No. 30




Russian-language Broadcasting in Estonia. From Yesterday to Today

15 December 2014


RiTo No. 30, 2014

  • Andres Jõesaar

    Head of Media Research Department, Estonian Public Broadcasting

According to the public sphere conception of Habermas, communicative action is necessary for successful functioning of society. This article analyses the media sphere of Estonia, which is divided into two separate parts of information space by language – the Estonian-language media and the Russian-language media. The article claims that one reason why such a situation has emerged is the media policy of the Republic of Estonia. But its historical roots go deeper than the second independence period. In order to understand the Estonian media of today and to plan activities directed towards the future, it is necessary to analyse the steps and choices that have brought us to our present situation.

Denis McQuail (2003) has said that media institutions are influenced by three forces: politics, technology and economics. At the same time with the drastic processes and events that took place in the Estonian society, the whole media landscape was also cardinally reformed in the beginning of the 1990s. Changes took place in several important aspects. New legislation guaranteed independence to media and created preconditions for the emergence of dual broadcasting system, economic models changed, technology was renewed. Due to the new media paradigm, the contents and priorities of media had to be redefined. Although technically these processes concerned the Estonian society as a whole, their results were significantly different for the Estonian-speaking and the Russian-speaking population.

During the whole period after the restoration of independence, the Estonian media regulation has been minimalistic. There are no restrictions on establishing periodicals (including newspapers, portals). The legislation regulating the functioning of TV and radio channels is based on the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which unfortunately does not take into account the smallness of our media market, and our cultural and historical peculiarities. According to national media policy, the interests of the Russian-speaking population were to be satisfied through private sector and Estonian Radio programme Raadio 4. Private sector has not achieved noteworthy success in serving the Russian audience. The content and diversity of genres of the Russian-language programmes offered by domestic media companies is minimal. The 101 channels in Russian that are retransmitted through the cable networks offer ample possibilities to those who wish for more. ETV2 that was opened in autumn of 2008 provided new possibilities for developing their programme strategy to national public broadcasting. After the events of the Bronze Night, the opening of Russian-language ETV2 was discussed both in public and in political circles, but no funds necessary for the opening of the channel were allocated in the state budget. In spite of that, ETV2 made it possible to offer more Russian-language programmes than before, first of all by retransmitting Estonian programmes with Russian subtitles. But in addition to daily news programme in Russian and reruns of Estonian-language programmes, the programme of ETV2 was also enriched by several programmes financed by funds outside the budget of the Estonian Public Broadcasting. In spite of the increased number of broadcasting hours in Russian and with Russian translation, significant increase in popularity among Russian audience was not achieved. The general viewability of ETV2 among non-Estonians remained modest. In order to include Russian-speaking population in the Estonian information space, it is necessary to make greater efforts than have been made so far, and this requires much bigger investments. Placing of Russian-language programmes into an Estonian TV channel is not a solution for attracting the audience. The experience of ETV2 also shows that adding subtitles to Estonian programmes does not guarantee the expected result. The reason why subtitles did not work is not that the Russian audience prefers voice-over translation, but the content of these programmes. The programmes aired by the Estonian channels and the Estonian series do not deal with the life of the Russian-speaking community, their problems and achievements. At present there are no drama series, serious or entertaining talk shows and TV magazines made by non-Estonians on the Estonian TV landscape. There is no real contact with everyday life and living environment in Estonia. But it is this personal experience and contact that makes people to make choices on the landscape of TV channels. Unfortunately the Russian-speaking people living in Estonia do not have that possibility.

Full article in Estonian