Background Information

Unlike in many other new democracies, professionals in Estonia did not rush to create a Code of Ethics. Estonia chose the way of case studies to settle the rules for journalism. According to Estonian media educators, lack of discussion and interpretation of experience is the most negative feature in media regulation.

The media situation

Estonian media is built up of a great variety of newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations. There are about 70 different newspapers (40 of which are members of the Estonian Newspaper Association), among which are 6 large dailies and 10 larger weeklies. Over 20 local newspapers and up to 80 magazines are published in Estonia.

Besides public radio (four channels) and public TV there are about 30 private local and regional/national radio stations and three national private TV channels. Most of them are the members of the Association of Estonian Broadcasters.

The legal situation

Soon after independence was re-established in 1991, the Parliament tried to pass a press law but due to active objection from publishers and journalists the draft never became a law. The absence of a press law does not mean there are no rules to regulate the media sphere. Several laws influence the operation of the media in different ways.

The Constitution of the Republic of Estonia provides that everybody has the right to get public information without limits (§ 44) and to express freely one's ideas, opinions, convictions and any other information in all possible means (§ 45).

Personality and privacy are protected by the Constitution and every person has the right to sue anyone who has violated his/her rights. But there is no sufficient court practice to make the rulings predictable. The Estonian law courts abstain from judging moral damages, intimating that determination of the value of moral damage in financial terms is rather complex. Thus, in Estonia it is quite difficult to re-establish one's rights in case of harm caused by media.

Cases regarding libel are covered by the Law of Obligations Act, and the burden of proof in such cases rests with the media. A person has the right for a correction and to sue for damages. In cases of defamation of persons enjoying international immunity, representatives of the state authority, the court, or the judge, the new Penal Code stipulates certain penalties. But there are no legal penalties for "irresponsible journalism".

The Broadcasting Act regulates the broadcasting system in Estonia. This law guarantees freedom of operation, protection of information sources, the right to register an objection, morals and legality, etc. The same fields in the print media are legally unregulated in Estonia.

Besides, there is an advertising act, which regulates all forms of advertising.

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