Kõlvart working on new city media

Tallinna TV

PHOTO: Eero Vabamägi

The days of the decade-old Tallinn Television (TTV) seem to be numbered. Postimees’ information suggests the city is considering consolidating TTV and newspapers Pealinn, Stolitsa and Raepress.

“We will create a strategic communication unit one component of which will be Tallinn TV in thoroughly overhauled form – effective and Tallinn-centered,” said TTV supervisory board chairman, Deputy Mayor Aivar Riisalu.

The move might mean TTV will be shut down and its video capacity used to support the online platforms of Pealinn and Stolitsa. The new brand’s name remains unknown. Changes over at TTV that closed the fiscal year with a €700,000 loss follow the initiative of Mayor Mihhail Kõlvart who has been in office not five months.

“That is what Kõlvart’s city government under his wise leadership has concluded,” Riisalu said.

What Riisalu says suggests Kõlvart wants to create his own municipal media empire. “I’m not afraid to say that we’re looking to make our propaganda more effective through consolidation. It is true,” Riisalu said. He added that a single cameraman can produce material for several channels. “The current situation where a single event can have a photographer from Stolitsa and cameramen from TTV, Pealinn and Raepress will come to an end,” Riisalu said.

The vision prescribes a center that would cater to all the city’s media and departments.

Tallinn TV will very likely continue as free to air, while it is sure to have more programming centered on the capital. The network’s focus will increasingly be online, including social media.

Propaganda unit

“Our social media presence is weak as things stand. But we will improve. “Social media propaganda…” Riisalu said and went on to explain that if so-called ecoterrorists (people opposing cars) are active in social media, the city must have a presence there to be able to respond.

CEO of Tallinn Television Taavi Pukk admitted that the biggest question in terms of the network’s future is how to stay with the times in a situation where linear television viewer figures are dwindling and people increasingly use smart devices and computers.

Riisalu said that directing resources online begs the question of what to show on television. That is what the team is trying to figure out. Cutting costs will be prioritized. Riisalu remained tight-lipped when asked about next year’s budget. “That will depend on how much success I will find. Ideally, costs should come down a little,” the deputy mayor said.

TTV currently employs 31 people. Riisalu did not want to guess at how many there could be in the future. “They are voicing concern for their contracts in the media, instead of asking the supervisory board chairman. The message I would send my employees who never ask me anything is this: no employment contract is forever, including mine,” Riisalu said.

Postimees has been told that TTV only has enough money to pay its staff until the end of August. Taavi Pukk said the network will pull through.

Simply shutting down TTV overnight seems like a bad idea for several reasons. First, there is the in-house climate of the Center Party. Members who oppose TTV number as many as those for whom it is a vital direct line to voters. Pulling the plug on TTV would cause Kõlvart trouble inside his party.

Financing pulled

The good life over at Tallinn Television ended when Kõlvart became mayor in April. Until then, the network created by Edgar Savisaar could just ask for more money and be sure it would be allocated. Kõlvart recently said he rules out any additional funding for TTV and promised changes in city media.

True enough: TTV failed to secure additional resources from the city’s supplementary budget after closing last year with a loss of €667,000. The spring season was ended in May, as opposed to the usual date of Midsummer’s Day, with the network laying off eight people in two days before the staff headed for their summer break. Layoffs hit both support staff and members of the editorial board, including the channel’s founder, former board member and editor-in-chief Jüri Raudsepp.

“I was handed the notice of dismissal, I signed it and said goodbye. That’s it,” Raudsepp said. He did not want to part with advice on how to ensure the network’s success. “You cannot give advice to someone who doesn’t want to listen.”

The management and supervisory boards of TTV are set to discuss changes in early September. “Everything points to the conclusion that the sooner we have clarity, the better,” said CEO Taavi Pukk.

Postimees did not manage to contact Mayor Mihhail Kõlvart on Monday or Tuesday.