TALLINN - The Tallinn City Government has made the jump from the political arena to the small screen: on Jan. 29 the private cable TV channel Kalev Sport broadcast the first of what will be two weekly shows organized in cooperation with the municipality 's a move that has raised protests from city council opposition.
The controversy stems from the fact that the city council is dominated by Edgar Savisaar's Center Party. Reform and Pro Patria and Res Publica (IRL) members fear that the weekly broadcasts on Kalev Sport, a relatively new channel owned by business tycoon and Center Party supporter Oliver Kruuda, will serve as a propaganda wagon.
"I believe that Oliver Kruuda and his Kalev Media are very faithful partners of the Center Party and we will now get to watch [Tallinn Mayor] Edgar Savisaar in Urmas Ott style broadcasts at the head of every week although we are paying for that entire show," IRL member of the city council Nikolai Selmach told Postimees, referring to a well-known talk show host on ETV.
Toomas Lepp, editor in chief of Kalev Sport, told The Baltic Times in an e-mail that the city programming will consist of 25 minutes each week and a further hour per month. The weekly schedule includes a cultural program called "Cultural City 's Tallinn" and a sports show named "Tallinn is Energizing," hosted by Kalev Sport presenters Anna-Maria Veidemann and Margus Kiiver respectively.
Lepp stressed that the shows will not be city government-controlled TV.
"Kalev Sport will edit all of the programs and has 100 percent editorial freedom," he wrote, "The city government is not editing anything."
The additional hour allocated to the city will be a live question-and-answer session between Savisaar and city residents phoning in, titled "Hour of the Mayor."
Savisaar has traditionally had fierce spats with the media and views Kalev Sport as a safe medium.
"The mayor no longer answers questions from television stations at the press conferences of the city government and does not trust them, even though according to studies we stand at the world's absolute top in terms of freedom of the press," Ulle Rajasalu, vice chair of the Reform Party in the city council, told BNS.
Responding to the outcries from opposition parties, Savisaar told Postimees, "If they had been in power and we were in opposition, then we would probably have been angry as well."
Lepp said that Kalev Sport will also negotiate with other city and local governments to initiate similar programs.
The Center Party has had a controversial relationship with confectioner-turned-business mogul Kruuda. In 2005 during the run-up to elections, the then owner of Kalev postered the city with advertisements bearing a green letter "K" which, though they named a type of Kalev confection in small print, appeared remarkably similar to the Center Party's "K" symbol.
During the campaign Kruuda insisted that the symbol was for his "kohuke" dessert items, however the ad campaign was widely believed to be connected to his financial support for the party and was subsequently investigated by the prosecutor's office. The office found no traceable link, however Kruuda recognized in a later-published biography that he had been "larking about" by playing with campaign laws.
A panel will be established early in February to research the possibility of setting up a public digital television station for Tallinn. The developments coincide with a doubling of outlays for media in the city's budget this year, up to 43 million kroons (2.73 million euros).