Time to put a stop to destructive propaganda?
The saturation of Russian media into Estonia has prompted many voices to insist on some form of blockage or censorship. The idea would certainly clash with the reputation Estonia has gained internationally: One of the countries whose freedom of the press and expression has been ranked at the very top.
(It's interesting to note that with Estonia ranked as number one in freedom of the internet, Russia in contrast, on August 1st, started enforcing a new law that "frees popular web sites from anonymity". Protesters have insisted that the enforcement of non-anonymity is just an excuse to silence opponents of the government, in fact an excuse to block that commentary that had made the web sites popular. The law demands that all web sites that have more than 3000 visitors daily reveal the names of all commentary authors and the registration of these individuals upon demand. Fines of 50,000 are foreseen for transgressors. Already three sites were blocked in March. Government opponents have used Facebook, Twitter, LiveJournal and other social media channels as their main modes of communication.)
For Estonia just unplugging one or two TV connections wouldn't do the job. If the TV signal used only cable the possibility for approving or rejecting programming might be effective. But what about a satellite TV signal? Or the internet, e-mail, Face book, Twitter, etc?
It's been said that if governments choose to eliminate, for instance, TV channels they deem to be harmful or propagating hatred, the concept of implementing official censorship procedures becomes attractive – an easy solution. Eventually this wouldn't be done just in the interest of the state or society but also for day-to-day political reasons.
Restrictions governing programming already exist in Estonia. Content that is deemed to be pornographic cannot be broadcast during prime time. In state emergencies or crises broadcasters are required to immediately broadcast, unchanged, all government messages.
Propaganda from a foreign source inevitably reaches those who are not direct users of those Russian language TV channels or web sites. Witness the Estonian language web sites that filled with comments that fully echoed Moscow's official positions on developments in Ukraine.
A much more dramatic example of Estonian language media carrying pro-Putin commentary and opinion are the media outlets controlled by Edgar Savisaar's Centre Party. Periodicals Kesknädal, Pealinn and Roheline Pealinn seem to repeat, often word for word, the official statements regarding the Ukrainian crisis as released by the Kremlin. Articles with headlines such as, "A government of bullies" (referring to the Ukrainian government), "Savisaar to the media: don't rush to Putin's defence" (in fact an article justifying Russian actions), "Turning the war into profit" and "Two-faced" (two articles referring to how Estonia's official pro-Ukraine position will enrich businessmen), "The Kiev sniper incident must be investigated" (article accuses pro-European Ukrainian demonstrators in Kiev of fomenting anti-Russian feelings by staging the shooting of Ukrainian demonstrators and blaming pro-Moscovites), "The European Union will not bring riches", (article stating that the EU is not for Ukraine).
The March 3 issues of Pealinn and Kesknädal carried articles on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Tallinn. Throughout the Soviet period the official version of the bombings had German warplanes attacking civilian targets in the capital. It was just in recent years that Moscow acknowledged that Soviet planes were the actual transgressors. But in the recent Centre Party publications that fact had no mention.
Who is to decide whether media content reflects a legitimate alternative argument or is blatant, unaltered propaganda. Oftentimes that which could be classified as Russian propaganda by Estonians would sometimes be seen as freedom of expression by Russian speakers.
The Pro Patria/Res Publica party submitted to the Estonian parliament for consideration a proposal to stablish a Parliamentary commission to monitor Russian television broadcasting in identifying propaganda meant for political influence and to place restrictions on that category of programming. The party explained that the proposal was not to be used for establishing restrictions but rather to offer solutions such as increasing state-run Russian language broadcasting and the initiation of a European Union Russian language network.
The party has indicated that Russian propaganda in the Ukrainian context has become wildly aggressive. Latvia and Lithuania have temporarily shut down channels carrying 'illegal propaganda'. This is in relation to national security issues.
The idea of establishing a Russian TV station by the Estonian state needs further thinking critics say. It is one thing to have objective, accurate programming covering breaking news and the accompanying commentary, but Estonians could never compete with the entertainment portion of broadcasting content, that which to a great extent determines relative popularity of the station and provides the audience numbers to justify the station's existence.
Critics of a government run Russian language TV station stress that it could not possibly compete with channels based in Russia, especially with their entertainment portion – that which to a great extent draws the audience. Estonia should not be worried over that aspect of broadcasting. But Estonia's realistic goal could be the education of the audience of Russian language broadcasting that the non-entertainment portion is cheap propaganda, in fact an insult to the intelligence of the audience, programmed by arrogant, manipulative psy-war specialists.
The nurturing of this immunity against propaganda is an achingly slow and difficult process. Credible and truthful history lessons in school is part of that development. The patience of Estonians must be sustained longer than one election period.
Eesti Elu Nr. 33 - 19. august 2022 DIGILEHT
Kõik numbrid koos sisukorraga: www.issuu.com/estonianlife
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