Public Broadcasting and integration in Estonia

25. novembris, 2002



Uzstāšanās konferencē "Elektroniskie sabiedrības saziņas līdzekļi un sabiedrības integrācija" 2002. gada 22. novembrī

Public Broadcasting and integration in Estonia

An extract from “Unetus” (Insomina)

Let’s leave the young people discussing if it is integration or not, I will discuss this broadcast and a few others later on. As an introduction I would like to outline the role of the media in the integration process in Estonia.

Statement 1
The integration process which started in 1998 with the support of the state has been strongly supported by the media, both the Estonian and Russian ones.

And believe me, there is no overstating of the role of the media because of the fact that before being appointed the Minister of Ethnic Affairs I had worked as a journalist for a long time. On the other hand, it must have influenced the media projects dealing with integration.

To put it plainly – until 1998 there was no such subject as inter-ethnic relations for the Estonian media, in the Russian media (especially the newspapers) the subject was discussed only with the negative undertone. But it changed very quickly and the subject of integration reached its peak during the following years and it is still among the ten most popular themes discussed in the media. Only the way of discussing the subject has changed.

As the present session is devoted on broadcasting, I will not go into any further details about the press. I would only like to make a short summary on the last media monitoring survey that considered the first half of the current year and compared the results with the previous periods.

The Integration Foundation started to order the media survey in 1999. In 2001 the first full media monitoring in Estonia was conducted, beside the Estonian and Russian press also the broadcasts in Russian were surveyed and the public radio channel Raadio 4 . Thus the survey provided a full picture of what was going on in the Estonian media in connection with integration issues.

The aim of the survey was to study how well the issues of integration and inter-ethnic relations are dealt with in the media, on the other hand it has been a prerequisite that by discussing those issues the media itself supports and develops the process.( As people themselves do not participate in most of the events, the media reflects them, thus influencing the audience’s opinions on the event. The media provides a key to our attitudes towards the events and processes.)

By studying the Estonian and Russian press during the first half of the year 2002 we will come to the following conclusions:

  • the Russian and Estonian media discourses are getting closer to each other thus forming a common public sphere;
  • the Russian media is in a comparatively greater change, trying to adapt to the mainstream or the Estonian media discourses;
  • for the Russian media at the moment this adaptation process means that the previous critical attitudes disappear and expressing the opinions is avoided;
  • the Russian press seeks their place and role in the Estonian society, showing real desire to participate in everyday life and be an alternative to the prevailing media, but not necessarily in opposition.

There should be mentioned that the role of the Russian press is limited by the fact that their circulation is insignificant. For example, the circulation of two biggest Russian dailies (Molodjozh Estonii – 8.1 thousand and Estonia – 6.5 thousand copies) is ten times less than the biggest dailies in Estonian. There can be several reasons for that starting with reading habits to the image of the Russian newspapers that is not the best due to their political side-taking. But this is another subject.

The Russian radio channels in Estonia are in a much better position.


2/3 of the non-Estonians listen to the radio at least 15 minutes a day, in average 2 hours and 38 minutes. 2 hours of this listening time can be attributed to 5 major Russian-speaking radio stations in Estonia.

From this time almost a half or 45% is dedicated to Raadio 4. This is one of the four stations of the public Estonian Radio and it works 24 hours for the audience of almost two hundred thousand people.

How it has been regulated? Very simply: the Law on the Language says that the translation into Estonian is not required if the broadcast is meant for a non-native listener. No restriction whatsoever!

Talking on integration: the electronical media performs two roles here, on the one hand it is as an integration agent which designs the process more generally by transferring various information and choosing different presenters, on the other hand it is a public forum where public discussions are held on national issues. The public media has had a significant role here.

The analysis and comparison of the broadcasts of Raadio 4 with other media channels has shown that more controversial viewpoints were expressed in the broadcasts than in the press (but it can also be attributed to the specifics of the electronical media).

On the one hand official opinions were expressed, on the other hand the floor was also given to the opponents. Contrary to the press the radio dealt with more conflicting opinions or subjects. The journalists themselves do not express their opinions on the subjects discussed. ” Raadio 4 is one of the few media channels which provides to the audience unbiased and balanced information and the audience also shows they are interested in listening to them “, say the media researchers.

The public Russian-speaking radio has been playing a key role in Estonia as a discussion initiator and conductor and has assisted in changing the attitudes of the Russians in Estonia.

A few words of the commercial stations as well. As verbal communication has a major part of the broadcasts of Raadio 4 , the commercial stations mainly rely on the news and music. The requirement to broadcast news is based on the Broadcasting Law. The news depends on the agency. Therefore in the morning, when our agencies have not started their work yet, the news items often originate from Russia. I myself analyzed the news a couple of years ago – I discovered there were the morning news programmes where Estonian was covered only by the weather forecast.

But I can also bring an example when in cooperation with two Russian-speaking and Estonian-speaking commercial stations a media project on integration was born – a broadcast for the young people.


First let’s speak about regulations.

The Law on the Language stipulates:
In case an audio-visual artistic work (including a programme and promotional materials) is made public (including broadcasting or through the cable network) the text in a foreign language ought to be accompanied by a translation. The translation is not required in case of a direct broadcast, language teaching programmes or for the newsreader’s text in the news programmes produced with own resources or in case of a direct broadcast. The volume of the broadcasts without translation should not exceed 10% of the weekly own production volume.

So far there has been no problem with the volume of direct broadcasts without any translation, nobody has tried to do more.

In ETV the limit seems to be quite close, but mostly because each day an hour of a “Deutsche Welle” programme is broadcast. The programmes in Russian produced by own resources are restricted by the funds. Most of the broadcasts on the air are thanks to external support (mainly the IF).

As for TV and radio regulations – so far there have been no problems or discussions on the subject. And regardless of the fact that each day the Law on the Language is violated!

When we read the law very strictly, then in the direct news broadcast in Russian the pieces from the studio are permitted without any translation, but the video clips must be translated. This is nonsensical if you consider that the news programmes in Russian are on the air very early.

(By the way, the fact that the direct broadcasts were allowed on the air was stipulated after the Language Inspection had sued the general director of ETV for having the news in Russian without the translation. ETV won the case. The Law on the Language was changed and the direct broadcasts were permitted. In case of the news the practice is flexible in regard to the law. Fortunately there have been no problems so far.)

What is still a major problem is the habits of watching TV produced in Estonia by the Russians.

TV Estonia 10%, ORT 31.4%, RTR 15.4%, NTV 12.2%, others ( SAT-TV) 24.4%,video 8%

Various channels in Estonia have tried to change those habits: the public channels based on their sense of mission and obligations foreseen by law. The commercial channels based on how big the potential advertising market is. There is no significant progress noticed. TV3, for instance, does not produce any broadcasts in Russian at all during this season. This reflects the channel’s clear orientation towards bigger target groups. Some projects have been going on in Kanal 2 – who has several sponsors, including the Integration Foundation.

The channel’s own support and interest in such broadcasts is almost non-existing, the capacities very insignificant.

There are no problems with translating the broadcasts, probably it can be explained by the fact that as a rule, at least a half of the audience is Estonians.

The cable channels are another matter, the situation is much more complicated here. I must say that the state has proved to be extremely incapable of supervising that their activities are legal, it also concerns the following of the requirements of the language law.

From time to time a discussion issue arises on establishing the Russian channel, the arguments against it are that the advertising market is very limited and there is a lack of specialists. In other words, we are not capable of competing with the media industry in Russia. ……

The audience is not big, but compared to the newspaper readers it is remarkable.

TV’s role compared to other media has been significant, especially in the field of creating the new identity of the Russians.

This would be my third statement. The following are the results from the media monitoring survey.

When in 2001 the press was constantly reprimanded that they overstate the problems in some areas, like antagonism between the youth was labelled as national hostility, the TV broadcasts in Russian tried to avoid this kind of dramatization and too many emotions and the problematical issues of national relations were discussed more rationally, not emotionally.

In the Russian broadcasts the whole complex of integration issues, as well as language problems are associated with the individual’s personal preferences. The knowledge of the language was only seldom associated with the restriction of human rights of the non-Estonians

The Russian press is first and foremost the forum for expressing the views and interests of the non-Estonians, the place for public debate. Thus the press generally expresses either the discourse of the non-Estonians or the debate between conflicting discourses. At least it is nothing to do with the role of a promoter of integration. It is the other way round with the electronical media. Most (non-entertaining) broadcasts in Russian will go on air via the public channels and contain a considerable amount of voluntary identity construction. The constructed message is solid and directed towards the integration of the audience.


  • a story of a successfully integrated man – a series of portraits (The period of many nice people)
  • creating a new regionality (Showing Russia as unattractive, the stories of those Russians who have moved back to Russia, their difficulties, European identity)
  • roots in Estonia
  • showing the partnership between the Estonians and Russians
  • the “our” feeling, community feeling

During the first period there were practically no discussions, nowadays we have them.

The specifics and priority of ETV are its bilingual broadcasts.

And now I am going to illustrate my speech with an example from a popular bilingual broadcast.

“Unetus” is on the air since 2000. It is a weekly broadcast in the late evening together with the audience. The guest(s) is/are both Estonian-speaking and Russian-speaking youth, two presenters of both nationalities, two languages. The programmes are recorded and are broadcast with translations. It is a theme broadcast, important social problems are dealt with, like Estonia and NATO; stress and depression, what happens if Estonia is not accepted to the EU, drinking and parties, political responsibility, etc. The next broadcast is on democracy.

The broadcast was launched with the support of the Integration Foundation, currently the costs are divided, 50:50. From 2003 the costs will be covered by ETV. This is the so-called third stage in the production of bilingual broadcasts.

The bilingual broadcasts in Estonian Television have three periods:.

The 1st period-Differences

In 1999 the programme “Generation 2000” was produced. This was the first attempt to produce a bilingual discussion broadcast for the youth. It was a theme programme, the audience in the studio and video clips in between, two presenters, both had a good command of the languages, the audience used two languages, the video clips were translated. The series ended with a conclusion that the Estonian young people and the Russians are different. It was the time of the Kosovo crisis and this drew the line.

The 2nd period-Construction of the sense of unity through persons.

The programme called “Estonia is on air.This belongs to the same period when the big promotional campaign was started, namely “Many nice people” – the aim was to stress cooperation through concrete persons.

The broadcast was a studio programme, that was based on one person who felt at ease in both languages and cultures. For example the Russian figure skater Alla Levandi who got married to an Estonian skier, or an Estonian film producer educated in Russia. The guest, the presenters and the audience used two languages.

The 3rd period-Common interests

The broadcast “Unetus” reveals through discussions different viewpoints, different opinions, but with each broadcast it becomes clearer that the borderline does not run based on the nationality. Those sharing the same opinions are often from different nationalities.

Is it reality or an illusion? Even if it were an illusion, it has the capability to affect reality. But this is not an illusion any more. The young TV people have picked out just this reality from everyday life, that they think is correct. And it can vary from the discourse the Russian press is reflecting.

How do the Estonians react to it? They are watching the programme.

It seems that the fears we possessed that the Estonian language is endangered are fading and our attitudes towards the Russian language are normalizing. Maybe the wide usage of English has contributed to it as well.

Anyway, when they started a new bilingual broadcast for teenagers this season, nobody was blaming. And probably the experience gained has proved that beside teaching a language TV and radio have more and wider tasks, for example to create the communication field, positive communication model. At the moment there is also a magazine-type of a bilingual broadcast on TV for teenagers which is made by the young people of different nationalities. The Estonians speak in Estonian and the Russians in Russian, and sometimes interchangeably. Together the broadcast web site is also prepared, in Estonian.

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