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Post-soviet russian language media in estonia aurika Meimre, PhD

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Aurika Meimre, PhD
Tallinn University, Associate Professor
The events of August 1991 turned upside down the ethnic basis of Estonia. Estonians – the title nation – became once again the majority, while Russians became a minority. (The first one was in 1918, when Estonia declared itself as an Independent Estonian Republic.) The media itself comes through large changes. Before 1991 most of all newspapers and broadcasting companies belonged to the Soviet state. Estonian media started to change slowly with the glasnost policy. Journalist Professors Marju Lauristin and Peeter Vihalemm was wrote, that “Only in 1987 did Estonian journalists start to trust the new, more open and sincere style of political discourse initiated by Gorbachev was not just a political game, but that it provided an opportunity to disclose facts and ideas which were oppressed and forbidden during previous decades <…> Soviet-era traditions recede and Western journalistic patterns emerged. In particular, a new non-partisan style was represented by the independent political and cultural weeklies <…> established in <…> 1989” (Lauristin, Vihalemm 2002: 25). These changes applied in the end of 1980-es only to Estonian Language media, not to Russian one. Estonian media accepted quickly an Anglo-American “model of news journalism and accepted marketisation of journalism as a natural process. The product of journalistic activities were increasingly evaluated according to their “sale value” as profitable goods, not as socially and culturally valuable texts. Competition for the attention of the audience has brought about changes in the content and functions of the media.” (Lauristin, Vihalemm 2002). In the middle of 1990-es besides Anglo-American model to Estonian media were brought the Scandinavian one. The Estonian Language media became from the Soviet one to new – Western one very quickly.

Unfortunally we can’t say the same about the Russian Language media in Estonia. While Estonian one got very quickly the new generation of journalists, the Russian Language media worked and partly works today with the old generation of journalists. Only in 1996 we could start to train the Russian journalists for the Russian Language media in Estonia. That is the main reason, why the Russian Language media changed in 1990-es slowly.

Today we can speak of the media, which belong to the private sector. None of around 30 Russian periodicals (among them only 4 dailies – 3 nationwide ones and 1 – local newspapers), which exist in Estonia today, get the governmental support. According to the Estonian Newspaper Association (, among the nationwide newspapers (dailies and weeklies) the greatest circulation on April 2006 had daily “The Postimees in Russian” with the 18,800 copies. The second one was the weekly “MK-Estonia” (16,000 copies), which followed by the weeklies “Vesti nedeli” (15,600 copies), and “Molodezh’ Estonii Subbota” (11,600 copies). The second and third place among the dailies belonged to the “Vesti dnia” with 9,900 copies, and “Molodezh’ Estonii” with 7,100 copies. Actually the largest number of copies in April 2006 had the free of charge local newspaper “Linnaleht in Russian”.

As we know, the number of circulation is not always the right one for popularity evaluation. Often the large number of copies was dictated by the advertising agencies. Among above named Russian dailies we have a different situation: the first number of “The Postimees in Russian” was printed in the 7th of October in 2005 in 10,250 copies. In the February it has about 25,000 copies. Such difference between the numbers was the result of advertising campaign. In the period of campaign they subscribed free of charged readers for three month. Today they print about 16,000 copies, which might be still the advertising number. Why? First of all, as the title shows – the “Postimees” is the branch of Estonian Language newspaper, only the subtitle “in Russian Language” shows, that this is the Russian one. After that, by the content the average of original Russian materials is 3-5 articles or 2-3 pages from 16 ones. All another pages belong to the translated Estonian materials.

Yet in accordance to retailers, the most popular Russian Language newspaper is the weekly “MK-Estoniia,” which holds the tenth position in the 50 mostly distributed Estonian printed media billboard of Lehepunkt ( “MK-Estoniia” is followed by “Vesti nedeli” (fourteenth place), “Molodezh’ Estoniia” (seventeenth place), “Vesti dnia” (twenty-fifth place). The other Russian periodicals do not enter the billboard of fifty the most widely spread nationwide papers and magazines for the second half of 2005.

Interestingly, the most widely spread Russian newspaper is also the youngest Russian Language weekly in Estonia. The tabloid “MK-Estoniia” was established on June 9, 2004. It is, in principle, a branch of a well-known Moscow edition called “Moskovskii Komsomolets.” The leading figures in “MK-Estonia” are journalists of two died out papers - “Estonia,” (the daily one) and weekly “Nedelia-Vesti-Plius” (Vitali Belobrovtsev, Pavel Ivanov, Aleksandr Ikonnikov, and others). In a year, in June, 2005 the circulation of the paper increased from 5,000 to 15,000 copies, thus the readership also increased. Amusingly, the readership includes both Russians, and Estonians. The latter find it interesting to look at what is going on in the Diaspora, and is also attracted by articles from “Moskovskii Komsomolets.” In the summer of 2004 journalist Aleksandra Manukian wrote skeptically: “it is hard to call “MK-Estoniia” as an Estonian newspaper, because we have to deal with the Russian brand “Moskovskii Kosomolets” in Estonia where we can see very few local materials” (Manukian 2004). In the beginning the “very few” meant that the weekly had about 40-50% Estonian materials. But now we have a different newspaper, where the materials sent from the office in Moscow occupy less than 30 percent (from 6% to 27%) of the total space in the newspaper. Accordingly, the greater half of 48 pages of “MK-Estonia” today is devoted to the local materials.

As it was said above, the most widespread daily according to “Lehepunkt” is “Molodezh’ Estonii,” which was established in July, 15 1950 as a mouthpiece for the Central Committee of Estonian Komsomol Organizaton (VLKSM). The first six years it was entitled as “Stalinskaia molodezh’”. The present title dates back to the year of 1956. Until the independence was declared the paper had been closely related to the Komsomol organization. Now it is not only the daily newspaper – they have two weeklies: “Molodezh` Estonii Subbota” and “Molodezh` Estonii Sreda”. The second one is dedicated to the economic issues.

Along with “Molodezh Estonii,” Russian offices of the national radio and television (ETV) are “inheritors” of the past. For example, the news broadcast called “Aktual’naia kamera” dates back to 1958. Initially, news blocks in Russian were broadcasted once a week as in a form of a review. Nowadays Russian news in the national TV is put on the air daily for 15 minutes. The ETV has also some 15-minute Russian Language cultural programmes, addressed to the national minorities. Mostly these broadcast programmes were result of contests of Integration Foundation.

Along with the public service television (ETV), with which the Russian news office is associated, at present there are also three commercial channels in the Russian language: Orsent TV, STV, and TV 3+. The first private Russian channel, Orsent TV, was established as early as in 1992. At first the channel functioned only 6 hours a day and only in the Tallinn area. The channel started as a primarily film channel, yet developed its own broadcasts. However, in December 2004, the license of the channel was withdrawn, as a result of the inspection of the State Language Board. For the first time Orsent TV had license complications in the year of 1997, when it received a warning for not having Estonian subtitles in broadcasts. In May 2005 the minister of culture gave the license back to the channel, and prescribed the company to broadcast no less than 3 hours a day, 21 hours a week. The broadcasts of the channel now range from cultural to entertaining. It also shows foreign films.

The cable TV company STV was established in 1994. Not only does it serve as a provider, but also produces some programs, mainly news, which is broadcasted both in the capital and in Narva. The rest of the air is given to films and imported soap operas. An international media company Modern Times Group established the youngest Russian Language TV channel in Estonia – TV 3+ . The first broadcasts of a newly born channel were put on the air on Christmas Eve, 2004. According to the channel’s management, TV 3+ fills in the niche of entertaining television. It mainly transmits Russian broadcasts and films from abroad. Which are put on the air in the same time (but not in all times) with the Estonian channel TV 3. TV 3+ held among the Russian wiers the third place, while the first one belongs to the Pervyi Baltiiskii Kanal (PBK).

PBK broadcasts since March 22, 2004 five nights a week a twenty-minute long news block, which is entirely prepared in Estonia. The news block is put on the air in the Riga main office. Interestingly, the idea to incorporate news into Russian TV channel dates back to as early as the year of 1961. The first newsreel based on the local matters was included into the broadcasts of “Tsentral’noe televidenie” on January 21, 1961. However, out of all the Russian media in Estonia, TV broadcasts are less popular than the others. The problem lies not in the quality of the broadcasts transmitted, but in the fact that Russian viewers in Estonia watch the TV from Russia available from the cable. Statistics confirms that out of all Russian channels the best is considered “Pervyi Baltiiskii Kanal” (10.4 percent of potential viewers). It followed by “RTR Planeta” (4.7 potential viewers) and the TV 3+ with 7,9 % (

Alongside with the channels mentioned, there is also a music TV Muz-TV established in 1995 in Russia. In 1999 the channel opened its first branch in Estonia, and now it belongs to a corporation AB Media Group. Besides music this channel transmits news, and cultural programs, and some entertaining broadcasts, etc. The target audience of Muz-TV is youngsters from 15 up to 25 years. Around 20 percent of viewers are of Estonian origin. They also have a web site MUZ EE, which promotes local artists and bands, though has also some data related to some artist from abroad.

The radio enjoys more popularity than local Russian TV. While Russian TV in extremely popular, the radio from Russia has as little as 3 percent of listeners in sum. The radio transmitting Russian programs has a long history, which dates back to the year of 1958, when the Russian office of the Estonian radio was established. Nowadays there are 5 Russian channels in Estonia, all of which are allied with the Estonian radio (a public broadcasting company). The most popular radio channel from the viewpoint of Russian community is “Radio 4,” which exists from May 1, 1993. While the other 4 channels are primarily music radios, “Radio 4” is on the air 24 hours a day, and broadcasts educational, cultural, and news programs, etc. Nowadays “Radio 4” is also available online. The first Russian commercial station was established in 1992. Called “Radio Tallinn” at first, it had a whole range of broadcasts, which mimicked the public radio. Everything changed in 1996, when it changed its brand name to “Radio 100,” and turned into a music channel with brief newsreels and commercial breaks. Thanks to those changes nowadays there is only one truly valuable station - “Radio 4.”

The Internet journalism in Estonia exists side by side with more traditional media. For instance, in November 1999, Microlink launched a news portal “Delfi,” which has both Estonian and Russian versions. Since May 2000 “Delfi” also has a branch in Latvia, where news is represented both in Latvian and in Russian.

Thus, we can state that the general outline of the state of the Russian media in Estonia on all stages was on relatively high level. There has always been – and still is - the daily and weekly press. During the Soviet times the radio appeared, though did not flourish due to competition with the nationwide station “Maiak.” There have always been – and still are - newsreels on public and commercial TV stations. Speaking of the future of the Russian media in Estonia we can be sure that they will exist at least as long as for the time span of several generations. They can fade away only if Russians in Estonia choose not to choose to be fully informed of the status of the country they live in, or choose to receive information from sources other than those of their native tongue. Judging by the results of the query undertaken by Social and Market Research Company Saar Poll, which deals primarily with the analysis of the market, the wish for and interest in being as entirely informed as possible is quite high among Russian Estonians (especially, in Tallinn, which constitutes more than 60 percent of the target audience of the Russian media in Estonia). On the other hand, Russian Estonians from the Northeastern regions lean toward Russian media from the abroad.

Alongside with the presence of a relatively wide target audience (around 400,000 people of Russian origin in Estonia), another factor contributing to the growth of the media in Estonia is the relative unstableness of the market, which seeks for new ways, know-how, and promising partnership.

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