The Estonian press protests against the infringement of freedom of speech in the country. Many Estonian newspapers were published with at least one blank page on March 18. Some publications wrote: “This is how the future of the press will look like if the Estonian parliament passes the bill about the protection of 656 SE sources.” Estonia’s large newspapers, such as Postimees, Eesti Paevaleht, Ohtuleht, Eesti Ekspress and Maaleht took part in the action.
The bill stipulates the mandatory exposure of news sources upon request from the authorities. The document therefore disrupts many journalist investigations. Journalists very often use the information provided to them on conditions of anonymity.
A refusal to meet the requirement in the bill will entail either a large fine or even a prison term.
“For many years we have been taking freedom of journalism for granted. The freedom of press guarantees true information about events happening in the country. This law restricts the rights of the media to collect information,” Posteemes newspaper wrote.
Estonian journalists say that the bill does not make exceptions for materials related to corruption. Nevertheless, the former prime minister of the country, Mart Laar, said that it was wonderful to live in a country where the press could conduct such actions and express its attitude to bills.
Strangely enough, international human rights organizations, such as Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House share the same approach. They characterize Estonia as a state that achieved significant progress in observing freedom of press.
It is possible that the bill will be blocked because it contradicts to the laws of the European Union. Estonia is a EU member and must therefore fully acknowledge the defense of journalistic sources to guarantee freedom of press.
Mart Laar also believes that the bill will most likely not pass through the parliament.
Estonian journalists said that it was not the first time when the nation’s authorities attempted to ruin the freedom of press in Estonia. Corruption-related cases would often be heard at closed court sessions in spite of the fact that their public coverage would comply with the terms of a democratic society.
Mikhail Aleksandrov, a senior expert with the Institute for the CIS, told Pravda.Ru that there was a very specific level of democracy in Estonia.
“The level of democracy there is similar to that in Ancient Athens. Not all residents of Athens enjoyed equal rights. It was the democracy for the privileged. Estonia has the same democracy. The Estonian democracy is a profanation, and the nation’s media must of course serve it.
“As a matter of fact, Estonia has never had democracy per se. It’s rudiments during the 1920s fell into decline already during the 1930s when a police regime was established there. The fact that the government cracks down on the media now shows that Estonia is in a state of severe crisis at the moment.
“As for the EU’s position, they will of course criticize it a little if it is passed. But no one will make Estonia make a step back. Europe’s principle here is to avoid any serious reactions not to ruin the official reputations of Riga and Tallinn. The European Union needs them as a safety barrier with Russia,” the expert said.