The Baltics: Making Sense of the Journalism Next Door


Newspaper readers across the Baltics may see similar newspaper layouts, the same garish eye-catchy headlines and even some of the same article topics. But that’s where the similarity ends. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania may be tiny countries bordering the same Sea, but their media landscapes are as varied as any across the EU.

Estonia as a Leader

If you were to find a Baltic media owner registry, you’d see Estonian newspapers belonging to a well-known Scandinavian media giant. You’d find a Latvian publication owned by a Russian-capital media company. In Lithuania, the scrutiny will turn up mostly Lithuanian ownership.

Media experts say ownership is the first thing to be taken into consideration when explaining the differences between the journalism done in these three nation states.

“Media is not free from the political, social and cultural environment it is in. And the Baltic States are no exception,” said Dainius Radzevicius, chairman of the Lithuanian Journalists Union.

“Estonia has stuck with Finland and Sweden from the beginning, and so eventually its media has done so, developing the Scandinavian media standards. The prevalence of Russians-speakers in some Latvian regions, and their ties to Russia, has had a major clout on the development of the Latvian media and its often the “pro-Russian” stance.”

Due to its Scandinavian ties, Radzevicius said, the Estonian media fares better financially than Latvia’s and especially Lithuania’s.

“Economically, Lithuanian media has been most struggling mostly in the region due to the whopping 21 percent VAT during the crisis years. While it has been reduced to 9 percent from 2013, its ill effect is felt all over,” the chairman noted.

“But regional media in Lithuania is a lot stronger than it is in the other two countries,” he added.

Estonia, he said, is the leader in digital media.

Local Reporters Weigh In

More perspective on the differences in Baltic journalism comes from local journalists.

Kira Savchenko, a Latvian journalist living in London who is a former Economist contributor, says she struggles to find any similarities.

“One of very few of them is probably the Baltic media’s focus on home affairs rather than international events. That is where the economy factor is to be considered. It doesn’t make sense to send local reporters, for instance, to an EU summit. Reuters or Bloomberg will provide exhaustive coverage of it, and it will be easily obtained in one form or another. Tight Latvian media budgets do not allow it to be anywhere nearer EU events. That is why the Latvian media, even national dailies, is mostly covering local economy and politics. To patch up the gap, it relies on translations,” Savchenko said.

She noted Latvian media is “very different from Estonian and Lithuanian” as its Russian language outlets comprise a whopping 40 percent of the Latvian media space.

“It refers to the newspapers, TV, radio and web portals. Sometimes the Russian language is a cause of major political flare-ups as Latvian authorities speaking Latvian sometimes tend to refuse to speak Russian to a Russian language TV and radio,” the Latvian journalist noted.
She insists Estonian media is less affected by the government and local tycoons.

“A good example is that Vladimir Antonov, a businessman and co-owner of the collapsed Snoras Bank. With his strong ties with Russian authorities he wasn’t able to buy Estonian Delfi, a trendy news website, though he had purchased a number of media outlets in Latvia and Lithuania,” Savchenko pointed out.


Dorian Ziedonis, an American living in Latvia and editing the Baltic Times, the only English-language print publication in the Baltics, has a particular view on the Baltic journalists he has worked with.

“Although the journalists I’ve worked with are similar as a breed across the three Baltic states, some Lithuanian journalists can be more nationalistic - some might call it patriotic - about promoting their country and its history in their stories.

“I’ve worked with a few Lithuanian journalists who can be very protective of their work, I’d say sometimes arrogant, and who will battle with any changes or suggestions from the editor or others,” Ziedonis said.

He noted he hasn’t had this kind of experience with Estonian journalists, nor would he expect it with a Latvian journalist.

Investigative journalism is lacking across all three states, Ziedonis said.

“From what I’ve seen, this is still a relatively new area of journalism in the Baltics, and there is a lot to do, in terms of learning the skills needed to do it properly. A lack of support, decent salaries in this area may also be a contributing factor in why it hasn’t yet fully developed,” the Baltic Times editor said.

News Goes Online

Monika Hanley, a journalist in Estonia, said some of the most interesting differences in the Baltic journalism is in terms of the freedom of the press.
“With Estonia ranked 18th in Freedom of the Press Index, and Latvia 27th and Lithuania 28th, it seems that the press in Estonia is a bit more transparent than in the neighboring countries. Besides, Estonia uses internet media much more than the other two Baltic countries, with 77 percent of its population getting news online. This is the result of the Scandinavian influence on Estonian media,” Hanley noted.

When it comes to Latvia, she believes Latvian journalists are more vulnerable to various forms of violence against them.

“I still can hardly forget the case of the gunned-down journalist Grigorijs Ņemcovs in 2010,” she said. “In that sense, Lithuanian journalists are safer.”

Transparency and Access

Karl Haljasmets, another Estonian journalist, said what makes Estonia remarkable is that when an Estonian journalist needs a quotation or commentary from a minister, his or her numbers are quite easily found on the internet. Often, the minister will pick up the call himself.

“You just have to call and tell: “Hi. I am Karl from the publication…Can I ask you a few questions?” And, sure, you will get an exhaustive answer,” Haljasmets noted.

“This is a privilege of a very few well-known journalists in Lithuania. No way will you find here a minister’s cell phone listed anywhere publicly,” said Livija Garajauskiene, a Lithuanian journalist.

Ulma Kavolskaja, a Latvian journalist, concured with her Lithuanian counterpart: “I can hardly imagine that in Latvia.”

Haljasmets said all Estonian politicians and notables “always can be reached though e-mails.”

“And the answer comes in usually in a few days,”  he said.

Tags: local media, lithuania, latvia, freedom of press, estonia, baltic times, baltic states, access,