Media Law in Estonia (Part One – Sources)
Basic principles of Media Law in Estonia
The basic principles of Media Law in Estonia include the freedom of communication, the freedom to tell the truth, the avoidance of censorship, journalist responsibility, avoidance of damage in journalism, and justification of criticism of public figures. The freedom of communication is the basic premise for a working democratic society, and the free press is the means and prerequisite for attaining it. With respect to the freedom to tell the truth, the press and other media must serve the right of the public to receive true, fair, and comprehensive information. The critical observation of the implementation of political and economic power is the main obligation of the press. With respect to censorship, the free press and other media may not be restricted or obstructed in the gathering and publication of information, provided that such activities remain within the limits of the law. With respect to a journalist's responsibility, a journalist must be responsible for his or her own statements and work. Media organizations must undertake to prevent the publication of inaccurate, distorted, or misleading information. In addition, the reputation of any individual must not be unduly harmed without there being sufficient evidence that the information regarding that person is in the public interest. Finally, individuals in possession of political and economic power and information important to the public are considered as public figures, and their activities will be subject to closer scrutiny and criticism. The media must also consider as public figures individuals who earn their living through publicly promoting their persona or their work.
Estonian media is built upon a great variety of newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV stations. There are about 70 different newspapers (40 of which are members of the Estonian Newspaper Association), among which are four large dailies and nine larger weeklies. Over 20 local newspapers and up to 80 magazines are published in Estonia.
Besides public radio (five channels) and public television, there are nearly 30 private local and regional/national radio stations and three national private television channels. Most of them are the members of the Association of Estonian Broadcasters.
Constitutional sources of Media Law in Estonia
The Constitution of the Republic of Estonia states that everyone has the right to obtain public information (§44) and to freely express one's ideas, opinions, convictions, and any other information (§45). The clause, however, also sets certain restrictions on the exercise of the freedom of speech. For example, Constitution §17 states that no one's honor or good name shall be defamed. §19 establishes the right to free self-realization, and §39 gives an author an inalienable right to his or her work.
Codified sources of Media Law in Estonia
Estonia offers a liberal environment for the media. There is no specific law on the press in Estonia. Cases regarding libel are covered by civil and criminal codes. In libel cases, the burden of proof rests with the media defendant. The press in Estonia is also affected by the Copyright Act, which creates favourable conditions for authors, performers, producers of phonograms, broadcasting service providers, producers of first fixations of films, makers of databases and other persons specified in this Act for the creation and use of works and other cultural achievements. The Competition Act safeguards marketplace competition in the interest of free enterprise regarding the extraction of natural resources and precludes the prevention, limitation, or restriction of competition in other economic activities. The Language Act provides the basis for the official use of Estonian Literary Standard pursuant to the procedure established by the Government of the Republic. The Advertising Act establishes the administrative proceedings, general requirements, prohibitions, and restrictions established for advertising in Estonia. The procedure for the use, communication, and protection of state secrets and information gathered from foreign states and the marking, storage, and destruction of corresponding media are addressed by the State Secrets and Classified Information of Foreign States Act.
Case law sources of Media Law in Estonia
Personality and privacy are protected by the Constitution, and every person has the right to sue anyone who has violated his or her rights.
Still, there are currently not enough court decisions in existence to make the rulings predictable. The Estonian law courts abstain from judging moral damages, intimating that the determination of the value of moral damage in financial terms is rather complex. Thus, in Estonia, it is quite difficult to re-establish one's rights in a case of harm caused by media.
Cases regarding libel are covered by the Law of Obligations Act, and the burden of proof in such cases rests with the media defendant. A person has the right for a correction and to sue for damages. In cases of defamation of persons enjoying international immunity, representatives of the state authority, the court, or the judge, the new Penal Code provides certain penalties, but there are no legal penalties for “irresponsible journalism”. Estonia has two important cases in Media Law from 2002 and 2006. The first one discusses the amount of information that may be published from police. The court stated that publishing delicate personal information requires approval from the police and the person to whom the information relates. The second case is about an article in a local newspaper that mentioned names of parties of a procedure that was declared closed. The plaintiff suffered damage and required the reimbursement of moral damages from the magazine.
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