TALLINN - The decision by two leading cable companies to scrap a number of Russian-language channels has infuriated Estonia's Russian minority, who have sent an appeal to both Russian and Estonian authorities to have the channels reinstated.
However, the Consumer Protection Board demanded on Jan. 3 that the operators resume transmission of the Russian programs. Board director Helle Aruniit told ETV television that the operators should have notified customers at least one month prior to making changes to their product packages, as pursuant to their agreement.
In the event if the order is not fulfilled and has not been contested by the recipient in accordance with established procedures the board can levy a 10,000 kroon (640 euro) penalty.
STV and Starman, the country's top two cable TV providers, announced last week they would end transmission of programs of several popular Russian TV stations, including the Baltic First Channel (PBK) and RTR Planeta.
STV director general Igor Laev said his company would replace PBK programs with those of TVC Plus, and those of RTR Planeta with Russkoye Kino.
Starman said it would cease transmitting some 10 Russian-language channels, though it did not specify which new Russian language channels it would phase in. Marketing director Henri Treude said, "No new transmission contracts have been signed with the channels in question, but acquiring transmission rights of channels important for our Russian-speaking clients is an activity of the highest priority at the moment."
Two NGOs representing the Russian TV channels' rights in Estonia reportedly failed to sign new agreements with STV and Starman, citing price disagreements.
The news enraged ethnic Russians, who sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin's department for foreign and cultural ties, Modest Kolerov, who recently visited Tallinn.
"Because of a conflict of interest between representatives of [PBK], RTR and NTV on the one hand, and local cable television operators on the other, a large number of Russian citizens and compatriots have been cut off from the Russian information and cultural space," the appeal read.
The authors of the letter 's chairman of the Union of Russian Compatriots Associations in Estonia Sergei Sergeyev, a representative for Integration Media Group Andrei Zarenkov, and chairman of the Russian Student Association, Nikolai Lysov 's did not shy away from bringing nationality into the issue.
"We wish to point your attention not only to the business but also to the political aspect of the situation. In Estonia one can often hear statements by nationalist politicians that if the Russian speaking population can be cut off from the Russian information space it will be easy to assimilate them," the letter continued.
STV and Starman responded by saying their decision to dump the channels was economic, not political. Laev attempted to prove that STV had been seeking lower retransmission fees for some time, yet the firm representing the Russian TV channel in Estonia has "significantly increased" the sums it is asking for rights to retransmit PBK.
"The PBK program shown in Estonia is a cut-down version of the Russian [one]," Laev said. Since the rating of PBK in Estonia is not as good as in Russia, insistence on a higher price for its retransmission was not justified, he explained.
Indrek Ild, sales director of Starman, said the representative for PBK had asked "too high a price" for rights to retransmit the channel along with six more programs included in the same package. He declined to specify exactly how much was asked, but did say Starman had proposed to continue retransmitting PBK without the other six programs.
"The representative for the channel refused to meet us halfway, saying it was going to be either all of the channels or nothing at all," Ild said.
"These conditions didn't satisfy us on economic grounds because a price unrealistically high was asked for the entire package. And the PBK representative in Estonia refused to split the package," he said.