The acting law states a TV channel must broadcast at least hours a day and 10 percent of all time on air must consist of original programs. An original program is of Estonian origin, produced in Estonia and dedicated to local culture and life.
An amendment to the law adopted six months ago established that TV channels must show 5 percent of their original programming during prime time, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
At present there are four commercial broadcasting TV stations in Estonia - TV1, TV3, Kanal 2 and Orsent TV. Orsent TV is a small channel working less than five hours a week on one frequency with TV3, making it immune from the law. TV1, TV3 and Kanal 2 are on air nearly 24 hours. Estonia, especially Tallinn, also has many cable TV channels, but they are not even considered in the law's amendment.
According to Allikmaa, only Kanal 2 works in accordance with the law. TV1 and TV3 do not transmit original programs in prime time at all. ETV, being a national public channel regulated by the state, also meets the requirements.
The aim of the recent meeting was to discuss problems, analyze Estonia's television market and find out why the stations can't show original programming.
"We did not want to fine them or to take their license. We just wanted to know why," said Allikmaa.
During the meeting three main reasons for violating the law came out. First, that stations' budgets are planned one year in advance.
"The amendment appeared half a year ago when we already had no money to change anything," said Mart Luik, director of TV3. "Our budget is planned until Sept. 2001"
Another reason why original programs are not aired in prime time is the situation on the Estonian advertising market. According to TV directors, it is cheaper to buy foreign movies or serials than to produce their own programs.
"When we buy some soap opera we know exactly who can spend money on advertisement. When we make original programs we do not know who can pay for it and who wants to advertise," said TV1 program consultant Raul Rebane.
Luik and Rebane think the amendment is very strange. The concept of original programming, as the law puts it, does not include sport programs, news and game shows, though they are produced by Estonian companies.
"So what should we do?," exclaimed Luik. "Estonia is too small to find themes for many programs about culture, for instance. We make some interesting shows, but they are not original according to the law."
"If we broadcast 24 hours a day, we must give almost all of prime time to original programs. It is nonsense! No single TV station in the world will agree with that, I think," said Rebane.
The third reason is that the TV companies refuse to put original programs in prime time because of a lack of high qualified specialists in Estonia.
"It is a pity, but to tell the truth almost all TV shows produced in Estonia are not proper," said Allikmaa.
"We agree with Allikmaa about quality of our programs. But we are trying to improve it and we think there will be problems soon," concluded Luik. At present TV1 and TV3 broadcast mainly non-Estonian soap operas, American movies and local news in prime time.