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Media transformation for Russian speakers in Estonia

For the participants in the training and discussion of the Media Critical Thinking project, attention was paid to the analysis of Russian information sources, since very often one can hear summaries from Estonian journalists and politicians that there are two parallel information spaces. Estonia is too small a country, and those whose native language is Russian, only about 300 thousand people live here, one way or another every fourth is Russian-speaking, and there is no diversity of Russian-language media.

What changed? The number of Russian journalists and the quality of publications in the Russian language, these are mistakes and misprints, grammar and style of translations, and the presence of readers. Although some Russian-language media can rightfully be considered “historical” in Estonia. Thus, the cable TV channel “Orsent”, operating since 1992, is the oldest commercial TV channel in the country. And the newspaper Estonia, which ceased to exist in 2004, was the last periodical in the country to be published on A2 paper, while all other newspapers switched to the more readable modern A3 format much earlier.

The worst situation today is with the daily press in Russian and with TV channels. Estonia has several small cable channels and a small block of Russian-language programs on Estonian television. TV programs and news in Russian in Estonia today are produced by the TV channels Orsent, TVN, TNB Baltija, Continent E (former STV). The development of Russian-language television broadcasting is largely impeded by the Language Law, in force since 1995, which prescribes that all broadcasts must be translated into Estonian or provided with Estonian subtitles, which greatly complicates the production process and makes it more expensive.

On the public-legal channel ETV in the mid and late 1990s, there was a fairly strong editorial board of Russian-language broadcasting. In addition to news, a variety of programs were aired every day. But in the early 2000s, the situation began to change. In fact, of the programs in Russian, only the news of the “Actual Camera” remained. In 2007, Estonian Television began to prepare for the launch of the second program – ETV2. Initially, it was even thought that it could be, if not a completely Russian-language channel, then at least a channel where in the evening prime time (from 7 pm to 11 pm) Russian-language programs would be broadcasted in greater volume than before. However, the outbreak of the economic crisis and funding cuts put an end to this idea. It is also obvious that the lack of sufficient political will to implement the idea played its role. The ETV2 channel, which started working in August 2008, broadcasts the “Actual Camera in Russian” and the discussion program “Triangle”, which replaced the talk show “Trial of the Jury”, which was running at the same time. Other programs in Russian appear on the air from time to time, but, as a rule, only on a project basis.

However, various studies by sociologists show that the local Russian-speaking population does not feel the need for another separate Russian-speaking channel. This is primarily due to the sheer number of channels available thanks to the development of cable and digital television. Today, in the packages of cable operators, you can find several dozen Russian-language TV channels that can satisfy a wide variety of tastes.

Among those operating in Estonia, one can also note the TV3 + TV channel belonging to the concern Modern Times Group (MTG), which began operating in 2004. Initially, it was conceived as entertainment, broadcasting mainly Russian TV programs and films, however, since 2010, TV3 + shows the releases of “Actual Camera in Russian”, which are aired an hour after they are aired on ETV2.

A separate question: should the First Baltic Channel (PBK) be considered a local channel, for example? On the one hand, this top-rated Russian-language channel broadcasts a 20-25 minute block “News of Estonia” on weekdays, and also shows several more programs dedicated to life in Estonia. On the other hand, the lion’s share of the airtime is occupied by the production of the Russian First Channel, and the owner of the channel is the Baltic Media Alliance holding, based in Riga. In this regard, PBK does not even need a broadcasting license that the Ministry of Culture issues to the aforementioned TV channels operating in Estonia.

The TV channels Muz-TV, NTV, RTR-Planeta are still not producing their own products, but having representatives in Estonia. In essence, their activities boil down to pure commerce, since, with the appropriate licensing agreements, they sell airtime in ad units to local advertisers. However, it is possible that someday their potential will be used for the production of television products of local importance.

As for the daily press in Russian, the events of recent years have left only one player on the market – the newspaper Postimees in Russian. This is an interesting project for a bilingual publication, the possibility of launching which has been discussed in Estonia since the 1990s, but in practice the idea was implemented only by the Postimees concern in 2005. Most of the content of the newspaper consists of translated materials from the Estonian Postimees. Not surprisingly, the newspaper employs more translators than journalists. The first issue of Postimees in Russian was released on November 7, 2005 with a circulation of 10,000 copies, and already in January 2006 the circulation of one of the issues exceeded 25,000 copies. However, having gained a certain popularity and received a lot of subscribers due to the extremely low, practically dumping price, the newspaper stopped growing and began to slide back. At the beginning of 2012, its circulation was all the same 10,000 copies.

In form and content it is very similar to the daily newspaper and “Linnaleht in Russian”. This free edition is a clone of the Estonian newspaper Linnaleht, although, in comparison with Postimees, in this case the Russian-language version is more different from its Estonian counterpart. Initially, the free edition “Linnaleht in Russian” was published five times a week, but with the onset of the economic crisis, the newspaper, surviving solely on advertising, the volume of which has sharply decreased, was forced to reduce the number of outlets first to three, then to two, and then completely up to once a week. This periodicity was preserved at the beginning of 2012, although the weekly in terms of form and content “Linnaleht in Russian” can not be called in any way.

Two daily newspapers, Youth of Estonia and Vesti Dena, ceased to exist in 2009. The difficult times for Molodezhka coincided with the onset of a crisis for its owner, the alcoholic beverage producer Onistar, who acquired the newspaper several years before the bankruptcy. At the time of closing, the circulation of Molodezhka was only about 6,000 copies. Vesti Dena became the successor of the Estonian newspaper: after it was bought by a prominent businessman Endel Siff in 2004, the newspaper changed its editorial staff by 50%, was renamed, but soon closed.

The situation in the magazine market is not very happy either. In addition to the already mentioned magazines “Raduga” and “Tallinn”, since 1994, with the support of the Ministry of Culture and the Fund “Capital of Culture”, a literary and artistic publicistic journal “Vyshgorod” has been published. And this is where the conversation about serious magazines can end.

Attempts to publish entertainment magazines were also unsuccessful. The women’s magazine Lady and the men’s magazine Karyera, which belonged to the same publisher, were closed in 2008, and the latter only existed for just over a year. Having tried to become a kind of glamorous “Russian Kroonika”, the magazine “Bravo”, within a few months after its first publication in 2007, changed its profile to more social topics and nevertheless closed at the beginning of 2009, except that the women’s magazine “Yana” continues to work online.

Against this background, the most stable Russian-language media in Estonia are radio stations. The public-legal station “Radio 4” began its work in its current form on May 1, 1993. Today it is the largest Russian-language radio station in Estonia in terms of the number of employees and the volume of original products produced. As for commercial broadcasting in the FM range, until 2014, six more Russian-language radio stations operate in Estonia under the license of the Ministry of Culture. These are Sky Radio and Russian Radio, which are part of the same concern (Sky Media); Narodnoe Radio and Dynamite FM, also owned by the same owner; as well as Euro FM and the religious Family Radio (analogue of Pereraadio in Estonian).

Sky Radio and Russian Radio are modern commercial radio stations, mainly broadcasting music and standing quite far from journalism as such. The same can be said about “Dynamite FM” with “People’s Radio”. Although the latter is the successor of Radio 100 FM, which during its tenure as Radio Tallinn in the early and mid-1990s created a serious alternative to Radio 4 in terms of discussion programs on topical socio-political topics, it has not yet changed its format. Since then, this niche of an alternative to the overly academic Radio 4 and too frivolous commercial stations, in fact, remained unoccupied. The most popular are “Radio 4” and “Russian Radio”, whose weekly number of listeners ranges from 180,000 to 200,000 people. Moreover, in 2011, for the first time in the history of local radio broadcasting, Russian Radio managed to bypass the public law station in the rating.

The situation on the market of weekly and regional press is quite stable. Today, two competing weeklies are published in Estonia – MK-Estonia and Day by Day. The first one began to be published only in 2004 and rather quickly occupied its niche as a Russian-language tabloid. Despite the abbreviation MK in its title, the newspaper is an independent publication that only uses part of the content of Moskovsky Komsomolets for the franchise. Moreover, the volume of Moscow materials does not exceed 15% of the total volume of the publication. Day by Day is the first independent Russian weekly published since 1991. In 2006, it merged with another weekly publication, Vesti Nedeli, and for a while bore the dual title of News of the Week / Day by Day. In 2008, the newspaper was acquired by the Postimees concern. At the moment, the main competitors have approximately the same circulation of about 12,000 copies.

The weekly Komsomolskaya Pravda in the Baltics, published in Estonia, stands somewhat apart. The volume of local materials in this newspaper is so small that it would not be entirely correct to compare it with MK-Estonia or Day by Day. Attempts to publish a 16-page supplement “KP in Estonia” were unsuccessful – the project lasted for about a year, after which it was closed. The weekly “Delovye Vedomosti” should also be considered separately. With a very small circulation (about 5,000 copies), this is a purely niche business publication that is in demand among its audience.

The Russian-language regional press exists in almost all regions of Estonia, where at least some significant part of the Russian-speaking population lives. These are Narva Gazeta, Narva, Gorod, Viru Prospekt, Northern Coast, Sillamäe Vestnik, Panorama and others in Ida-Virumaa; Peipsi Coast in Peipsi; “Valk” in Valgamaa and so on. The most popular is Tallinn’s Stolitsa, a free newspaper published by the capital’s mayor’s office. According to sociological research, Stolitsa has the largest readership among all Russian-language print media.

By the way, sociological studies show that the Russian-language press is more often passed from hand to hand, and more people read one issue of the newspaper than in the case of the Estonian press. For example, the weekly MK-Estonia in terms of the number of readers, according to the data of the company Emor, is less than two times inferior to the Estonian weekly Eesti Ekspress – 52,000 against 92,000. At the same time, the circulation of the Estonian edition is almost three times more and exceeds 30,000 copies.

In recent years, online media in Russian have also been actively developing. A few years ago, the Delfi portal, which has been operating since 1999, was almost a monopoly in this area. It continues to be the leader in readability today, with more than 200,000 unique visitors per week. In 2005, Postimees-online launched its resource in Russian, its readability today is about 90,000 visitors per week. Soon the Delovye Vedomosti portal appeared, which is read by about 20,000 people a week. In 2007, Rus.err, a news portal for public law broadcasting, was launched, with perhaps the most unstable audience, ranging from 11,000 to 19,000 per week. In 2009, the updated portal was opened, which from the website of the Day by Day newspaper has turned into a full-fledged independent information resource, which today has almost the same number of readers as Postimees (curiously, both portals belong to the same owner, have one head and duplicate each other’s news to a large extent).

On the same principle – not a newspaper website, but an independent resource – the site (“MK-Estonia”), which opened in 2011, operates, which already has about 12,000 readers a week. Major players, Delfi and Postimees, have made a very successful attempt at segmenting their audience by creating spin-off products (Bublik and Lemon, respectively) that offer the reader purely yellow news. Moreover, “Lemon” in popularity has already come close to the “main” sites of its concern. In addition, one can also mention the so-called Portal of the Russian Community ( and the Russian Portal (, as well as dozens of other sites that in one way or another offer the reader information about Estonia in Russian and which are difficult to count.

The material was prepared on the basis of open sources on the Internet.

Tatiana Ivanova, publicist