Year in review: Media and Entertainment Law in Estonia

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Year review

Much of the public debate over the past 12 months has concerned possible threats to freedom of the press and freedom of speech in Estonia. Russia’s all-out military invasion of Ukraine has had a major impact on the media and entertainment industry.

In May 2022, a controversial verdict was handed down by two journalists in the Harju County Court. Estonia Express and the publisher were each fined €1,000 for publishing a news report detailing the facts of the criminal proceedings. The prosecutor’s office, which filed the lawsuit, argued that it was not informed of the release of the document and that the premature release of pre-trial information could jeopardize and undermine the collection of evidence.11

The sentencing has sparked a public debate, especially a day after Estonia was ranked fourth in the Press Freedom Index. In particular, public debates on the issue of the threat of freedom of the press in Estonia were raised, in this regard, several statements were made by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the former President of the Republic of Estonia. and several politicians and eminent jurists. In addition, the two largest organizations representing private and public media in Estonia issued a joint statement calling the verdict a terrible precedent and a serious threat to press freedom.12 The judge who gave his own judgment also expressed his opinion that it was a protest against the insulting statements made to the judge in the media. In his defense, the judge stated that the law is not clear enough on the punishment of journalists, that there is no proven case law on the matter and that the judge is impartial in his decision.13

In June 2022, the sentence was dismissed by the Tallinn District Court on the grounds that the publication of the Prosecutor’s Office undermined the administration of justice in this case and that the article was intended to inform the public. However, the court emphasized that permission must be obtained before disclosing the information of a criminal investigation to the media, because the publication may affect the process, for example, if a suspect in the case does not know this situation until he is aware of the case. The media.14

The dispute reached the Supreme Court of Estonia in January 2023. The court ruled that it was not right to punish the journalists for releasing data for preliminary investigation of criminal charges without the statutory permission of the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The Supreme Court of Estonia should not act arbitrarily when granting or denying permission to publish information of the Prosecutor’s Office, but should take into account the public’s need for information on the one hand and the need to solve the crime and protect its interests on the other hand. Persons or companies to whom the information may concern.15

The situation has caused many heated discussions among politicians on the question of whether it is necessary to amend the law regarding media freedom, but politicians are clearly divided into two opposing opinions that the law is needed. Update on the issue and state that the situation is good.16 At least there was general agreement on one side: that the issue should be discussed in depth.

Due to Russia’s military occupation of Ukraine, several Russian TV channels (and a Belarusian channel) and websites are still blocked. In addition, the entire Estonian film industry issued a statement to the government to stop the production and distribution of state-sponsored audiovisual films from Russia and Belarus in Estonia.17 The government did not respond to the statement, and the removal of such content of Russian origin was not a directive from the government, but an initiative of private organizations. Books produced in Russia are also left in retail stores, especially those offered by retail chains, because the opportunity for education and development in all languages ​​should still remain in Estonia.18 Once again, Russian current affairs are missing from news outlets in Estonia because the provider has been attacked by Russia in Ukraine.19 In addition, Estonian government officials, such as the Tallinn city government, have created a blacklist of pro-Russian artists who should be banned from entering Estonia.20 To prevent the spread of Russian culture and entertainment in Estonia.

In other topics, the media and entertainment industry has grown slowly in the past year. In December 2022, the state cultural budget for 2023 was approved, which included a 14.3 percent wage increase for cultural workers and a 37 percent increase in the minimum wage for highly qualified youth coaches.21

As of 1 January 2024, the VAT rate in Estonia will rise from 20 percent to 22 percent, which has sparked widespread debate among press publishers. The VAT rate for print publications will remain at the current 5 percent for 2024, but from 1 January 2025, the VAT rate for print publications will increase to 9 percent.

As for the film industry, in April 2022, the government increased the support of the cultural body Film Estonia by 3.4 million euros for 2022, especially in response to the high activity in the film sector following the contraction during the Covid-19 pandemic. Total funding for 2022 up to 5.4 million euros for the purpose of the funding reduction plan.22 The government has also officially acknowledged the importance of financing the film industry, which directly supports the overall economy.23

Regarding the same industry, in July 2022, Walt DC Company’s Disney+ streaming service was launched in Estonia.24 Intensifying competition between streaming platforms, both domestic and international platforms compete for viewership.

On 7 September 2020, a dispute arose over the ERR of public broadcasting by several private broadcasters. According to a statement submitted by the Estonian Media Enterprises Association (EML) to the European Commission (EC), ERR’s online news will be affected by the state budget. Fair competition. ERR is expanding its online media significantly with government funding, but the private sector cannot compete with the state at this level of funding.25 However, a (rejection) decision is expected on the Lithuanian Public Broadcasting Corporation’s decision regarding a similar unfair competition complaint filed by Lithuanian private media companies.26

In October 2023, a bill to regulate hate speech and hate crime went to parliament and still has to go through three readings before final approval.

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