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Harri Tiido: Estonian Media

The Estonian media is suffering from an inflation of scandals. The politicians and businessmen that are the targets of most of these scandals have adopted a wait and see -strategy in their media management: stay put for a couple of weeks - a new scandal will eventually wipe your problems away. 

Scandals are of course inflated by the fierce competition in the media. My own field is radio: there are now 22 stations in Tallin alone, and most of them are targeting the 30-59-year-olds, the demographic group that has the most buying power in the country. As far as I know, my station, the Kuku Radio, is the only one making a profit. At least that's what our owners say. (Kuku is also the only nationwide commercial radio station with a "full service", news, current affairs commentary as well as music.) 

A journalist in Estonia is very much dependent on his or her acquaintances and other personal contacts. A common currency among reporters are mobile-phone numbers of important people: some of them can be traded with colleagues, while the most valuable ones are to be kept to oneself. 

Possibilities to conduct real investigative journalism are quite limited due to the extreme competition for daily ratings and circulation. 

The journalists are still poorly organised, so it is difficult to say who really represents the profession. I must say that, the Estonian Union of Newspapers is a more useful contact for a foreign colleague than the Union of Journalists, which has been practically drunk for a long time. Membership criteria, for example, were quite lax or even nonexistent, so that almost anybody could get him or herself a press card and misuse it in many ways. 

In case a Finnish or any other foreign journalist wants contacts in Estonia, he should try to find a journalist with necessary ties (and mobile phone numbers;-). It is always possible to approach some newspaper, radio- or TV-station and ask for help. Or then You have to contact the PR-representative or spokesman of the ministry or company You are interested in. 

The best is to do your homework via the Internet. There are several quite useful sites to browse, like: 


These are mostly in Estonian, but You can surf around as a number of home-pages have an English version as well. The homepage of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has an English version, of course, at: 


The whole government and its ministries also presents itself in English at a state web center with numerous links. Try: 


The Estonian-language government page is at: 


It might also be useful to contact the Estonian Union of Newspapers, which can provide additional contacts at: 


English is nowadays the best language to get your business done in Estonia. The Finns particularly should remember that not everybody speaks Finnish. 

Finns and Estonians have lately had problems understanding each other. The dispute over Estonian seamen's salaries was started last autumn by the Finnish Seamen's Union, which blockaded an Estonian ship in a Finnish harbour, demanding that the Estonians be paid according to the Finnish wage settlement. 

This is an unreasonable demand, apparently aimed at killing off competition. Estonian seamen are earning an average of 851 US dollars a month, which is a very good salary by our standards. In Finland, however, seamen are making 2 600 dollars, so the demand by Merimies-Unioni would mean a tripling of the Estonian mariners pay - and a sudden death for Estonian shipping. 

The media made a big story out of this. Unfortunately, the Estonian journalists failed to get information directly from the Finnish Union, because they understood the quarrell to be between the companies Estonian Shipping and Finnsteve, who was their contract partner. The prime mover behind the action was seen to be the shipping company Finncarriers, which may (or may not) be losing business to Estonian competition. 

The Union was a non-entity for much of the Estonian media, which complicated the issue. In my opinion the Finnish media handled the dispute in a more objective way, although the Estonians were justified in their anger at the Finns. The whole affair could and should have been settled through negotiations, which are called for in the Athens agreement. This was never even tried. Instead, the Merimies-Unioni just started to make demands at the Estonian companies and took to questionable industrial action. 

Harri Tiido is chief editor of Kuku Radio. His specialties are foreign policy and international affairs. Notes of his talk were taken by Matti Virtanen, who is responsible for any misunderstandings. 
  päivitetty 31.3.1999 sivun ylös