Estonia Put Pressure On Journalists

A new draft legislation would allow journalists in Estonia to be incarcerated for up to one year for protecting their sources, Brigitte Alfter writes in

“The draft legislation, signed by the Minister, lists over 50 exceptions which oblige journalists to disclose their source to the police.”

Brigitte Alfter

According to Alfter, should the Act be adopted in the given form in the Riigikogu, investigating the mischief of public authorities and public officials would become very complicated for journalists.

“Much easier, obviously, to write about topics which do not entail the looming breach of source protection for the journalist,” Alfter writes.

In the summer 2008, Minister of Justice Rein Lang formed a “working group on media freedom legislation”, which went unnoticed by the public.

The Ministry remained silent as to the group’s duties.

In November 2009, the representative of the Ministry of Justice proclaimed at a seminar of the Estonian Newspaper Association that following the European example, Estonian journalists too would have their right to protect their sources.

Rein Lang evidently states the opposite. The draft legislation, signed by the Minister, lists over 50 exceptions which oblige journalists to disclose their source to the police, the Prosecutor’s Office and the court. Upon failure to do so, one can be punished with a fine that equals up to 500 daily salaries. Or even face a year in jail, which today seems quite unbelievable. But, if this punishment is not intended to be used, why include it in the law?

After 2004, the press hasn’t been requested to disclose their sources in Estonia. It was then that the Tallinn police brought charges against Eesti Päevaleht reporter Sergo Selder in order to find out the name of the waiter who spat on a cutlet.

During the interrogation, Selder had to endure the policeman’s threats, and was also photographed against the mug-shot background like a prisoner. The investigation was concluded when the Prosecutor’s Office stepped in.

If Lang’s draft legislation had been adopted last year, the silence of the Estonian journalists could have entailed their prosecution and conviction. At the moment, The Code of Ethics of the Estonian Press obliges a journalist to protect confidential information sources.

The Estonian Parliament Riigikogu will start the discussions about the new draft legislation most likely in near future.


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