TALLINN - Prime Minister Andrus Ansip spoke against establishing a separate television channel for Estonia's Russian-speaking population last week, saying that "it wouldn't be worth it."
"Setting up a Russian television channel in Estonia would cost a minimum of 300 million kroons (19.2 million euros) annually, but the viewership is conservative and we cannot be certain the new channel will attract a sufficient number of viewers," the head of government said June 27 in an interview with Radio 4. His comments were in response to a proposal made by Parliament's opposition.
As Ansip sees it, more attention should be paid to opportunities offered by other, more modern forms of media - above all digital channels.
"Young people, for instance, watch those same TV programs on the Internet. Therefore, with the interests of Estonia's Russian-speaking viewership in mind, it would be more expedient to develop those ideas with new kinds of mass media," he said.
Yet the PM emphasized the necessity to develop progressive ideas on how to interest Russian-speakers in the country's news and politics. He pointed to the Russian edition of the Postimees daily as a positive example. "No one expected this publication to become so popular with Russian-speaking readers," Ansip said.
In mid-June, parliamentary factions of the oppositional Res Publica and Pro Patria Union submitted a bill requiring the government to improve the distribution of information to ethnic minorities through the media.
The bill sets a deadline for the government 's Oct. 1 - to submit the necessary legal amendments or take other steps to ensure that national broadcasters Eesti Televisioon and Eesti Raadio satisfies the entire population's need for information, thus "strengthening Estonia's statehood."
Opposition politicians said Eesti Television is currently unable to offer sufficiently attractive programs to the Russian-speaking population and, because of this, Russian-speakers obtain the majority of their information from programs produced in Russia and transmitted on cable television.
Res Publica and Pro Patria Union members have described the current situation as a "security risk."
"People who speak Russian as their mother tongue, as well as members of other national minorities who use Russian as a second language, are not getting adequate information about what is going on in Estonia. They base their decisions on external sources that are frequently hostile to Estonia," the lawmakers said in a letter attached to the bill.
Furthermore, Estonia's free media has deteriorated considerably in recent years as information sources broadcast in the Baltic states, such as Regnum or the TV channel Perviy Baltiysky Kanal, have now been set up in Russia, the politicians noted.
It is therefore imperative for Estonia to balance out the Russian-language media field, they said, suggesting the establishment of a joint Russian-Baltic language program service as an alternative.