing the Russian-language media available in Estonia, which used the Russian embassy as a source very occasionally, one can occasionally find references to the country or to the country’s power figures’ artificial authority. Sometimes messages from hidden sources reach the audience (Ukrainians claim that…).

I would like to read in the Russian language and Estonian language the Russian ambassador’s comments or thoughts on topics that come from the editorial board rather than from the embassy. For example, the already mentioned Navalny political process, Russia’s activities in training history teachers in Estonian Russian schools, the high-level reception of Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tihhanovskaya in Tallinn, or the incumbent government’s confirmation not to start closing Russian schools. What does Ambassador Alexander Mikhailovich Petrov think and can think of on these awkward topics? ”

In addition, Propastop sent letters requesting comments on the topic to Andrei Kraševski, editor-in-chief of the ERR Russian-language portal, Ekaterina Taklaja, editor-in-chief of ETV +, and Tarmu Tammerk, ERR’s ethics adviser, but have not received a reply to date. Andrei Shumakov, the editor-in-chief of Russian-speaking Delphi, was on holiday while asking for a comment.

Ilmar Raag: Ain Liisa /Virumaa Teataja/ Eesti Meedia/Scanpix
Olesja Lagašina: Konstantin Sednev/Eesti Meedia
Pavel Ivanov: Sander Ilvest /Postimees /Scanpix Baltic
Igor Kopõtin: Peeter Langovits /Postimees / Scanpix
Raul Rebane: Urmas Luik / Pärnu Postimees / Scanpix
Eerik-Niiles Kross: Tairo Lutter /Postimees / Scanpix
Ainar Ruusaar: Sander Ilvest /Postimees /Scanpix