Mass Media

Estonia Table of Contents

The mass media in Estonia played a catalytic role in the democratic upsurge of the late 1980s that led to independence. Responding during 1985-86 to Mikhail S. Gorbachev's call for glasnost (openness), the Estonian media, especially newspapers, began to focus on the many social and economic problems afflicting the country at the time. Yet, the blame for these social and economic ailments soon began to fall on the political system, an outcome that Gorbachev had not intended. For instance, the fight against an extensive and environmentally dangerous plan to mine phosphorus in northeastern Estonia was energized in 1987 by several articles in the monthly Eesti Loodus . The Tartu daily Edasi (later renamed Postimees ) would become a lively forum for the discussion of economic reforms such as Estonia's economic autonomy plan, the IME plan. The daily newspaper of Estonia's Komsomol, Noorte Hääl , took the lead in exposing the abuse many young Estonian men were suffering in the Soviet army. Many Estonian cultural publications, such as the weekly newspaper Sirp ja Vasar and the monthly journals Looming and Vikerkaar , carried historical overviews of Estonia's annexation in 1940 and of the deportations that followed. Finally, on television and radio, several roundtable debate programs were aired, where more ideas were articulated. As political mobilization grew, the mass media became interactive players, reporting on the new events while giving further voice to varied opinions.

The Estonian-language media operated in sharp contrast to Estonia's two main Russian-language dailies, Sovetskaya Estoniya (later renamed Estoniya ) and Molodezh' Estonii , whose editors took a defensive stance toward rising Estonian nationalist feeling. The Russian community in Estonia was more heavily influenced by local communist party leaders, who remained loyal to Soviet rule. The Russian-language newspapers also echoed some of the views of the Intermovement and other Soviet loyalist groups. In the aftermath of independence, both newspapers were left searching for a new identity, as was most of the Russian community now living as a minority cut off from Russia.

In the early 1990s, the Estonian media diversified greatly as competition among newspapers grew. The flashy weekly Eesti Ekspress , run by a Finnish-Estonian joint venture, captured much of the early market, but it was soon joined by other rivals. Business-oriented publications emerged, such as Äripäev, a joint venture with Sweden's Dagens Industri . In 1992 a new daily, Hommikuleht , was launched by a group of private investors. Estonia was also the base for the Baltics' largest circulating English-language newspaper, Baltic Independent . Still, the growth in the number of newspapers could not compensate for a rise in subscription rates and a decline in overall readership. Print runs fell from nearly 200,000 in 1990, when newsstand copies cost the equivalent of US$0.05, to an average of 40,000 in 1993. Still, in 1993 there were approximately 750 serial publications in Estonia, three times the number in 1987.

Television and radio changed as well. During 1992-93 three commercial radio stations went on the air. Each offered a mix of rock music, news, and features. State-owned Estonian Radio spun off one of its two stations to compete with the new formats. Several regional radio stations also began broadcasting. Estonian state television received competition in the fall of 1993 when the government gave rights to three companies to start broadcasting on two channels previously used by Russian television. Earlier, the government had decided to stop paying for the rebroadcast of the Moscow and St. Petersburg channels in Estonia.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress