13,000 – this was the amount of viewers who this Saturday watched part one of «Savisaare protsess» series produced by Tallinn TV for taxpayer money.
For comparison: the series «Pilvede all» (Under the Clouds) drew close to 180,000 viewers over the weekend.
And yet, the series about an Edgar Savisaar «persecuted» by Estonian legal system, media and other political powers has gained the public limelight. On Postimees.ee, its critical review was read by 30,000 people.
Should we talk about it at all, meditated the media analysts. Or perhaps, having cemented its monopoly in Tallinn over the years, has Centre Party crossed a line? Has the Tallinn TV for the most part featuring party propaganda losing its final links to Estonian reality?
Talking to various media experts – who opted to rather distance themselves from the subject – they admitted the Tallinn municipal media empire is a serious problem. Wold these be media channels financed by the party and its supporters – the TV plus a number of city papers – there’d be no problem. But the swelling content has, for over five years, been financed with millions of taxpayer euros by the local government.
«The issue, is, are we as society willing to keep on tolerating it?» pondered an analyst.
«We have, as if, been reconciled to not being informed of public life but being served propaganda – for taxpayer money,» said Public Broadcasting media adviser Tarmu Tammerk. «It’s a matter of principle, if we consider it right for local government money to be used strictly for party propaganda. Do we raise our hands thinking it has no large effect?»
As admitted by Mr Tammerk, in Estonia municipal media is an unregulated domain and self-regulation has not solved the problems.
The temptation for local governments to use town or parish money to operate newspapers and even TV channels praising those in power and keeping them in public view is not characteristic of Tallinn alone. As conceded by Mr Tammerk: various political powers at helm in local governments, political will has been lacking to regulate municipal media.
In Lithuania it has been attempted: the unrestrained self-glorification and beating-down of local opposition by a Southern Lithuanian city government let to an all-Lithuanian scandal and a ban on municipal media. For many years now, Lithuanian local governments are unable to publish newspapers.
Alas, the political propaganda for taxpayer money was not thus suppressed: the newspaper just begun to be published by some company while the local government buts ads in these newspapers etc.
As admitted by Estonian media experts, it is not easy to create a mechanism which would exclude use of taxpayer money for somebody’s propaganda.
On the other hand, municipal publications cannot be labelled useless as local powers are tasked with informing inhabitants of what is happening. Indeed, in Estonia this is what many local papers are doing and it would be unfair to judge them as part of parcel with what Tallinn is doing.