Tallinn TV, costing the capital's taxpayers millions of euros, has now left Center Party chairman, PM Jüri Ratas with a choice: whether to continue Savisaarian propaganda media, or order the medium to plot a new course and concentrate on municipal matters.
While the opposition has not given the channel quarter in its criticism, it remains unlikely that a change of power in the capital would see Tallinn Television (TTV) closed for good. The temptation to use the power of media is shared by all parties, whereas such capital TV stations exist in other European countries.
Leaving aside the question of whether Tallinn needs its own television, it is important how to put together a maximally objective, balanced, and realistic program for viewers. The party's former head, Edgar Savisaar, and his army of obedient television people managed to turn the nationwide into a personal-party advertising club both prior and in between elections: personal programs and interviews were rerun three times a day during election week.
One telling example of how Tallinn TV manufactures pre-election atmosphere is the three-part series “Honestly About Politics”, hosted by Savisaar's confrere Siret Kotka, aired immediately before Riigikogu elections last year.
The first episode talked about county governors, “sent to to a cushy job in the countryside by the party office”. The second part concentrated on how “right wing parties have hijacked the defense mechanisms of democracy – law enforcement organs”, while the third dealt with “misuse of state funds in the election campaigns of ruling parties”. Guests were exclusively from the Center Party: Priit Toobal, Kalle Klandorf, Jaanus Karilaid, Peeter Ernits, Arvo Sarapuu.
Another one of the channel's popular shows is “Media Center”, hosted for years by the Center Party's Heimar Lenk. The recent episode of the program, aired after the Center Party's accession to the government, hosted Siret Kotka, introduced as a rural affairs expert.
Lenk began: “What can the new government give farmers?” Kotka responded: “Several strong points suggested by the Center Party are included in the coalition agreement.” Kotka found that because coalition partners were on board with the centrists' ideas, it was the Reform Party that stood in the way of rural development in the previous government. “They liked everything the Center Party proposed?” Lenk asked. “Absolutely,” Kotka replied.
This serves as a telling example of how a program that recently concentrated on thrashing the media and ruling parties could become a show to praise a single one. The trend set by Savisaar does not seem to rub the party's new leaders too much the wrong way as Jüri Ratas, Kadri Simson, and Mailis Reps all used free air time to appear on the channel's weekend news program “Week +” in November.
Chairman of the Center Party, PM Jüri Ratas told Postimees yesterday that Tallinn TV must not be a political channel. “Especially in a situation where the party that runs Tallinn is also in power on Toompea. This prescribes entirely different norms and expectations,” he said.
The PM added that he has talked to the heads of the city and places his hopes on a new advisory committee that would include representatives from all factions in the city council.
Ratas added, however, that no one in Stenbock House has the right to tell local governments how they should keep their people informed. He added that as the head of the party and PM he realizes the public's expectations have changed, and that greater balance is needed.
“I promise that there will not be a prime minister's hour (Edgar Savisaar had his own show on Tallinn TV, ERR's Vikerraadio regularly hosts the PM once a month – ed.) on Tallinn TV,” Ratas said. The prime minister said that while he did give a comment to TTV's “Basket” program yesterday, he did it as the outgoing president of the basketball association.
Deputy chairman of the Reform Party in the Tallinn city council, Õnne Pillak, said that an advisory committee would change nothing. “If Ratas has a concept for an advisory body, it would probably just serve to dispel the centrists' responsibility – all parties would be responsible for one party's propaganda,” Pillak said. “It is a clever idea to take less flak.”
The Center Party has previously offered other parties represented in the city council a one-hour opposition program on TTV. “What would this one hour change in a situation where the rest of the air would be filled with rank propaganda of a single force?” Pillak asked.
Head of the Pro Patria Res Publica Union (IRL) faction in the council, Madis Kübar, also remained skeptical as to the new management's effect on the one-sided program of the channel.
“The staff was hired by the previous party chairman, and nothing has really changed in the way this city is run,” Kübar said. What should be done with the channel according to Kübar? “It should be sold into private hands, or rather the city could buy air time for municipal announcements from commercial channels,” he offered.
He recalled that Ratas' idea of an advisory committee first surfaced when TTV was launched in 2010. “The opposition was not in favor of it then. And IRL still rather believes TTV does nothing to help the citizens of Tallinn. Participating in the work of this body would legitimize the importance of TTV in a way,” he said.
Acting Mayor of Tallinn Taavi Aas said that TTV will definitely remain. “In that sense nothing will change. As concerns the idea of opposition politicians participating in the work of the channel's council or a media committee, it can be discussed,” Aas promised. He added that there is a vacant seat on the council even now.
Aas said that TTV is a channel covering the capital's topics and some nationwide matters that welcomes both coalition and opposition politicians both on the municipal and state level.
“Rather the problem has been that other parties have boycotted TTV. Should that end, and should they want to express their opinion, why not!”
Aas also saw no reason to make changes in the channel's team. “The people there maintain an open mind, and every party that has wanted to express its thoughts and come on there has been given the opportunity. The boycott has never been against persons, but rather the channel as such,” Aas found.