Prime Minister Jüri Ratas said that in his experience the Perviy Baltiysky Kanal (PBK) has not distorted the government’s messages or spread misinformation, answering the opposition’s questions in reaction to the Center Party’s decision to procure programming from PBK in the Riigikogu yesterday.
“The Perviy Baltiysky Kanal has been accredited for government press conferences since 2012. As far as I know, they have been attending since 2002. The network has interviewed former and current members of government. I have personally not felt that my messages or the government’s positions have been consciously distorted or malicious misinformation spread,” Ratas said.
The Reform Party’s Arto Aas said in his comment that PBK pursues propaganda for the Center Party, contributes to social splits, and disinforms the public. “You know this, but it is in the interests of your party. You continue to deny your role in ruling Tallinn. You maintain that you do not have levers with which to put and end to taxpayer money being squandered on PBK,” Aas said.
The prime minister found that Aas’ question included his personal ill emotions toward PBK. “The network has been in contact with the state since 2002, I believe,” Ratas repeated. “Why wasn’t this a problem before? PBK has aired interviews in connection with Estonia’s EU presidency. It is the correct heading.”
Andres Herkel (Free Party) said that a situation where Center’s members are buying air time on PBK is basically open theft in favor of the party and asked for the prime minister’s opinion.
“Unconcealed theft can only be condemned,” Ratas replied. “If you say that a local government has engaged in open theft, it needs to be brought to the attention of the proper authorities. I do not condone public theft. I believe Estonia has capable organs to investigate it.”
Several members of the Reform Party emphasized that the spirit of the questions does not concern interviews to PBK, its participation in government press conferences, or ads for smoke detectors, but rather the content of PBK programs and the fact Center is spending taxpayer money on programs that constitute party propaganda. Ratas was accused of dodging the questions.
Maris Lauri (Reform) said that she believes the prime minister finds the questions difficult to answer as it would mean admitting gross wrongdoing. “Or it seems the premier is arrogant. Perhaps it is not the case, but that is how it looks,” Lauri added.
Reform Party MPs sent an inquiry to the prime minister to ask about use of taxpayer money for air time on PBK late last year.
“Tallinn city government has spent around half a million euros a year on programming on PBK since 2011. The Estonian version of the network fills 70 percent of its air with programming from Russia’s state-controlled Channel One. A survey recently presented in Brussels, titled “EU and Eastern Partnership Countries’ Media Image” that also looked at PBK’s political programming from the past three years concluded that the network portrays 83 percent of countries, especially those in the European Union, in a negative light,” the inquiry read.
“The recently published Estonia-analysis by the American Enterprise Institute found that the greatest risk Estonia faces is Russia’s constant attempts at splitting and eroding Estonian society by manipulating the local Russian population through media and promoting its foreign policy and even
territorial ambitions by “undermining local governance and promoting domestic political and social conflicts”. Both studies found that one of the principal tools in realizing these goals is Russian-language television working under the influence of Russian networks in the Baltics, including PBK. The Estonian Internal Security Service has for years classified these activities as a national security risk in the threats to constitutional order chapter of its yearbook,” the opposition’s inquiry says.