Media Landscapes

Estonia

Written by Urmas Loit

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Estonia, a small country on the Baltic Sea, has spent the past 20 years transitioning from a colonial territory within the USSR into an independent democracy; it became the member state of the European Union in 2004. Five daily newspapers serve the population, which is 1.36 million. A plethora of weekly papers and magazines, nine domestic television channels and over 20 radio stations are available within the 45,000 sq km of Estonia.
 
The national structure of the country is comprised of two relatively detached communities: ethnic Estonians (927,000) and a Russian-speaking community, which predominantly consists of settlers from the Soviet era. These two communities can be characterised by their distinctly separate media consumption patterns. Traditionally, Estonians have been avid readers, listeners and viewers.

Media consumption is an integral facet of everyday life in Estonia. Regular newspaper readers make up 74.3 percent of the population (Estonians: 76.3 percent, Russian-speakers: 70.2 percent); 58.9 percent (Estonians: 71.8 percent, Russian-speakers: 32.2 percent) read magazines regularly. Consumption of print media is decreasing with the exception of regular newspaper reading by Russian-speakers. The average inhabitant of Estonia listens daily to radio for four hours and four minutes and watches TV for another four hours and nine minutes per day.
Sixty-seven percent of the population has used the Internet during the past six months (Source: TNS EMOR, 2008). Internet usage seems on a permanent upswing while rates of TV consumption are stable and radio listening has decreased.

Broadcasting is a notably more trusted medium than newspapers. According to Eurobarometer (2008) 74 percent of all Estonians trust or generally trust television content, compared to 48 percent for print media. Public service broadcasting is trusted about 25 percent more than private broadcasting (76 percent versus 59 percent) (Source: Turu-uuringute AS, January 2009). The trust rating for Internet news portals is 45 percent, up from over 50 percent in 2003.

The press has fully moved away from state control and is now an independently run sector. Newspaper privatisation took place at the beginning of the 1990s on a case-by-case basis, with the government agreeing that it should no longer be involved in newspaper publishing.

The newspaper sector, like the rest of media, is characterised by heavy concentration of ownership but the market has stabilised since major mergers in 1998. Two major publishing groups dominate the national market: Postimees Group (part of Eesti Meedia) and Ekspress Group.

In 1998, two Scandinavian media companies, Sweden’s Marieberg and Norway’s Schibsted, made important acquisitions in Estonia that further strengthened media concentration. Marieberg sold its possessions back to Estonian owners in 2001.

Mainstream newspapers in business as of the third quarter of 2009 were as follows: five national dailies (four in Estonian, one in Russian), eight weeklies (five in Estonian, three in Russian) and 23 independent regional papers (18 in Estonian, five in Russian). In addition, several municipalities publish their messengers on weekly or monthly bases; many of them craft these according to journalistic convention. The overall estimated number of newspaper titles in Estonia is 155, including newspaper-like publications and advertising papers (statistics by the National Library, 2008). Circulations figures for all papers have substantially decreased. The combined daily circulation of all the member papers of the Estonian Newspaper Association in 1992 was 831,400. In 2005 it was 543,600; in 2009 it was 491,300. The circulation of bigger national daily papers remains under 60,000 (Postimees, Õhtuleht) About 40,000 bigger weeklies are circulated (Maaleht, Eesti Ekspress). Circulation of regional (daily) papers is between 3,000 and 14,000.

The newspaper sector has maintained its majority share in total advertising expenditure although gradually ceding this to television. In 2004 the newspapers’ advertising share was 44.5 percent compared to televisions’ 25.6 percent. In the first half of 2009 the proportions were 32:30 percent in favour of newspaper industry.
The print media continues to enjoy a 0 percent value added tax for subscriptions although single copy sales are taxed with the regular rate of 20 percent (up to July 2009, it was 18 percent).

Family, home and lifestyle magazines lead the magazine market; they are the most commercially oriented magazines. Publications for youth and children, comics, travel, vocation and sports are considered by the University of Tartu (2005) to be partially commercially oriented. The rest (including the popular science, professional, trade and hobby magazines) are considered socially oriented magazines as their circulations are low. The number of magazine titles in Estonia is 332 (statistics by the National Library, 2008). According to more stringent classification y the researchers of the University of Tartu this number might be 147, as this group considers only about one in seven periodical publications to be magazines (Meediasüsteem ja meediakasutus 2004: 76).

The number of popular magazines was considerably decreased in 1998 when several (competing) magazines of the same type merged during a merger of two competing publishers. Also, in 2008 and 2009 a number of magazines have been either shut down or merged because of the slack economic period.

The Estonian audience can listen to five public and 25 private radio programmes, provided by one public broadcaster (Rahvusringhääling) as well as 15 private broadcasters. Among the biggest radio broadcasters are Sky Media Group and the Trio Radio Group. Both operate six programmes, most of them distributed nationally; the two broadcasters combine to own about two thirds of the total radio advertising market. The third player, part of the international MTG group, The Mediainvest Holding Ltd., operates two music radio programmes.

Programmes of the public radio air across nationwide coverage areas delineated by law while private stations are limited to semi-national coverage areas provided by ‘regional’ licenses.

Along with the public service broadcaster, Radio Kuku is the only commercial nationwide talk-radio programme (part of Trio Radio Group). Also the two Christian radio stations – Pereraadio and Raadio7 – provide a talk programme; the locally oriented radios (eight in total) do have some talk features in their formats. All radio stations broadcast terrestrially; most of them have a parallel stream running on the Internet. Digital radio has not been implemented and probably shall not be in the probable future.

The public service broadcaster Eesti Rahvusringhääling (ERR) runs two channels. Eesti Televisioon (ETV) airs general-audience programming in Estonian. The bulk of the programming on ETV2, which launched as a digital channel, is in Estonian too. It does include a daily newscast and some feature programmes in Russian as well as Estonian programmes with Russian subtitles.

Estonian viewers can watch several private national TV channels, the number of which has increased within the digital switch. Still, Kanal 2 and TV3, which continue to broadcast also in analogue mode, dominate on the television market along with analogue ETV1.

Scandinavian operators dominate the private television sector. Norway’s Schibsted owns Kanal 2 (which also runs the digitally-distributed Kanal 11) and Sweden’s MTG Group owns TV3 (which also runs digitally-distributed TV 6). Other channels distribute either locally (until the digital switchoff) or via cable networks (Alo TV, Telekanal Seitse, TV 14 and some other locally distributed channels in cable) and have marginal daily shares.

Estonians prefer domestic programmes while Russian speakers like those broadcasted from Russia. Channels from the Russian Federation (as well as other pan-European satellite channels) can be watched on cable networks. Most urban areas have been covered by cable television networks, which are being remodelled into digital networks within broadband data communication service packages.

Digital television was introduced swiftly. All television channels broadcast digitally; only three long-standing players – ETV1, Kanal 2 and TV 3 – will continue to broadcast also in the analogue mode until the final switchoff on 30 June, 2010. When the only local television network – Alo TV – also ceases broadcasting locally on air, there will not be any local television in the digital era. From that point the only television players will be either ‘regional’ or ‘national’. Standing in autumn, 2009, digital television will take the form of satellite broadcasting (Viasat), terrestrial broadcasting and also cable. The biggest telecommunication operator, Elion, distributes the digital TV signal in the form of IPTV. The additional digital services along with streamed programming have not been yet introduced in the Estonian television market.

The Estonian film industry, which in 2012 celebrates its 100-year anniversary, has predominantly been famous for animation and documentaries. The number of produced full-length figure films coming out of Estonia has annually been around two to five since 1955 (with some exceptions), as befits a small state.

Fifty-eight locally produced films premiered in Estonia in 2008. This figure included five feature films, seven animation films and 38 documentaries. The Estonian Film Foundation, the main financing institution for the film industry in Estonia, aided eight short feature films in 2008, a hefty load. In total, the film production was subsidised with 95m Kroons (6.1m euro) from the public funds, mainly from the bankrolls of the Estonian Film Foundation, the Cultural Endowment, and the Ministry of Culture. Because of the economic recession, this financing has decreased for 2009. Along with support for production and distribution, film festivals and other film-related activities figure on the donation list.

During 2008, 166 films (including 17 domestic movies) premiered in the cinemas of Estonia. The annual number of admissions was 1.63m (1.22 per capita). The number of cinemas has decreased dramatically since the 1980s. As of at 2008, there were 49 screening places in Estonia with a  total of 67 screens, including 10 permanently working cinemas of which three were multiplex cinemas.

As of January, 2001, the telephony market has been open for competition. The hitherto monopoly Eesti Telefon (currently Elion) has several competitors, among them mobile telephone companies and cable TV operators. The former solely cable TV companies (STV, Starman) have recently introduced so-called triple packages: phone, broadband Internet and cable television. The former telephony monopoly Elion offers the same triple package. Cable TV is provided in analogue and in digital modes.

The rate of computerisation and Internet penetration in Estonia is comparatively high. Sixty-three percent of all households have an Internet connection. Eighty-seven percent of offices are computerised and 99 percent of those have Internet connections. Around 60 percent of the total population has used the Internet during the last week (Data of Fall 2009).

Web portals started as advanced search engines and www-catalogues in the late 1990s which by the turn of the century developed into several types of portals, including the news portals.

The biggest, thriving and influential news portal is Delfi.ee, operated by the Express Group. This portal produces along with references to other media sources some original content (including video and podcast) with the emphasis on headlines and the opportunity to comment on the news. Comment sections have invoked several debates and court cases about the liability of the media owner for the comments left by the visitors. Delfi.ee runs also a portal in the Russian language. The company has affiliations with other Baltic states and Ukraine.

Most Estonian-language newspapers have online versions. The bigger newspapers presently employ separate staffs for the paper and online editions. Also, the contents of the two versions are, to great extent, separated. Online versions of the newspapers can be accessed for free; the attempts to charge the readers have as yet failed. In 2009, Postimees, Eesti Päevaleht and some other newspapers declared they would limit the availability of the stories from the paper version online with intentions to charge for using the archive and the paper-version online.

The Public Service Broadcaster, Eesti Rahvusringhääling, runs an online news portal that often serves as an agency source for radio stations, as does the Baltic News Service and dailies’ online versions. The public service broadcaster, as well as Kanal 2 and TV 3, makes available its television programmes on demand.

Most terrestrial radio programmes can be listened to online. The public service broadcaster, radio Kuku (a talk station run by the Trio Radio Group) and some other radio stations make their talk programmes available as on-demand archives.

The blogging versus journalism discussion has also instituted itself in Estonia and debates are ongoing.

Although the share of Internet advertising has been constantly rising in the total advertising expenditure (3 percent in 2004; 11 percent in first half of 2009), experts and industry professionals often conclude the cash flow still remains insufficient for cost benefit.

Digitally distributed media in Estonia have been described in sections 3.2. (Television), and 4.1. (Online). Some initial steps have been made to provide a limited selection of TV clips for mobile phones.

There is one news agency operating in Estonia: the Baltic News Service (BNS), which is a regional news agency covering Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Finnish company Alma Media owns BNS.

The domestic Estonian News Agency (Eesti Teadete Agentuur, ETA) was privatised in 2000 and went into bankruptcy three years later.

The main media organisations are the Newspaper Association (defining itself as a multitask organisation for newspaper publishers, editors and journalists), and the Association of Broadcasters (representing the interests of commercial broadcasters, both television and radio). The Journalists’ Union plays the role of a trade union as well as that of a professional guild.Media educators have formed the Association of Media Educators. Independent producers in the audiovisual sector have a representation body as do advertising agencies. While associations of publishers and broadcasters assemble most of the players of the broadcast sector, most active journalists have not affiliations with a journalists’ union.

Almost every municipality (both urban and rural) publishes a messenger-type outlet, which often takes the shape of a traditional newspaper. These newspapers are usually issued as independent editions, although the mainstream media (the Newspaper Association) declares them to be non-newspapers. Occasionally these outlets are accused of political bias; municipalities inconsistently take editorial independence, especially on the eve of elections. But municipalities accuse the independent media of paying insufficient attention to local issues and deliberately leaving certain issues uncovered. Regardless, municipal papers in some areas have proved to be important sources of local information. In some cases they are distributed on a subscription basis.

The constitution grants freedom of expression. From a legislative point of view, Estonia offers a liberal environment for the media. No “media law” exists; print media issues are covered by general laws, sometimes leaving unregulated areas. No license, permit or registration is required to set up a newspaper.

The Broadcasting Act, passed in 1994, regulates broadcasting. The law was brought in line with EU directives and is currently under revision in the light of a recent EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive. As of 2005 the Act on Electronic Communication entered into force. In combination with the Broadcasting Act, this law delineates competencies for the Ministry of Culture, which issues the broadcasting licenses (for content), and the Estonian Technical Surveillance Authority (known prior to 2008 as the Communication Board), which issues technical licenses. According to amendments made in 2001, there is no advertising in public service broadcasting; as of July, 2002 it was excluded from public television. In 2005 ads were removed from public radio.

Provisions for public service broadcasting were codified in a separate law in 2007, inter alia merging public radio and public television into one solid company as of June, 2007. This law specifies the objectives and functions of the public service broadcaster, also setting the rules for output quality.

Issues contributing to concentration of ownership have been poorly and inconsistently regulated. The only law to mention in this realm is the Broadcasting Act. It says a broadcasting licence cannot be issued to an applicant who would contingently become a cross media owner (simultaneously a broadcaster and a publisher). But it provides no solution for the case in which the cross media ownership emerges during the validity period of the broadcasting licence. Moreover, the anti-concentration provisions have not been excessively implemented. According to some evaluations, in such a small market concentration to a large extent is inevitable, mainly due to lack of investments and other resources.

The Law of Obligations Act covers libel cases. In libel, the burden of proof rests with the media. The Copyright Act, Competition Act, Language Act, Advertising Act, State Secrets Act and the Public Information Act also impact the press in Estonia.

There is no fixed state subsidy system for the press (or private broadcasting) in Estonia.

Statutory rules regulate the broadcasting and advertising sectors while the written press relies on self-regulation.

A notice-and-take-down policy has being introduced to anonymous comment sections online, a forced outcome of some corresponding law court rulings.
Internet companies have tried to decline their liability for the content of the anonymous comments readers may add to editorial news items. Media sites do not produce this content — rather, it is user-generated— and some websites do not pre-review user-generated content at all.

The notice-and-take-down policy relies on readers to report “bad” comments, which consequently shall be removed from the website by the editorial board..

As a result of dissentions on principles of self-regulation, two press councils have existed since 2002. The majority of mainstream media organisations (including online media and TV broadcasters) only recognise the press council that is affiliated with the Estonian Newspaper Association. The original press council works jointly with the Journalists’ Union, still finding cooperation with some media outlets and channels.

In December, 1997, the Estonian Newspaper Association passed a Code of Press Ethics. It was promptly approved by the broadcasters. This code has served as a source document for the press councils. Public involvement in discussion about media quality is poor.

Media issues are under the governance of the Ministry of Culture. As mentioned above, this body acts as a regulator for broadcasters: issuing licences and supervising the implementation of the Broadcasting Act. It also handles copyright issues and supervises compliance with the Act to Regulate Dissemination of Works Which Contain Pornography or Promote Violence or Cruelty.

For the latter task, the Ministry has instituted a commission to evaluate the cases under discussion. The rest of the media landscape gets is rarely the sights of the Ministry. Even in matters considering rebroadcasting the Ministry has declared that its broadcasting policy appears is without a formulated policy paper.

Advertising issues are under scrutiny of the Consumer Protection Board.

The Public Broadcasting Council, a body appointed by parliament, supervises public service broadcasting. In total, there are nine members in this council, five of them politicians and four from related professions.

Academic education for journalism (on a bachelor’s level along with public relations; on a master’s and doctoral level as an individual curriculum) is provided in the public University of Tartu.

The Tallinn University (also public) affiliates with the Baltic Film and Media School, which is the only university in northern Europe teaching film, television and media in English.

In 1995, Estonian media organisations – the Newspaper Association and the Association of Broadcasters – founded a Media College Foundation with the intention of establishing a vocational school for training professional journalists and to compete with the department of journalism of the University of Tartu. The idea never materialised because of the absence of appropriate investments. The media industry was not prepared to contribute financially itself. The Estonian Media Center acted as a sporadic provider of short-term training courses mainly financed by Denmark’s Baltic Media Center until 2002.

TNS EMOR conducts regular measurements of TV and radio audiences, as well as advertising expenditure surveys. Most of this information is available on request, for a fee. Other social and market research companies – Saar Poll, Turu-uuringute AS  – conduct sporadic media-related research. As highlighted in section 2.1., the Estonian Newspaper Association regularly collects data about its member newspapers’ circulation.

The future will probably bring further media concentration, as the state’s media policy remains quite liberal toward this issue as well as toward the media issues in general. Because of the ongoing economic recession, shutdowns, dismissals and retrenchment can be predicted. This could mean lowering the media’s output quality, including further tablodisation.

Some pressure may come from private television organisations hoping to postpone the switchover to digital broadcasting, as the audience has not yet been adequately equipped with digiboxes.

Very likely the newspapers’ online editions shall start charging the readers for the access, although this plan may face major resistance from the consumer side; readers are accustomed to free use.

Television’s share of total advertising expenditure will likely continues to grow on account of print media and first time in the history shall exceed it.

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Urmas Loit
University of Tartu
Ülikooli 18
50090 Tartu, Estonia
Tel: +372 7 375 188
Email: urmas.loit@ut.ee
Website