• 2007-08-15

Illustration: Jevgenijs Cheksters

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip suggested over the past week that it is not wise to promise the creation of a state-owned Russian-language television channel since such a project is costly and, most importantly, would be doomed to lose against the mighty Moscow propaganda machine. In Ansip's words, "Competing with Russian television channels will be very difficult, and there are few chances for victory." The funds spent 's to the tune of 250 million kroons (16 million euros) per year 's would not increase loyalty to the state, the prime minister seemed to suggest.

We disagree. Firstly, the whole idea of a state-financed Russian channel is not to compete, as the prime minister says, but to inform. The quality of news and programming coming out of Moscow lately is the informational equivalent of fish offal left unrefrigerated in the summer heat. It reeks. Estonia can counter this simply by compiling objective news shows that, as one would naturally expect, would include the opportunity to criticize the government.
This ties into the second point, which is that "victory" 's a word Ansip preferred to bring in the debate 's is all but assured. On the one side there would be the bald-faced lies and disinformation broadcast from Moscow (granted, using incredible wattage), and on the other objective reporting and open discourse from home. In all likelihood, Estonia's ethnic Russians will tune into both, but they will not ignore the Estonian channel since it will have a full range of domestic coverage 's something ORT, RTR and the other Kremlin bullhorns will never provide.

Marko Mihkelson, a member of Parliament's foreign affairs committee from the right-wing IRL union, stressed these points last week. "In recent months the windmills of Russian propaganda have been spinning robustly, and this should compel us to focus on our informational policies and undertake diplomatic and other steps against Russia's slanderous campaign," Mihkelson said, adding that Ansip or other politicians shouldn't make hasty conclusions about the Russian TV project until a full analysis has been made.

The third and final argument for supporting such a channel can be summed up in two words: Bronze Soldier. After the government's ill-considered decision to relocate the statue 's however misplaced it had been at its former address in downtown Tallinn 's the Cabinet now needs to pay the price necessary to heal the wounds in society. After all, the country's integration program, which had been proceeding smoothly, suffered a tremendous setback as a result of the April riots, and the former schism in Estonia returned in full force.
Now the center-right coalition must go the extra mile to repair the damage, regardless of cost. A recent poll suggests that 64 percent of Estonians and 87 percent of Russians supported the establishment of a Russian-language ETV channel. Winning over Estonia's ethnic Russians is not something that can wait, especially in the current environment where, as Mihkelson points out, the Kremlin lie-factory is working overtime to sow discord in Estonian society.