TALLINN - A journalist from a leading Estonian daily was reportedly mistreated by police after refusing to name a source he used in a recent article, sparking a debate over media ethics and law enforcement's respect for the press.
In a story about local attitudes toward tipping published in the Eesti Paevaleht newspaper in January, reporter Sergo Selder used an interview with a bartender identified as Juri who claimed to have once spit into his client's meal and added 1,000 kroons to the bill as a way of getting back for the customer's insolent behavior.
On Feb. 12 police launched a misdemeanor investigation in connection with a letter from Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar that referred to Selder's story.
Savisaar wrote if an anonymous quote in a leading newspaper is read outside Estonia it could leave a negative impression and might dissuade people from visiting or starting a business in the country.
During the subsequent police interrogation on Feb. 16, a police officer repeatedly asked Selder to reveal the real name and contact of Juri the bartender. After the reporter clearly refused to do so, the officer reportedly did not allow him to make phone calls and referred to the high profile of the officials who initiated the investigation.
The police officer also allegedly threatened to open a criminal investigation and end Selder's career.
The reporter had his mug shot taken for a police file.
Selder, who decided to follow the Estonian Journalistic Code and did not reveal his source's identity, described his meeting with the police officials in a news story published in Eesti Paevaleht the next day.
Toomas Leito, head of the Estonian Newspaper Association, said Selder acted appropriately when refused to name the source to the police.
"Although the Estonian Journalistic Code is not a law but a moral regulation, protection of sources is one of the cornerstones of the free press," Leito said.
According to Leito, Estonian law enforcement agencies have in the past asked local journalists to name their sources and that the writers have refused.
The police department announced on the afternoon of Feb. 17 that it had initiated a disciplinary investigation into the actions of the inspector who interrogated Selder.
"The disciplinary investigation will have to find out by March 11 how the police officer of the Kesklinna police station behaved during the interrogation of Eesti Paevaleht's reporter and whether his actions complied with procedure regulations," said Juri Kasesalu, head of the service division of the police department.
Tarmo Miilits, the superior of the police officer, met Selder and Priit Hobemagi, editor in chief of Eesti Paevaleht, on Feb. 17 and apologized for any inconvenience caused during the investigation.