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ISSN 2029-865X

Vol. 9 / 2013
Auksė BALČYTIENĖ, Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania
Peter GROSS, University of Tennessee, USA
Aušra VINCIŪNIENĖ, Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania
Karen ARRIAZA IBARRA, Complutense University of Madrid, Spain
Péter BAJOMI-LÁZÁR, University of Oxford, UK
Rasa BALOČKAITĖ, Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania
Inta BRIKŠE, University of Latvia, Latvia
Bogusława DOBEK-OSTROWSKA, University of Wroclaw, Poland
Ilija TOMANIĆ TRIVUNDŽA, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
Mykolas DRUNGA, Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania
Ari HEINONEN, University of Tampere, Finland
Stig HJARVARD, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Irena CARPENTIER REIFOVÁ, Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic
Nico CARPENTIER, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
Kristina JURAITĖ, Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania
Epp LAUK, University of Jyvaskyla, Finland
Nelija LOČMELE, “”, Latvia
Gintautas MAŽEIKIS, Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania
Werner A. MEIER, Universität Zürich, Switzerland
J. D. MININGER, Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania
Tom MORING, University of Helsinki, Swedish School of Social Science, Finland
Laima NEVINSKAITĖ, Vilnius University, Lithuania
Hannu NIEMINEN, University of Helsinki, Finland
Lars W. NORD, Mid Sweden University, Sweden
Audronė NUGARAITĖ, Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania
Henrink ÖRNEBRING, University of Oxford, UK
Yoram PERI, Tel Aviv University, Israel
Karin RAEYMAECKERS, University of Ghent, Belgium
Anda ROŽUKALNE, Riga Stradins University, Latvia
Helena SOUSA, University of Minho, Portugal
Jesper STRÖMBÄCK, Mid Sweden University, Sweden
Miklós SÜKÖSD, The University of Hong Kong
Burcu SUMMER, Ankara University, Turkey
Václav ŠTĚTKA, University of Oxford, UK
Artūras TEREŠKINAS, Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania
Jaromír VOLEK, Masaryk University Brno, Czech Republic
Peeter VIHALEMM, Tartu University, Estonia
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Introduction: Thucydides after the post-Cold War
The dynamics and determinants of Central and Eastern European
democratization: How cultural particularities are shaping media life
Invisible journalism? The political impact of investigative journalism in
Anastasiia GRYNKO
Journalists’ roles and ethics in turbulent times: Contemporary Controversies
in Ukraine
Editorial independence in the Latvian news media: Ownership interests and
journalistic compromises
Privatisation of press in Central and Eastern Europe 1989–1991. Case study:
Andres JÕESAAR, Salme RANNU and Maria JUFEREVA
Media for the minorities: Russian language media in Estonia 1990–2012
/ 4
Introduction: Thucydides after the post-Cold War
ISSN 2029-865X
Department of Public Communications
Vytautas Magnus University
Kaunas, Lithuania
Media Transformations 5
Te Greek historian Tucydides (c.460-c.400 B.C.) introduced his
account of the Peloponnesian War by ofering a blueprint for writing
the frst version of history – a phrase ofen used as metaphor for
modern Western journalism:
“In recording the events of the war my principle has been not
to rely on casual information or my own suppositions, but
to apply the greatest possible rigour in pursuing every detail
both of what I saw myself and of what I heard from others.
It was laborious research, as eyewitnesses on each occasion
would give diferent accounts of the same event, depending
on their individual loyalties or memories” (Book, One, 22
passage) (Tucydides, 2009).
Fast forward almost two-and-a-half millennia: as this volume goes
to press, Europe is the throes of the greatest challenge to its peace
and stability since the Cold War. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and
its meddling in eastern and southern Ukraine has been accompa-
nied by massive propaganda churned out by state-owned and Krem-
lin-friendly media. Little on the Russian side resembles Tucydides’
model: reporters pursue rumour instead of detail, laboriously mis-
speak the facts, and seldom ofer diferent accounts of the same event.
Meanwhile, Western media struggle “to give the other side a fair
hearing, so those lies being reported on ‘Russian television news’ are
ofen used to create a sense of balance” (Applebaum, 2014).
Lev Gudkov, head of Levada-Center, a Moscow-based polling organ-
ization says the scale and tone of Russian propaganda are unprece-
dented since the fall of the Soviet Union: “For intensity, comprehen-
siveness and aggressiveness, this is like nothing I have ever seen over
the whole post-Soviet period” (Leonard, 2014).
Alan Yuhas, who writes for the British newspaper Te Guardian,
notes that the Russian government has moved on three fronts in pur-
suit of its information goals:
“By shutting down independent press, Russia controls
more of the story; by spreading half-truths and rumors, the
Kremlin not only confuses opponents but also sows unwit-
ting support for its cause; fnally, by pushing the boundaries
with its version of events, Moscow’s leadership can force
other countries to play by its own very pliable rules” (Yuhas,
Russia’s use of media as a weapon of war has already led to policy
changes in some neighbouring countries. Even before the Ukraini-
an crisis erupted, Latvia and Lithuania suspended broadcasts by the
Russian television station RTR (Estonia did not) and the three Baltic
States are exploring the possibility of a joint television channel as a
way of countering propaganda aimed at Russian speakers in their re-
spective countries (Collier, 2014). Although such moves are subject
to debate regarding their efectiveness and raise issues of freedom
of access to information, the threat is not mere perception. Former
United States ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul warns that „the
Kremlin has both the intention and capacity to undermine govern-
ments and states, using instruments like the military, money, media,
the secret police and energy“(McFaul, 2014).
Russia’s eforts have sparked renewed interest in the efcacy of prop-
aganda. Paul Goble, who served in the U.S. State Department before
the fall of the Soviet Union and maintains a blog “Window on Eura-
sia” remembers the late Natalie Grant Wraga, a Russian-born expert
in Soviet disinformation and deception. Goble says she “frequently
argued that one of the reasons disinformation is so successful is that
it is mostly true and its audiences are unwilling or unable to make
distinctions between what they know to be true and what they would
discover is false” (Goble, 2014).
Te consequences of such low news literacy may be catastrophic and
Crimea is a case in point. In an early analysis of Russia’s informa-
tion war in the peninsula, Polish security expert Jolanta Darczews-
ka notes there was no resistance to Russian actions “because Rus-
sian-speaking citizens of Ukraine who had undergone necessary
psychological and informational treatment (intoxication) took part
in the separatist coup and the annexation of Crimea by Russia.” She
warns that such dangers are not specifc to Ukraine: rather “the ide-
ological newspeak based on disinformation falls on fertile socio-cul-
tural ground in the East” throughout the Russian-speaking diaspora
(Darczewska, 2014).
Although few doubt Russia’s use of military force to redraw the map
Introduction: Thucydides after the post-Cold War
Media Transformations 7
of Europe has ramifcations beyond the immediate crisis, there is
no consensus among the continent’s political elites about how to re-
spond. Meanwhile, some Western business leaders do not bother to
conceal their hope the problem will go away. Tat is not likely. Ac-
cording to Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev, Russia’s actions
in Ukraine signal a deep shif, long in the making, “an attempt to
politically, culturally, and militarily resist the West” (Krastev, 2014).
In the implausible event the crisis in Ukraine is resolved, large issues
will linger for generations to come.
In light of these developments, this issue of “Media Transformations”
could not be timelier. Each of the six articles examines strengths and
weaknesses of news media in Central and Eastern Europe, a region
in the forefront of the new reality in Europe.
Auksė Balčytienė explores the region’s media environments which
have been afected by changes in civic society, cultural norms, media
performance and the ebbs and tides of market economics, as well as
profound changes in the consumption of news that have resulted in
media fragmentation. She examines how these forces have played out
in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and to what extent their experiences
may be useful for the rest of Central and Eastern Europe.
Péter Bajomi-Lázár and Ágnes Lampé assess the status of investiga-
tive journalism in Hungary as seen through the eyes of seven critical
practitioners. Semi-structured interviews reveal that most believe
their work falls short of investigations by journalists in Anglo-Saxon
countries. Te participants question the overly pessimistic assess-
ments by Hungarian media scholars about the lack of journalistic
independence, but admit that in Hungary the impact of investigative
journalism is limited.
Anastasiia Grynko investigates the mind-set of journalists in
Ukraine, one of the most challenging places in today’s Europe for
gathering and disseminating news. She combines traditional with
unconventional (in journalism inquiry) methods, including arts-
based research techniques involving the production of collages to
glean the attitudes of journalists towards their profession, freedom of
expression, ethics, external and internal pressures, and other issues.
One hundred media professionals participated in the study.
Introduction: Thucydides after the post-Cold War
Anda Rožukalne evaluates external and internal factors afecting the
editorial freedom of news media in Latvia afer the fnancial crisis
and the contraction of its media market. Notably, of the 265 media
professionals surveyed nearly half of the respondents said business
interests places limits on editorial freedom. Journalists also evaluated
political interests, internal restrictions, including the role of editors
and self-censorship, and assessed editorial independence in media
other than their place of employment.
Matei Gheboianu reviews the privatization of Romanian media afer
the fall of the Ceausescu regime, including changes in ownership and
the entrance of foreign investors. Privatization occurred in several
stages over three years starting in 1989. She also examines in de-
tail how change came about at the two largest national newspapers,
Adevărul and România liberă. Tis includes in-depth interviews with
fve journalists who were instrumental in the privatization process.
Finally, Andres Jõesaar, Salme Rannu and Maria Jufereva look at
Russian-language media in Estonia over the past two decades. Afer
independence was restored Russian-language press found it difcult
to survive in a free market system and entered a period of steep de-
cline: no Russian-language daily newspaper was published in Estonia
in 2013. Meanwhile, Estonian public broadcasting did not step in to
fll the information gap and today many Russian speakers rely on
television programs from Estonia’s eastern neighbour.
Media Transformations 9
Applebaum, A. (2014). Russia’s Information Warriors are on the
March – We Must Respond. Te Telegraph, March 7. Retrieved
June 20, 2014, from
Collier, M. (2014). Baltics Mull Joint TV Channel to Counter Krem-
lin’s Line. AFP, April 20. Retrieved June 20, 2014, from http://www.
Darzcewska, J. (2014). Te Anatomy of Russian Information War-
fare. Te Crimean Operation, a Case Study. Point of View, No. 42.
Warsaw Centre for Eastern Studies. Retrieved June 20, 2014, from
Goble, P. (2014). Despite Its Crudeness, Putin’s Propaganda Cam-
paign Works Where He Needs It, Polish Study Says. Window on
Eurasia, May 25. Retrieved June 20, 2014, from http://windowoneur-
Krastev, I . (2014). Russian Revisionism. Foreign Afairs, March 3.
Retrieved June 20, 2014, from
Leonard, P. (2014) Russian Propaganda War in Full Swing over
Ukraine”. Associated Press, March 15. Retrieved June 20, 2014, from
McFaul, M. (2014). Confronting Putin’s Russia. Te New York Times,
March 23. Retrieved June 20, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.
Tucydides (2009). Te Peloponnesian War. Translation by Mark
Hammond. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Introduction: Thucydides after the post-Cold War
Yuhas, A. (2014). Russian Propaganda over Crimea and the Ukraine:
How Does it Work?” Te Guardian, March 17. Retrieved June
20, 2014, from
Media Transformations 11
The dynamics and determinants of Central and Eastern European democratization: How
cultural particularities are shaping media life
Professor, PhD
Department of Pubic Communications
Vytautas Magnus University
Kaunas, Lithuania
ABSTRACT: Tis paper makes several contributions to the arising debate about the
quality and variations of democratization and media performance in Central and
Eastern Europe. As its frst objective it provides a critical interpretation of the trend
entitled ‘individuation of consumption,’ recognizing serious risks and dangers that
changing conditions and social developments, such as individualization of media
choices and media use and thus of media fragmentation, impose on the functioning
of democracy in Europe. It specifcally looks at the CEE experience – at transitional
societies that are ofen described as lacking a sound and solid social and ideological
basis, with weak economies and a political culture characterized by elite polarization
and clientelism – and makes a presumption that those countries seem to be highly
susceptible to negative efects of social and cultural transformations. It combines
two perspectives of analysis – institutional and cultural – and, by observing the par-
ticularities of contextual conditions in the selected countries (Estonia, Latvia and
Lithuania), questions whether a perfect combination of contextual arrangements
could be discovered to enlighten our knowledge about alternatives in democrati-
zation and media performance across the CEE.
KEYWORDS: individualization, consumerism, media fragmentation, political and
social polarization, Central and Eastern Europe, Baltic States
ISSN 2029-865X
Media Transformations 13
Modern-day media has indeed progressed into a societal organiza-
tion of the utmost signifcance, power and domination. Contem-
porary media institutions propose much more than a mere setting
of political agendas and scrutiny of the powerful. Instead of being
geared to predominantly political structures where practical political
decision-making is meant to take place (such as government ofc-
es, parliaments, or other political assemblies), political discourses
tend to develop in highly fragmented, diversifed and interactive fea-
ture-empowered media environments. Today’s politics is hardly im-
aginable without its new features of spin, spectacle and amusement
– all those features induced and maintained by the new populist logic
provoked and expertly managed by the media. Additional to schol-
arly examinations, which move around these new qualities and delve
into the subtleties of mediacracy and media rulings, another popular
line of analysis encountered in political and media felds is the notion
of ‘crisis’.
Generally, the ideal for media performance in healthy democracies
should be envisioned as being a source of objective information that
is widely available to citizens and interest groups (Trappel and Meier,
2011; Trappel et al, 2011). Democratic media has a number of pre-
scribed functions to follow. It should support free speech and it must
act as a check (watchdog) on the activities of powerful institutions.
Idealistic vision also foresees that democratically performing media
should preserve a discursive space for the emergence of a rational
debate. Te media should indeed act as interests’ mediators and so-
cial mobilizers. Even more, conferring to another classical vision,
the media should act as a pillar together with other societal institu-
tions such as education, healthcare or cultural structures and systems
bringing consolidating and keeping nations together.
Te daily life in the twenty-frst century, however, is challenged with
advances and efects that difer signifcantly from what was expected
from these institutions – media included – only a few decades ago. As
seen from various cases
, serious challenges, drawbacks and media’s
failures to adhere to ideals of classical professionalism and accounta-
bility requests are reported throughout Europe. Many media groups
surrounding the
global Murdock
empire, as well as
other, more recent,
cases reported in the
UK about media’s
misbehaviours have
heated discussions
about crisis of
classical visions of
professionalism and
normative standing
points as absent in
today’s journalism,
and media institution
as removed from
democratic ideals.
The dynamics and determinants of Central and Eastern European democratization: How
cultural particularities are shaping media life
(especially newspapers) had to reconsider their business models.
Likewise, they had to lay-of their experienced staf members, sup-
plementing those with a cheaper and less qualifed workforce.
While economic and technological reasons are ofen blamed for the
most obvious drawbacks challenging media’s democratic functions,
changing contexts and media usage conditions signal much more
Tey challenge the basis of democracies in the region. As seen from
Freedom House reports, media independence rankings and jour-
nalistic professionalism assessments have dropped in all countries
across Europe. Especially severe changes took place in the media
of various CEE and Southern European states greatly moved by the
global economic crisis and where governments infused serious cuts
in the public sector as well as implemented other restrictions in cul-
tural policies, such as rising VAT on newspaper publishing and sales.
In another group of CEE countries yet additional trends – metaphor-
ically entitled as media ‘de-globalization’ – were registered (Stetka,
2012). Sensing serious fnancial difculties, many international pub-
lishers terminated their operations in evolving CEE markets and
were replaced by local business groups with unclear aspirations and
interests, intensifying politization and oligarchization in the region.
Additionally, another challenge appears to be social changes in-
itiated as a result of generational shifs and appearing novel news
consumption fashions among various groups of the changing au-
dience. For many young Europeans, for example, the Internet has
become the principal and only news and information resource they
repeatedly use. Obviously, changing media access routines have also
distorted how these younger generations are socialized into public
life and what their encounters with politics and public afairs are.
Tese shifs also critically afect individual participatory character-
istics, hence alienation and withdrawal from social life appear to be
new trends witnessed through arising political disengagement and
decline of support to conventional party ideologies and party mem-
bership (and politics in general).
A number of critical questions need to be asked here: How changing
media production and usage conditions correlate with the function-
ing of democracy in Europe – in other words, do modern-day media
contribute to public emancipation, empowerment and connectivity,
Media Transformations 15
or do they merely support individualized and popular encounters
through consumer-inspired needs leading to media and audience
fragmentation? How (and with what means) can a political-ideolog-
ical sense be mobilized in a contemporary, individual interests-fo-
cused world, and what role does professional journalism play in this
Although many of the changes observed and identifed in the pre-
vious section of this paper, particularly the ones associated with the
rise of individuation and personifed consumption, appear to be
rather fresh and new, this is not exactly so. In older European de-
mocracies, the public sector was reshaped and market schemes were
already initiated a few decades ago. As intensely debated, all attempts
of imposing criteria of competitiveness, of market-based logic, of f-
nancialization, have accelerated new social tendencies among which
individualization is the most prevailing trend. Predominantly geared
towards marketization and commodifcation these developments
have also placed individuals in uncertain market relationships in al-
most all spheres of their active life. Temporariness in employment,
marketization in public education and health care, and other uncer-
tainties caused by transformations of the public sector have added
a greater sense of risk and confusion throughout Europe. Te neo-
liberal economic regime not only changed the world economy, but
most importantly it changed fundamental policies within the nations
by introducing privatization and marketization as well as other mar-
ket-oriented forces into the daily lives of Europeans.
As seen from various academic inquiries, contemporary societies are
critically scrutinized for such inclinations as obsessions with con-
sumerism, political disconnect media’s increasing commercializa-
tion, professionalism compromises and the like. Media and political
institutions in diferent countries around the world are confronted
with new questions arising as adequate responses to rapidly chang-
ing economic and social conditions, such as economic difculties,
fnancial drawbacks, technological difusion, and all other types of
contemporary crises followed by disappointments, devaluations,
confusion and loss. Although not all European countries have been
similarly afected by economic crisis, almost all of them had to react
The dynamics and determinants of Central and Eastern European democratization: How
cultural particularities are shaping media life
to similar tendencies identifed as critical for the media feld, namely
the decline of fnancial mechanisms and sources to support adver-
tising and media business, shifing media independence conditions,
changing audience consumption traditions, and increasing Internet-
Likewise, the increasing individualization (reinforced by personifed
consumption and gradual loss of community ties) has turned out to
be a critical factor that is both a driver as well as a social outcome of
change. Among those core social consequences most closely associ-
ated with rising individualization in the political sphere is the demise
of the classical concept of citizenship. Traditionally, good citizenship
is envisioned as a genuine intention of acting for the good of others.
Te contemporary public sphere, primarily maintained through me-
dia channels, in contrast, is progressively flled with the concerns and
preoccupations of people only as individual consumers, thus leaving
little room for the concerns of them as citizens engaged with com-
mon issues. Speaking very generally, individualization destroys the
core foundation of what the true public sphere is or what it could
be. It challenges the principle of togetherness, of social co-existence.
Hence fnding consensus on important public issues becomes prob-
lematic, and the ideal of public communication is reduced to sharing
intimacies and personal confessions, or building-up of personal so-
cial capital through newly available communicative means, such as
Facebook or others. As seen, many of such harmful, even destructive,
trends towards sensationalism, populism, political commodifcation
and, equally, towards democratic fatigue, have found an echo in var-
ious European states.
In spite of an uncertain future, few judgments, nevertheless, seem to
be essential here. Democracy, as a political form, assumes engage-
ment, commitments and participation. Equally so, efective partic-
ipation and enlightened understanding of public matters are neces-
sary preconditions of a working democracy. Speaking generally, such
a view implies a basic orientation to public afairs. While it is difcult
to identify in precise numbers the exact level and nature of desired
public involvement and participation, it nonetheless is acceptable to
question when and how media consumption contributes to public
connectivity and interest in public matters, and when and why media
fails to meet and adhere to these expectations.
Media Transformations 17
As a test case for such an investigation, I propose to look at the tran-
sitional societies. Although it may seem that Central and Eastern Eu-
rope lives in an endless cycle of intense fuctuations and instability,
and its social atmosphere is charged with feelings of uncertainty and
fux, what creates such an impression, essentially, is not the societal
change as such, but the abundance of urgent calls and requests in-
spired by on-going social pressures. It is important to get hold of
these pressures; but it is also important to capture all cultural aspects
acting in those moments as well as their efects and outcomes.
So how exceptional is CEE experience in this respect? Do current
social and cultural condition in Europe have anything to do with the
period of changes and contemporary lifestyles in CEE? What are the
most emblematic features of today’s CEE media? How various as-
pects of CEE transition (roles and choices made by various political
and social actors) have impacted on the media – its working condi-
tions as well as its functions and missions?
Among the most striking conclusions evolving from a signifcant
number of available research studies on CEE is the fnding that, gen-
erally, all CEE elites (political and media including) are very polar-
ized, very divided. On the other hand, social and political polariza-
tion commonly registered in changing political environments may
be seen as enthused by the climate of urgent requests for change,
specifc institutional conditions and extreme instabilities, and also
treated as a natural outcome of changing elite preferences and de-
cisions as to which course of action to take in regards to political
decision making. Nonetheless, despite enduring changes and institu-
tional weaknesses, one of the paradoxes observed across CEE is that
many dominating institutions of societal power such as political par-
ties, although having low public legitimacy
, are able to gain public
attention and assemble necessary resources to gain adequate status,
for example, by mobilizing public opinion during elections.
CEE politics, in general, is strongly infuenced and shaped by its
presence in the media. Having only fresh histories, low membership
support and fragile organizational structures, the political parties are
particularly dependent on and determined by the media, hence they
employ enormous eforts to systematically control and manage pub-
Public support for
political and social
institutions in CEE is
amongst the lowest
across all European
states. Its low (political
and social) legitimacy
is manifested through
low institutional
trust, low public
engagement, low party
memberships, low
funding, and so forth.
The dynamics and determinants of Central and Eastern European democratization: How
cultural particularities are shaping media life
lic opinion. Furthermore, politicians are genuinely convinced that
the media have a major infuence on voting habits and behaviours.
Likewise, the media itself is not without sin – it is prone to heavy
manipulation, populism, sensationalism, lifestyle issues and political
consumerism. All this leads to a general feeling that politics and me-
dia in most of CEE uphold their lifestyles through reciprocal cohab-
itation and functioning symbiosis shaped through joint, clientelist
In such a context, another evident inconsistency and paradox of
social life in today’s CEE is that supplementary political and soci-
etal components and structures that should instigate public control,
awareness and associational participation, such as trade unions, civil
society, professional independent media and others, are unusually
weak or marginal. Te existing dichotomy, ultimately, leads to a crit-
ical condition.
Indeed, being generalized, this account of political and media work-
ings, nonetheless, directs our attention to contextual features regulat-
ing varied societal reactions and democratization in CEE. As could
be seen from a brief examination of contextual qualities of the three
Baltic countries (see Table 1), even nations with similarities in their
most recent histories can generate varied outcomes in their transi-
tion and expose diferent restrictions to media democratization.
Tus one issue that should be addressed here is the question of what
kind of democracy (i.e. political and economic conditions as well as
attitudes and ways of life) is needed for the media to perform their
agreed-upon normative functions.
One possible way to grasp those variations would be through insti-
tutional and cultural examination. Institutionally speaking, many
things (media laws and regulations, codes of ethics, institutions of
media self-regulation) in the felds of Baltic media seem to be in
. Te picture, however, changes when socio-political condi-
tions are examined and the media’s actual performance is assessed.
In many respects, and specifcally in media performance, Estonia ap-
pears to be performing better than Latvia and Lithuania.
Why is the observed end-result as it is? How can these variations be
explained? What are the contextual conditions determining media
performance characteristics and qualitative outcomes?
of markets and
by other rapid
developments such
as technological
and cultural
have indeed sped
diversifcation of
media structures
and pluralized
content in CEE. Yet,
although established
as democratic
institutions with
all necessary
and recognized
attributes, the
media in CEE do
not meet most of
the conventional
for professional
Media Transformations 19
Indeed, the assortment of democratizations in CEE (and the Baltic
countries) shouldn’t come as a big surprise. As seen from history les-
sons, both the pre-communist as well as communist decades in those
countries were as diverse as those of the new democracies turned out
to be. Similarities could be found in democratization patterns across
various countries of the same region, but only through historical and
cultural analysis is one able to reveal where designs of today’s poli-
tics, economic development, media performance or other qualities of
social life are correlating with, or are shaped by, patterns of political
(Census 2011)
1,28 million 2,07 million 2,98 million
Dominant religions
16,2% Orthodox
9,9% Lutheran
34% Lutheran
24% Roman
17,8% Orthodox
77,2% Roman
4,1% Orthodox
Major linguistic groups
(EuroStat, 2011)
68,6% Estonians,
25,7% Russians,
3,3% Ukrainians
and Byelorussians
59% Latvians,
28% Russians, 4%
2% Poles, 1%
Lithuanians, 5%
83,7% Lithuanians,
6,6% Poles, 5,3%
Russians, 1,3%
3,1% other
language groups
(NATO, EU, Eurozone)
NATO, EU (2004)
Eurozone (2011)
NATO, EU (2004)
Eurozone (2014)
NATO, EU (2004)
Eurozone (2015)
GDP per capita
(Eurostat, 2011)
11,900 EUR 9,800 EUR 10,200 EUR
Trust in institutions
(Eurobarometer 2012)
16% (political
35% (government)
29% (parliament)
6% (political
17% (government)
13% (parliament)
13% (political
21% (government)
13% (parliament)
Political and electoral
turnout in last national
parliament elections,
European Parliament
63,5% (2011)
43,9% (2009 EP)
59,4% (2011)
53,7% (2009 EP)
35,7% (2012)
20,9% (2009 EP)
Perceived levels of
, 2013
(country rank)
28 49 43
Populist cleavages and

Low High High
Degree of political
parallelism and socio-
political polarization

Low High Medium
Civic engagement
and participation
membership – % of people
that belong to at least one
organization, EVS 2008)
40% 28% 26%
Table 1.
overview of
selected country
Source: http://www.
Source: http://cpi.
Source: (Norkus,
Source: (Ornebring,
The dynamics and determinants of Central and Eastern European democratization: How
cultural particularities are shaping media life
First newspapers
published in the country
‘Luhhike Oppetus’
‘Latviesu Arste’
Dievo karalystėje’
(printed in
Lithuania Minor,
Media use on daily basis
(Eurobarometer 2012)
82% (TV)
64% (radio)
42% (written press)
64% (internet)
40% (social media
and networks)
81% (TV)
55% (radio)
19% (written press)
63% (internet)
44% (social media
and networks)
86% (TV)
55% (radio)
32% (written
51% (internet)
28% (social media
and networks)
Share of advertising in
media – TV, newspapers
and Internet
(TNS Gallup 2012)
TV (30,8%
Internet (16,6%)
TV (45,1%
Newspapers (9,0%
Internet (15,4%)
TV (47,8%)
Internet (10,0%)
Te power and impact of
PSB (TV and radio, TNS
Gallup 2011)
Audience market
share: 15% ETV,
19,7% Vikerraadio
Daily reach:
36% ETV, 23%
Audience market
share: 8,8% LTV1,
9,5% Latvias Radio
1, 18,2% Latvias
Radio 2
Daily reach: 28%
LTV1, 8% Latvias
Radio 1, 15%
Latvias Radio 2
Audience market
share: 10,7% LRT
TV, 20,8% LRT
Daily reach: 34%
Levels of internetization
(internet used in the past
3 months, Eurostat 2013)
80% (63% use
internet daily or
almost everyday)
75% (60% use
internet daily or
almost everyday)
68% (53% use
internet daily or
almost everyday)
Media advertising
(TNS Gallup 2012)
72,5 (million, EUR) 70,9 (million, EUR)
99,4 (million,
De-globalization of
media ownership (foreign
media owners that lef the
Baltic countries as a result
of the global economic
crisis 2008-2011)
Dailies ‘Postimess’
and ‘Eesti
Daily ‘Diena’
(Bonnier Media)
Free daily ‘15 min’
(local media
moguls/media owners and
their political leanings)
Low High Medium
Media performance
calculations (Freedom
House, Reporters Without
16 (FH 2013, free)
11 (World Press
Freedom Index,
28 (FH 2013, free)
39 (World Press
Freedom Index,
24 (FH 2013, free)
33 (World Press
Freedom Index,
Social policies
general government
expenditure as a
percentage of total
spending, 2011)
8,3% (general
public services)
12,0% (economic
13,3% (health)
16,9% (education)
34,2% (social
11,7% (general
public services)
14,5% (economic
10,7% (health)
14,9% (education)
31,5% (social
12,1% (general
public services)
10,6% (economic
14,0% (health)
15,6% (education)
33,8% (social
VAT for media,
and Availability of
public media support
9% (standard is
12% (standard is
9% (standard is
Yes (‘Press, Radio
and TV Support
Source: (Stetka,
Source: http://epp.
Media Transformations 21
decision making, social and economic policies designed by elites and
other choices made in those countries in the critical moments during
the twenty-fve years of post-communist change.
A number of lines of examination according to which the present-
ed data (see Table 1) could be studied seem to be noteworthy here.
What strikes me most from such a comparison are the signifcant
variations of political engagement data, institutional trust and the
general feeling of happiness as seen from the section on satisfactions
with how democracy is working in the country, and might also be
detected from selected socio-economic indicators, such as data on
emigration, investments and popularity of education initiatives as
well as others. As commonly assumed, absence of associational and
consensus oriented political culture seriously distorts contemporary
politics and social well-being and afects other societal outcomes
(such as individualism, confrontations, social and political polar-
ization). Following such lines of thinking, it could be argued that
uneven, weak associational structures, which traditionally should be
sustained through varied public communications channels and net-
Public satisfactions
with how democracy is
working in the country

50% (rather happy)
21% (rather
29% (difcult to
23% (rather happy)
63% (rather
13% (difcult to
15% (rather
40% (rather
35% (difcult to
Labor market conditions
(unemployment and
youth unemployment,
Eurostat 2012)
19,3% (youth
24% (youth
24% (youth
Socio-economic signs
such as emigration
In the period 1990-
2010 about 10%
(or about 150,000
people) of Estonia’s
population of 1990
are registered n.a.
In the period
728,700 people
from Lithuania
(about 20% of
the country’s
population of
2010 is registered
as peak year with
83,500 people
% Of the population
considered to be at-
risk-of-poverty or social
exclusion in 2011
23,1% 40,4% 33,4%
Tertiary education, and
Lifelong learning, OECD
12,0% (lifelong
5,0% (lifelong
5,9% (lifelong
Source: (Lauristin
and Vihalemm, 2011).
The dynamics and determinants of Central and Eastern European democratization: How
cultural particularities are shaping media life
works, do not contribute to critical discourse development and do
not infuse other public actions, such as public criticism and control
over other powers (political, economic) in society.
Although the above example of data analysis gives only a brief report
of all particularities of political system changes in the three countries,
it is not difcult to notice they stem from choices and decisions made
by the elites in critical times of politico-economic transformations in
the Baltics. Estonia was the only country whose newly elected demo-
cratic government implemented very radical (‘shock therapy’) types
of market reforms, while Latvia and especially Lithuania were more
cautious and opted for much more gradual, so-called ‘calculated’ and
‘negotiated’ approaches (Norkus, 2011). It could be argued that the
continuity of particular cultural appearances (as manifested through
diferent agreements and negotiations between elites) has distinctive
characteristics observed in today’s institutional performances and or-
ganizational cultures that shape it. Among those exceptional features,
emblematic to transitional societies, should be mentioned a certain
tradition of enduring interdependences and ‘calculated agreements’
leading to clientelist social forms and relations that further contrib-
ute to the emergence of a ‘culture of dependency’, more emblematic
to Latvia and Lithuania than to Estonia (Ornebring, 2012).
It looks like the countless successes of Estonia were born from a
complex combination of historical, cultural and geographic factors,
among which Lutheran modesty, social persistence, geographical de-
terminism and ruthless pragmatism have the most obvious efects.
All these afect the workings of democracy. Among those plausible
explanations of the country’s contemporary advancements in terms
of its media’s democratic institutionalization and its professionaliza-
appears to be its historical continuities from both pre-com-
munist and communist cultures and capacities to cultivate, within
reasonable limits, a potential for moral choice and democratically
useful experiences leading to formations of counter-elite cultures
(Bennich-Bjorkman, 2007; Norkus, 2011). Te liberal idea of equal
opportunities and a profound respect for individuality (rather than
the notion of equal outcome), already formed decades ago, aptly
characterizes the predominant mentality of this small nation in the
present times as well
. Te specifc features of such mentality are
uncovered in a number of outcomes of post-communist transforma-
Here the results
of Freedom House
(FH) assessments
are taken into the
account which rank
Estonia the highest
among the CEE
countries (see Table
1 and FH rank for
Estonia 16).
Here it is
important to
stress that it is not
individualism as
ruthless self-interest
that could have
been seen in inter-
war Estonia, but
rather individualism
combined with
respect to the
actions of others,
also to communal
practices, which
endured throughout
the twentieth into
the twenty frst
Media Transformations 23
tions, predominantly in low politization and oligarchization, higher
satisfaction with democratic structures and their functioning, lower
levels of socio-economic divergence (such as unemployment, pover-
ty, emigration) also distressing political and media climate.
It indeed appears to be thinkable that confictual political culture,
which is fashioned by deeply polarized, very divided elites (especial-
ly in Latvia and Lithuania), is the main cultural apparatus that in-
stigates and sustains on-going battles. Media, too, is entrapped into
those confrontations. Many of those are found in mainstream televi-
sion; many of those are transferred into the Internet. Although con-
tributing to pluralization, these furthermore support increasing frag-
mentation, social polarization (and also politicization) of diferent
groups, maintained through various opinion clusters functioning as
‘hotbeds of political opinions’. Tis furthermore afects segmentation
and structuration of the public sphere into diverse parallel informa-
tional felds accessed by respective users (Balčytienė, 2012).
Briefy, in the longer perspective, such developments might become
critical for democracy. If the country’s public sphere is saturated with
controversial, polarized, confictual, divergent issues, its citizens,
correspondingly, fnd themselves as permanently, deliberately unin-
formed, manipulated and misrepresented voters. Teir disappoint-
ment and gradual withdrawal from public life is also programmed
by political and media performances – hence it is no surprise that
confict, disagreement, volatility and fux (and therefore the lack and
absence of long-term political thinking and public policy visions) ap-
pears to be amongst the most illustrative features of today’s political
and social life in the Baltics.
Indeed, ours is a self-absorbed age. It is an age of declining partici-
pation in the electoral process, of declining institutional legitimacy.
Contrary to these developments and observations, this is also the
age of intensity, of increasing choice, of pluralization. It is an age of
individualized encounters, of selective public exposures. Democra-
tization processes are not excluded from these information usage
efects. Changes in media production and usage routines directly
touch upon the citizens’ knowledge of politics. As already warned,
many contemporary lifestyles and information exposures happen
The dynamics and determinants of Central and Eastern European democratization: How
cultural particularities are shaping media life
to be threatening to democracy: constant and nearly exclusive en-
counters with like-minded viewpoints will gradually lead to group
polarization. It certainly may limit the diversity of arguments that
viewers posses. It might also infuence a citizens’ political attitudes
and beliefs. But the most uncertain issue here is the question of what
the democratic consequences of selective political exposure is or
could be. Clearly, such developments also raise anxieties about the
function and normative missions of (impartial, objective, balanced)
professional journalism.
Instead, our societies are represented mainly through the media
worlds that maintain almost a perfect selection of sources that con-
form neatly and reliably to one’s prior beliefs and expectations. It
appears even more obvious that the manipulative and commercial
logic and marketing strategies of advertisers, not the technology per
se, must be accused for causing the fragmentation of society. Media
ofer specialized content and formats that allow advertisers to target
desired populations more efectively. Tis leads to a ‘customization’
of media products and, furthermore, to encounters of individuals
with other like-minded individuals living in their own personally
constructed worlds – ‘diasporic communities’ as named by Zygmunt
Bauman – focused on self-exposers, intimacies and confessions.
With increasing fragmentation and social polarization, and with
control partially transferred to individual information consumers,
professional journalism is in danger of gradually losing its previously
held dominant ‘expert’ status. Tis partial ‘de-professionalization’ of
journalism, alongside the increasing popularity and use of the In-
ternet and social media and other sources, seems to indicate funda-
mental industrial change.
It appears that some markets seem to be more vulnerable to such
developments than others. As noted, certain attributes – particularly,
weak civic culture and the potentially strong role of television – may
create potentially favourable conditions for the emergence of def-
nite trends. Tis, when coupled with the rise of consumer oriented
news production, results in fewer quality opportunities for the in-
terested public to give an account of changes in their closest realities
and their social surroundings. Tese developments lead to another
dramatic observation in the mainstream media, which is its obvious
Media Transformations 25
loss of public trust. Although in many Western countries the media
still maintain high trust, in the transitional democracies of CEE, the
public trust in mass media has dropped to its lowest position in the
last decade. Tese developments, however, are an outcome of both
– the neoliberal capitalist shifs in the media industry towards ag-
gressive commercialism, and also the on-going diversifcation of all
media products towards more individual-interests focused, special-
ized, niche, and alternative productions.
All in all, increasing social polarization and audience fragmentation,
growing societal diversity, declining impartiality and objectivity in
journalism, and the steady loss of credibility and trust in the mass
media are becoming fxed features of our contemporary world. In-
dividualized, selective or accidental exposure afects how people
reason about, react to, and act in the political world. As warned by
Gross (2009), Mancini (2013) and many others, fragmented media
don’t play that vital function of social integration that could foster
necessary negotiations and agreements among the involved publics.
It doesn’t foster the kind of common knowledge and opinions that
could make possible a more integrated, more inclusive and more dy-
namic society, which would be open to change and interdependence.
It still appears that economy is a strong determinant of media work-
ing conditions, particularly its independence, though this is not al-
ways a sufcient reason. A close correlation between higher GDP
scores and higher media freedom and accountability assessments is
seen in various international media evaluations (see Table 1). Still,
economic policies and market conditions need to be supported with
certain cultural norms of life, visions and ideals of how democracy
should function in the country and how political life should contrib-
ute to it. As argued here, political thinking and decisions instigated
and made by Baltic elites, already in critical times of post-communist
transition (in the early 1990s), appear to also be crucially essential
in shaping cultural and media policies of today
. Democratization
research also puts a very strong emphasis on the country’s socio-eco-
nomic dynamics and its emancipation; it argues that the existence
of wealthy, educated, middle-class earners is crucially important in
boosting informed public participation in common afairs. None-
Tese could
be observed
predominantly in
design of economic
policies (such as
media subsidies, VAT
exemption, openness
to international
investors, and others)
that also defne and
determine conditions
of media democratic
functioning (Stetka,
The dynamics and determinants of Central and Eastern European democratization: How
cultural particularities are shaping media life
theless, this issue also appears questionable. As seen from audience
analyses, today’s media users are enthused by matters of choice and
diferentiation, rather than by issues of agreement and common con-
One of the principal tasks of this paper was to disclose varying me-
dia working conditions across Europe (by using an example of the
three Baltic countries), but by doing this it also aimed to show that
similarities in new social trends (such as arising individualized con-
sumption and media fragmentation) are also found in larger and
smaller markets, in stronger and weaker economies. Consequences
and outcomes of those trends, however, tend to be contextually (and
thus culturally) bound, thus their outcomes and consequences are
culturally diferentiated.
Related to this latter statement, a number of warnings ask to be list-
ed here. As seen from this discussion, the critical efects and social
consequences of various developments are more straightforwardly
noticed to take place in transitional societies of Central and Eastern
Europe – in the countries where the idea of common good is weaker,
where the rules of the game are weaker and more fexible, and no
agreements and fxed directions are yet standardized.
Another notice is that older European democracies are not immune
to the arising changes. And they are not excluded from those poten-
tially to be afected by trends of individualization and polarization
as well. As discussed here, the challenges of declining revenues from
traditional advertising, shifing audience preferences and decreasing
political engagement should also not be overlooked in the countries
that so far have efectively escaped most on-going social fuctuations.
In the countries where traditions of media fnancial support from
various resources are stronger (for example, through state funding
and fnancial subsidies, or public donations and local initiatives), ef-
fects of these developments (media fnancialization, political pop-
ulism, sensationalism) on the general media climate may not be as
harsh as in the markets (Central and Eastern Europe, Southern Eu-
rope), where such public support models are not that well-developed.
To say it very generally, in most of Western Europe, also in select-
ed CEE markets, conditions for journalism are quite favourable and
promising. Markets are quite stable, state policies for media support
Media Transformations 27
are functioning, and media culture is heavily infuenced by ideas of
public empowerment and inclusion. Whereas in the Central and
Eastern European states which, for the past two decades, have been
struggling with various instabilities and were severely hit by the glob-
al economic crisis (for e.g., Latvia), outcomes of changing media cli-
mate (both of economic and social conditions) are less reassuring.
All in all, all issues discussed here (such as individualization, social
and political polarization) should be assessed as matters of rising
signifcance and universal concern. Teir actual outcomes as well as
their cultural variations, though, will only be seen later.
Bajomi-Lazar, P. (2013). Te Party Colonization of the Media: Te
Case of Hungary. East European Politics and Societies and Cultures, Vol.
27(1), 69–89. DOI:
Balčytienė, A. (2012). Dependencies, Parallelisms, and Connections:
Central and East European Media as Systems in Flux. Media Trans-
formations, Vol. 8, 48–70. DOI:
Bennet, L. W. (2012). Te Personalization of Politics: Political Iden-
tity, Social Media, and Changing Patterns of Participation. Te AN-
NALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol.
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Bennich-Bjorkmann, L. (2007). Te Cultural Roots of Estonia’s Suc-
cessful Transition: How Historical Legacies Shaped the 1990s. East
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EHDR (2011). Estonian Human Development Report: Baltic Way(s)
of Human Development – Twenty Years On. Tallinn.
Gross, P. (2009). Te Menace of Post-Objective Journalism in the
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dustry, Journalism Culture and Communication Policies in Europe.
Koln: Herbert von Halem Verlag.
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Lauristin, M., and Vihalemm, P. (2011). Satisfaction with Outcomes
of Baltic Transition in Spring 2011. Estonian Human Development
Report 2010/2011. Tallinn: Eesti Koostoo Kogu, pp. 19–22.
Mancini, P. (2013). Media Fragmentation, Party System, and De-
mocracy. Te International Journal of Press/Politics, Vol. 18(1), 43–
60. DOI:
Nieminen, H. (2010). Te Unravelling Finnish Media Policy Consen-
sus? In D. Levy and R. Nielsen (eds.), Te Changing Business of Jour-
nalism and its Implications for Democracy. Oxford: RISJ, pp. 55–67.
Norkus, Z. (2011). Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian Post-commu-
nist Development in the Comparative Perspective. EHDR: Estonian
Human Development Report: Baltic Way(s) of Human Development –
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and Eastern Europe. Te International Journal of Press/Politics, Vol.
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Center, St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford, July 9-11.
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Media Transformations 29
Invisible Journalism? The political impact of investigative journalism in Hungary
Professor, PhD
Head of Institute of Social Sciences
Budapest Business School
Budapest, Hungary
Journalist, 168 Óra
Lecturer, Media and Communication Department
ELTE University
Budapest, Hungary
ABSTRACT: Tis paper briefy overviews the theory and history of investigative jo-
urnalism and assesses the political impact of investigative reporting in post-commu-
nist Hungary on the basis of a series of semi-structured interviews with award-win-
ning investigative journalists.
KEYWORDS: democracy, investigative journalism, media efects, watchdog
ISSN 2029-865X
Media Transformations 31
Te media have power, it is widely held among members of the
public, politicians, and journalists. Te notion of the “fourth es-
tate,” coined by Edmund Burke, refers to the optimistic view that, in
democratic societies, journalists check on the political and business
. As Michael Schudson observes, “Representative democracy
is a political system based on distrust of power and the powerful”
(Schudson, 2003: 104). Tat this kind of political regime should rely
on the separation of powers or, in a diferent approach, on a system of
checks and balances, is warranted by the experience that even freely
elected politicians make decisions that are driven by self-regarding
interests rather than the public good and that they therefore need to
be under public scrutiny. Under the “liberal” and the “social respon-
sibility” models of the press, journalists are commonly expected to
be the “watchdogs” of democracy, whose job it is to “bark” on behalf
of the public whenever they disclose that the politicians use their
powers for purposes other than their mandates allow them to (Sie-
bert et al., [1956] 1963).
Of all journalists, investigative reporters are particularly expected to
reveal cases that those involved try to hide from the public eye, es-
pecially corruption – that is, instances when public money is trans-
ferred into private pockets in illegitimate or illegal ways. Te taxpayer
has the right to know what the government spends his or her money
on, as – in the words of Tomas Paine – “every man is a proprietor
in government and considers it a necessary part of his business to
understand […] because it afects his property” (Paine [1792] quoted
by Peters, 1998: 62). Investigative journalism, which as a profession
emerged in the Anglo-Saxon countries in the 19th century and was
relatively rare on the European continent until the late 20th century
(Hallin & Mancini, 2004), cannot be efcient unless news media are
largely independent from both the political and business elites, or at
least pluralistic enough so that outlets controlled by competing elites
can mutually keep an eye on those elites. It is ideally followed by the
correction of the mistakes exposed, while those responsible are held
to account in both the political and legal senses of the term (Chalaby,
1996; Kunczik, 2001; Ószabó & Vajda, 2001; Schulz, 2002).
“Tere are three
estates [i.e. the aristoc-
racy, the clergy, and
the middle classes]
in Parliament, but in
the Reporters’ Gallery
yonder there sits a
Fourth Estate more
important than they
are all” (Burke [1787]
quoted by Horvát,
1997: 61).
Invisible Journalism? The political impact of investigative journalism in Hungary
Te history of journalism ofers a number of examples that seem to
demonstrate the case that investigative journalism may indeed have
a deep impact on politics. William Howard Russell, correspondent of
Te Times during the Crimean War, reported in 1854 on the short-
comings of medical care and catering for British troops; the resulting
scandal contributed to the fall of the government in 1855 (De Burgh,
2000). Nellie Bly, the frst undercover female journalist, who worked
for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, feigned insanity in 1887 in
order to be able to reveal how brutally patients were treated in the
Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island; afer the ensuing
scandal, the government reformed the institution and increased its
budget (Csillag, 2000). Ida Tarbell, one of the leading “muckraking”
, exposed the monopolist endeavours of John D. Rocke-
feller and the Standard Oil Company in McClure’s Magazine in 1902;
as a consequence, legislators limited the power of trusts (Rivers &
Mathews, 1988). Reports by the US television journalist Roberta
Baskin have repeatedly forced business elites to take consumers’ in-
terests into account; for example, afer she had revealed, in 1980, that
some beer brands contained cancer-causing agents, new regulations
were passed, limiting the concentration of carcinogenic chemicals
in beers (Baskin, 2001). Te Guardian in Britain published a list of
MPs who represented lobby interests in parliament, many of whom
ultimately chose to resign; some say the scandal played a major role
in the fall of the Conservative Party in the 1997 legislative elections
(McNair, 1998). Robert Winnet exposed British MPs’ expenses scan-
dal in Te Daily Telegraph in 2009; as a consequence, several mem-
bers of the House of Commons and of the House of Lords were pros-
ecuted and sentenced to terms of imprisonment (Winnet & Rayner,
While the list of cases similar to those briefy described above could
be continued, and most members of the public and of the journalism
community have little doubt that the media have power, many me-
dia scholars are sceptical about the media’s political impact. James
Curran suggests that investigative reporting has but a limited po-
litical impact even in established democracies such as the United
Kingdom, which he attributes to the cleavages manifest within the
British journalism community: the media are divided along political
and business interests, that is, they do not represent the public at
large but particular interest groups. Outlets loyal to the government
Te term “muck-
rakers” refers to a
generation of inves-
tigative journalists
active in the United
States in the begin-
ning of the 20th
century and was
originally coined by
President Teodor
Roosevelt in disgust;
however, many
of them proudly
embraced the term
(Aucoin, 2002).
Media Transformations 33
of the day are hostile toward those critical of it, and do not cover
investigative reports in which other outlets disclose abuses of power
by the government (Curran, 1997). István Wisinger notes about one
of the most celebrated instances of investigative journalism, the Mc-
Carthy case, revealed by Ed Murrow on CBS television between 1950
and 1954, that “the senator’s removal from ofce […] took a fairly
long time” (Wisinger, 2008: 56)
. Daniel C. Hallin observes – when
analysing Watergate, a series of stories published in Te Washington
Post between 1972 and 1974, which famously attracted many young
people to the journalism profession and even inspired a movie
– that
Nixon, had he avoided confrontation, and had he had the majority
in Congress, could probably have stayed in ofce. Hallin argues that
Carl Bernstein’s and Bob Woodward’s investigative work was a neces-
sary, but not sufcient, condition for Nixon to fall, and suggests that
“myths of media power ofen lead us to avoid dealing with the reality
of historical developments […] which may be disturbing to us” (Hal-
lin 2001: 24; emphasis added). To be sure, what works in one country
may not work in another. While the British MPs’ expenses scandal
led to major political and legal consequences, the Hungarian MPs’
expenses scandal, occurring at about the same time and highly simi-
lar in nature to the one in the United Kingdom, entailed virtually no
political or legal sanctions at all, as it was countered in a joint efort
by the political elites (Bajomi-Lázár & Tóth, 2010). Te political in-
stitutions and culture prevalent in a country may add to, or mitigate,
the impact of investigative journalism on politics.
Investigative journalism emerged in the Austro-Hungarian Monar-
chy in the beginning of the 20th century (Tomsics, 2006). In the in-
terwar period, when Hungary regained independence but lost most
of its former territories, and, at frst, a centre-right then far-right
authoritarian regime prevailed, it was practically non-existent. Un-
der state socialism, which emerged afer World War II in Hungary,
journalists were expected to be the “soldiers of the party” rather than
the “watchdogs of democracy.” Investigative journalism re-emerged
toward the end of the 1980s when the party state was gradually los-
ing ground. Its efciency, however, has been frequently questioned
by media scholars. When discussing abuses of power revealed by
the media in the frst ten years of the “Tird Republic,” declared on
23 October 1989, Tamás Terestyéni introduces the concept of the
“weakness of the public sphere” and suggests that media scandals
Te McCarthy case
inspired the movie
Good Night, and Good
Luck, co-written by
George Clooney and
Grant Heslov, directed
by Clooney, and star-
ring David Strathairn
All the President’s
Men, based on
the book of the
same name by Carl
Bernstein and Robert
Woodward, directed
by Alan J. Pakula,
and starring Dustin
Hofmann and Robert
Redford (1976).
Invisible Journalism? The political impact of investigative journalism in Hungary
had undermined only temporarily the popularity of political parties,
while those personally responsible for them got away without real
sanctions (Terestyéni, 1999). According to Miklós Sükösd, who of-
fers an analysis of the afermath of investigative reports published in
the political and cultural weekly Élet és Irodalom, such reports had a
very limited impact: “there is no discussion, no reply, no reform of
the system behind the scandal” (Sükösd, 2000: 19). On the basis of
interviews conducted with senior editors, Emília Krúg confrms the
theory of the “country with no consequences,” originally introduced
by the political scientist and columnist Tamás Fritz (Krúg, 2007).
In the context of Hungary, Miklós Sükösd speaks of “clan journal-
ism,” Éva Vajda of “campaign journalism,” and Mihály Gálik of “dos-
sier-journalism” (Sükösd, 2000b; Vajda, 2001; Gálik, 2004). Tey all
refer to the same phenomenon: Hungarian journalists ofentimes
publicise information that has been leaked by various political forc-
es and thus they are instrumentalised in political power games. In
Hungary, where – like in many other former communist countries
in Central and Eastern Europe – polarised pluralism prevails, most
journalists, media outlets and media companies are informally as-
sociated with political parties and interest groups, and tend to use
double standards in reporting. Te resulting black-and-white rep-
resentations of reality create competing media agendas and news
frames with little or no similar issues and readings; the reader/view-
er/listener gathering information from diferent outlets on the very
same day may have the impression that the journalists of competing
media outlets live in diferent universes, not one and the same coun-
Sükösd, Vajda and Gálik all agree that investigative journalism, in
the Anglo-Saxon sense of the term, is the exception rather than the
rule in Hungary, which they explain with the lack of fnancial re-
sources, the small Hungarian media market being unable to produce
major profts that could be reinvested into investigative reporting,
while suggesting that investigative journalism is a costly business.
But statements about the lack of investigative journalism in Hunga-
ry are, to a degree, countered by fgures. Te József Soma Göbölyös
Foundation, which grants a specifc award to investigative reporters,
has received about 30 applications annually in recent years, which
means that one major investigative piece was publicised every sec-
Email communi-
cation by András
Lőke, head of the
board of the foun-
dation (7 December
Media Transformations 35
ond week on average
. It should then follow that there is investigative
journalism in Hungary, and yet it remains invisible or unnoticed: it
is largely inefcient in that the ensuing consequences fall short of
public expectations. It is also noteworthy that most of the investi-
gative reports are published in relatively low budget weekly maga-
zines rather than more proftable news sites and television channels,
but then this might also be explained by a division of labour among
outlets: weeklies have traditionally been specialised in news analy-
sis and background, while news sites and television channels in the
daily news coverage of political events. Investigative journalism is, of
course, more costly than mere news reporting; yet no evidence con-
frms statements about a direct link between an outlet’s fnancial ca-
pacities and the frequency and efciency of its investigative activities.
Tis paper is to assess the political impact of investigative reporting
in Hungary on the basis of a series of semi-structured interviews with
seven award-winning investigative journalists who have exposed
major scandals in the 2000s. It is focusing on the following questions:
1. Is there any meaningful investigative journalism in Hungary and,
if so, is it any diferent from that in the Anglo-Saxon countries? 2. Do
leading investigative journalists in Hungary ever encounter politi-
cal and business pressures while doing their job? 3. Where does the
information their reports are based on usually come from? 4. What
consequences have followed the exposed corruption cases? Below is
what they said
‘Tere is investigative journalism in Hungary, but it is diferent from
that in the United Kingdom and the United States where it is done
on a higher level. Tere [in the above-mentioned Anglo-Saxon coun-
tries], it is not exceptional for a case to be revealed in full detail, for
society to boycott those behind it, and for the judiciary to do their
job,” says Tamás Bodoky, who used to work for the news site
and is now chief editor of “In Hungary, the whole system
is rotten, and corruption is the main rule. Political parties pretend to
be at war with one another, but they are fghting within the frames of
the system only. Tey know a lot about each other and, at the end of
the day, make a deal.”
Te interviews were
conducted in August
and September 2009
by Ágnes Lampé.
Invisible Journalism? The political impact of investigative journalism in Hungary
Erna Sághy, who used to work for the weekly Figyelő and is now em-
ployed by HVG, agrees that the classic genre exists in Hungary. “An
investigative journalist will go as far as he or she can to understand
and to disclose the case. Such was for me the story of Omninvest
while I worked for Figyelő. Te company stated that they had dis-
covered the remedy against bird fu in co-operation with the Ofce
of the Surgeon General and would start producing the vaccine. At
the press conference, I asked the Deputy Surgeon General a logical
question: how much did the Hungarian state spend on this? At frst,
she did not reply, but then she said she could not speak of this. It
became immediately clear that there was something wrong about all
this. I, of course, went afer the story, and got as far as a journalist
can in disclosing where the state’s money had been channelled to.”
Antónia Rádi, of the weekly HVG, also thinks there is investigative
journalism in Hungary – to the extent that the market can sustain it.
“Tere is a need, contrary to allegations, for those who sell quality,
not fake, journalism, even though sometimes the whole of the media
make a mistake as they did when they released a statement by Attila
Petőf, head of the National Investigation Ofce, suggesting that the
series of assassination attempts against the Roma was committed by
a lone criminal, meaning ‘dear co-criminals, you may now come and
denounce your fellows.’ Petőf used the media to deliver a message
to criminals.”

According to András Pethő, of the news site, the reality of
the Hungarian media is completely diferent from that in the An-
glo-Saxon countries. “American journalists ofen told me about the
FBI or some other authority launching an investigation on the ba-
sis of stories they had exposed. True, articles there are better doc-
umented. Here, in Hungary, allegations are ofen questionable, and
the articles are packed with deductive statements, journalistic spec-
ulations, and unconfrmed information. Some journalists even fail
to ask those involved to comment.” Pethő adds that “I may be lucky,
but so far no correction request has been submitted, nor lawsuits
have been launched against me. If I disclose a story in full detail, and
can document all data, there should not be a problem.” Investigative
reporting requires a specifc journalistic mentality, he says: it is usu-
ally practiced by those who go beyond the mere transmission of pri-
mary information. “Should a big story come up in the Anglo-Saxon
In 2008 and 2009,
nine attempts were
committed against
Roma communities
in small villages by a
gang of four, killing
a total of six people,
including a fve-
year-old boy.
Media Transformations 37
countries, each and every outlet would go afer it and treat it as their
own. Tus there emerges a proper contest among news outlets, and
follow-up is granted. By contrast, in Hungary, when an outlet deals
with a story, other ones will likely ignore it,” Pető further explains.
Éva Vajda, who used to work for the weekly Élet és Irodalom and the
bi-monthly Manager Magazin, thinks the situation in the Anglo-Sax-
on countries is diferent in that the other sub-systems of society work
better. “Te reason why Watergate has become a major scandal is
not that Te Washington Post did not give up over time but that the
investigation committee of the Senate and then the public prosecutor
were doing their jobs properly. In a transition society like ours, you
can hardly expect everything to work. Tings just do not work. Te
press does not, either. It does not ask the real questions, but keeps
speculating: what is behind the story, who has made a telephone call,
and who is the major advertiser? It is doing a number of things it
should not.”
According to Nóra Somlyódy, of the weekly Magyar Narancs, under-
funding is a major issue for investigative reporters in Hungary. “Cur-
rently, you can hardly fnd an outlet that would be able to sustain
investigative journalism or would have the ambition to do so. Inde-
pendent sources, such as grants, may be accessed on an ad hoc basis,
but ofen run out, while major cases cannot be uncovered from the
funding available,” she says. “Still, I am optimistic. I hope the prestige
of investigative reporting will improve over time, and, ten years from
now, we will have a diferent situation.”
András Bódis, of the weekly Heti Válasz, agrees that money is a key
question. “Te problem with investigative journalism is that it is
practiced by low-budget papers rather than proft-making commer-
cial outlets.” Sometimes, the media owners are the obstacle. “Even
though the article on Strabag was an issue with the publisher, the
problem was solved, and Heti Válasz eventually published it,” Bódis
. Tis, however, may be rather uncommon, as the media ofen
encounter a great deal of business pressure. “Tere is a network of
companies in Hungary,” according to Bódis, “which controls nearly
the whole media spectrum, from commercial television onwards, via
quasi-party newspapers until local papers. It is not just greedy and
Highway and under-
ground construction
has been a major
business in Hungary
since the early 2000s.
A company called
Strabag has earned
360 billion forints
(over one billion Brit-
ish pounds) between
2003 and 2007. Te
company was said to
be informally associ-
ated with the Alliance
of Free Democrats
party, the minor
coalition ally of the
Hungarian Socialist
Party between 2002
and 2008.
Invisible Journalism? The political impact of investigative journalism in Hungary
dirty party politics that is in control. Te business sphere is no better.
Moreover, party politics, media and business elites are mutually in-
tertwined and overlapping and work as one single unit, as their key
fgures rely on and mutually support one another.”
According to Vajda, there are opportunities, one just needs to be ready
to grab them. “In November 2005, we published on our front page an
article about the fghts between András Sugár and Elek Straub in the
. I had spoken with 40 people, so I had an insider’s view
on the company, I had my sources. We could write about Straub’s
dismissal because we had covered, earlier, the company in detail. I
did not need to be friends with the company accountant so that he
or she could be my whistle-blower,” she recalls. “No one should be
afraid of lawsuits. It is the fault of the media if they decide not to
publicise an article for fear. Tose involved in a particular case would
ofen give it a try [and threaten the outlet with a lawsuit]. True, one
needs to be able to recognise when a client’s outrage is well-founded,
when stakes are high, and when mistakes would entail serious fnan-
cial risks [for the outlet]. But we should not throw away our pens
just because someone somewhere does not like what we are writing
about,” Vajda adds.
“Te basic idea and information are usually leaked. Journalists them-
selves rarely fnd a trace. Most of the time, it is a rival [of the ones
involved in a corruption case] who sends them an anonymous let-
ter or email,” says Bodoky. “My article about the of-shore billions of
the Hungarian Electricity Private Limited Company was based on a
letter that had been mailed in a post ofce in the city of Tatabánya
and including ten pages from an inner report of the company. It was
written in an accountant’s language and had no name on it, but it
was good enough for me to start investigating. It took me almost six
months, I had to gather a great deal of information about the com-
pany, including from abroad, and I spoke with at least twenty people,
always personally.” Sometimes all Bodoky has in the beginning is a
name, just as he did when he started to write an article about the
National Research and Technology Ofce transferring research and
development funds to of-shore companies.
Elek Straub, CEO
of the telecommu-
nications company
Telekom, resigned in
2006, two years be-
fore the expiry of his
mandate, afer the
company had been
fned for channelling
money to of-shore
Media Transformations 39
Rádi says her paper never pays for information, but adds she does not
think this method should always be dismissed. “Tese days, people
are trying to sell complete fles and secret tapes. Data coming from
sources like that can at best be considered basic information. Every
detail needs to be double-checked and verifed.” When reading the
company register, annual reports, public tenders and other data bas-
es, Rádi ofen fnds information on her own that she can use. “Tis is
how I found the Kaya Ibrahim story and ultimately got to the compa-
nies of Lajos Simicska who, at the time, worked as an entrepreneur
Te idea to study his companies – which had already attracted some
media attention in the early 1990s – occurred to me when I heard the
news that he would be appointed head of the national tax authority.
In a similar vein, I found the basic information accidentally when I
exposed how the National Development Agency had transferred 200
million forints
to [the private commercial television channel] TV2
for the soap opera ‘Good Days, Bad Days’ in order for them to in-
clude in the script a story about a tender advertised by the European
Union [in 2008].”
“Information would not fy in through your window,” says Sághy,
who always conducts a number of background interviews before she
fnds information that she thinks is worth to be exposed in more
detail. “I ofen receive documents, too, but I always try to fnd out
whose interest it is to ‘inform’ me. I make sure no ‘helpers’ lead my
hand. Journalists can fnd the key information if they try.” Sághy was
the frst to report about the case of the faked invoices former Min-
ister of Finances János Veres and his business partner János Kabai
had been involved in. “Veres says he had quit the company before
the crime was committed. I was, however, told [...] that invoices had
been faked earlier, too, that is, at the time Veres still worked for the
company. In fact, the minister later quit the company so that the au-
thorities would lose sight of him while he could continue operating
the system unnoticed. I, of course, treated this piece of information
with criticism,” she says. “Kabai had already been prosecuted and
sentenced at the time. I wanted to read his fle, but I was thrown out
of the ofce of Chief Judge Zoltán Lominiczi as many as fve times,
based on a law, passed in 2003, which was a serious limitation on
press freedom and which basically provided that only those involved
had the right to see criminal fles.” At the end of the day, however,
Sághy reached the court. By virtue of a directive issued in the late
Lajos Simicska, par-
ty cashier of the cen-
tre-right Fidesz party,
was involved in the
Kaya Ibrahim/Josip
Tot case during which,
in 1998, ownership
of about a dozen
companies informally
associated with Fidesz
was transferred to two
immigrant workers,
as a result of which
the losses and debts
of the companies
accumulated in
previous years became
Nearly 600,000
British pounds.
Invisible Journalism? The political impact of investigative journalism in Hungary
1990s, journalists could take a look at the fles of on-going criminal
investigations with the special permission of the head of the court.
“Tis is how I got the opportunity. Tey placed four huge boxes in
front of me, all full of documents, statements, and other investiga-
tion fles. None of it was of any use, but I found a sheet attached to
it: an indictment by a former suspect who had delivered the faked
invoices at a time when Veres was still among the owners. Tis was
the basic information I needed so that I could start work. Step by
step, I got the whole picture about the ‘invoice factory’ operated un-
der Veres. But the idea that I found the information myself escaped
the minister who was convinced that his opponents had delivered it
to me. I must add that afer a scandal of a similar scale, the one re-
sponsible would immediately resign [in a more democratic country].
Here, however, politics defended Veres.” Te only consequence of
the case was that the directive enabling journalists to take a look at
criminal fles was cancelled.
According to Pethő, the information needs to be double-checked in
all possible ways. Most of the time, he himself fnds the story. “Every
now and then, I take a look at publicly available data released by
the ministries. In 2007, I found a contract on the web page of the
Ofce of the Prime Minister about a study that turned out to be a
patchwork of various materials [published elsewhere earlier]. Afer I
published the article, an acquaintance of mine gave me a phone call:
‘Let us meet if you are interested in similar cases.’ He told me about
a company receiving commissions worth millions of forints from
the National Development Agency without a public contest. Afer
the story about the Ofce of the Prime Minister came out, the dep-
uty chief secretary of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány was fred.
But the one about the National Development Agency had no con-
sequences whatsoever, as it was more complicated and they could
fnd an explanation more easily.” Pethő further recalls that “afer a
while, one piece of information will bring you another. Afer the ar-
ticle about the National Development Agency came out, I read all the
comments received. One of them suggested to me that its author was
very well-informed. I wrote to him, we began to exchange emails,
and he sent me plenty of useful background information whose re-
liability I could double-check using other sources. I started work in
early February 2008, and the frst article was ready for publication in
March. Te next article took me three months to write, even though
Media Transformations 41
I also worked on some other, minor, stories in the meantime.”
Vajda suggests that the situation was much better ten years ago than
it is now. Te political culture was more constructive and there was
more hope that this place will once become a normal country. “It
was not easy, but you could convince people that as a journalist you
wanted to write about the real world and needed no bullshitting.
Tus during our background interviews our informants ofen told us
the truth. When I worked for Élet és Irodalom, we too have received
packages with documents. But, before publicising the information,
we always double-checked it. Te point was not who had delivered it
to us and for what reason, as we ofen found that the true story was
not what the sender wanted it to be. Today you have many more ‘tar-
geted stories,’ which is partly because everything is politicised, and
partly because now you have a number of PR experts, and those of
them who are true professionals know how to mislead journalists,
many of whom are just too lazy to rephrase a press release.” Every
story is ‘targeted’ in some way, as was the case with the ‘duel’ between
István Kocsis and vice-mayor of Budapest Miklós Hagyó in 2009.
“We published a portrait about Kocsis, CEO of the Budapest Public
Transportation Company, some years ago in Manager Magazin, but
the press at the time was not interested enough to confront him with
his past, even though as the chief privatiser at the State Privatisation
Agency he had played a key role in many important cases since the
mid-1990s. In a proper country, every aspect of his life would have
been exposed long ago. But in Hungary, those in the journalism pro-
fession have not made a self-assessment in twenty years. Tey blame
it all on politics, saying that those are not doing their jobs properly,”
Vajda adds.
Unknown or anonymous informants reach Magyar Narancs, too.
“We treat these stories, data and documents with caution. We take
a look at the source and take into account what interests may be
served, should the case be exposed. Te public image of the journal-
ist, according to which he or she relies on ready-made information
and uses it immediately and without criticism, is just fake,” says Som-
lyódy. “Once the freshly appointed CEO of a major company called
us, saying that he would like to expose the misdeeds of his predeces-
sor, but we always keep our distance. Magyar Narancs usually does its
own research and investigation. It is important for us to gather data
Invisible Journalism? The political impact of investigative journalism in Hungary
from various sources, not just those involved, and to confrm every
piece of information. One source is never enough.”
Bódis also dislikes “ready-made” materials. “It is always fshy, as jour-
nalistic control is missing. We too have received the package about
the Budapest Transportation Company and the Hungarian Elec-
tricity Private Limited Company that was mailed from the city of
Tatabánya, but we did not use it, as this would have been a ‘timed’
and ‘directed’ story that has not been exposed by a journalist. Tat is
not investigative reporting. Besides, it would have unfolded a chain
reaction, the media being instrumentalised. To be sure, the Budapest
Transportation Company ‘bomb’ was a precedent: had it not explod-
ed, we would never have learnt about the primes paid at the company.
Under the pressure of some articles, new guarantees were eventually
built in the system.”
Bódis adds that the general view of the media
is that they would release any information immediately. “Politicians
are convinced that the media use ‘ammunition’ received from else-
where. Tis is indeed the case some of the time, when the media are
just a puppet. For example, communication was ‘directed’ when the
case of the UD Joint Stock Company was revealed
. György Szilvásy,
the minister in charge of the supervision of the secret services, gave
instructions to four journalists on a daily basis about what to write
and how to do it. What would you call a journalist like that? I think it
is fundamental that the journalist should be in control.” Bódis has re-
peatedly found news stories by accident and then, using information
obtained earlier, he discovered how these were interrelated. “For ex-
ample, the Dataplex case, involving [former minister of economics]
János Kóka, began by accident and was based on a piece of informa-
tion found eighteen months earlier
. Te Sukoró case began when
someone paid a visit to the mayor of a Budapest district and saw a
document on real estate development on his desk. Tat person could
take a look at the dossier, and I met him by accident, and these small
pieces of information were enough for me to get started.”
“What is important is not what the desperate or the scammed leak;
this is how it goes everywhere. What is a true ‘Hungaricum’ is that
most of the exposed stories have no consequences. Tis is, however,
no surprise, as both the Ofce of the Attorney and the police are
Te story of
high and possibly
unwarranted primes
at the Budapest Pub-
lic Transportation
Company became
a major scandal
in 2009–2010 and
likely played a
major part in the
fall of the socialist
government in the
2010 elections.
Tis complicated
case, which began in
2008 and is still on
the agenda, suggests
that secret service
methods were used
in order to gather
data on senior poli-
ticians and involved
of the Hungarian
Democratic Forum
and of the Hungari-
an Socialist Party.
Various state-
owned companies
controlled by
the minister of
economics made
contracts between
2005 and 2010
with the private
company Dataplex,
part of the portfolio
of Wallis, that had
earlier been owned
by future prime
minister Gordon
Bajnai. According to
allegations, the state
sufered a 1.2 billion
forints loss in total.
Media Transformations 43
under [political] control, which is not the journalist’s fault,” accord-
ing to Bodoky. He adds that there are some refreshing exceptions
that may give journalists a sense of success. “In connection with what
happened on 23 October 2006, we managed to modify the narra-
tive about ‘legitimate’ police intervention
. We received a number of
readers’ letters and phone calls saying that things had not been quite
the way the police were framing them. Of these, I did not deal with
anonymous sources, as I needed concrete stories.” Bodoky exposed
Gergely Varga, former spokesman of the Ofce of the Budapest At-
torney, too. “I went to court hearings to report on them, and once,
there was Varga, shouting at the witnesses and ‘warning’ them of the
consequences of false witnessing. One of them recorded this on his
cell phone. At the time, we did not know yet that Varga also worked
as an attorney. And then, when in January 2008 he became the
spokesman of the ofce, we found the recording. He was eventually
fred, that is, he could no longer work as a spokesman, but continued
work as an attorney. Since then, his other businesses have also been
exposed. Te other day he was caught while bribing someone, and he
had an intimate relationship with one of his clients.”
In 2000, network administrators whispered to Bodoky that the Of-
fce of National Security installed hacking servers with internet ser-
vice providers. Ervin Demeter, the minister supervising the secret
services at the time, frst did not give a straight answer, but Bodoky
kept on asking him questions, so eventually he admitted it at a press
conference. However, a number of cases have had no consequenc-
es. “Back in the day, government sources leaked information about
some doubtful business transactions which had taken place under
the previous government at a public utility company owned by the
state. I went afer the story and fgured out that the incumbent gov-
ernment was not completely innocent in those business transactions
either. When I revealed the case, they were threatening to fle a law-
suit against me, and a major state-owned company called us to say
they would withdraw their ads. At the end of the day, politics won, I
could not go on with the story,” says Bodoky. Another case, howev-
er, was publicised: someone in the sports committee of parliament
had signed an ofcial document instead of his fellow party members.
“When we exposed the case, they were threatening us and said they
would go to the police, even though a graphologist had confrmed
that all signatures were of the same hand. At the end of the day, I
A major project to
build a casino com-
plex near Budapest
was launched under
Prime Minister Ferenc
Gyurcsány. According
to allegations, the
transaction by which
land was sold to a
company for the in-
vestment made a huge
loss to the state. Te
case is still pending.
On the anniversary
of the 1956 revolution,
demonstrators began
major riots in the
streets of Budapest
that were crushed
by the police. Even
though many of the
demonstrators’ actions
were violent in nature,
the opposition blamed
the government for
the brutality of the
police action.
Invisible Journalism? The political impact of investigative journalism in Hungary
myself denounced them for faking the document, and the case went
up to the Ofce of the Chief Attorney, but it was eventually hushed
up. Te party involved fred an administrator, and the investigation
was terminated. Yet parliament outvoted the Chief Attorney in con-
nection with the case,” Bodoky continues.
By contrast, Rádi thinks a good article is the very consequence.
“Should the court or the police prosecute the bad guys, the journalist
would also be harassed, his or her documents confscated, and he or
she would be questioned about who the informants were. I would not
appreciate that.” Yet she too has had cases with legal consequences. “I
disclosed in an article how Imre Ragács, former CEO of Hungarian
Television, commissioned the company of his adopted daughter to
produce television programmes. He was charged for malfeasance.”
Te journalist of HVG has not been threatened personally but has
been sued many times. “Tis is not Russia; the barons with a life-long
history of misdeeds would not hurt us. True, I never sign my articles
about the far-right, as I would not like to see my fat exploded by
a Molotov cocktail.” Rádi fnds that those who feel ofended by an
article prefer to launch a lawsuit in defence of their personal rights,
claiming between 800,000 and 1,000,000 forints in compensation
And this is not including the lawyers’ fee, which may amount to hun-
dreds of thousands of forints in addition. “To be sure, no publisher is
happy about that. But HVG has never refrained from the publication
of an article under threat or pressure. It should be noted that correc-
tion replies are hardly ever submitted to the paper. Recompense is
a big business. “Tere are lawyers specifed in this feld, looking for
cases and clients, and ofering their services. Basically anyone can be
sued for just about anything. If I quote, word by word, a press con-
ference, an ofcial statement, or a speech delivered in parliament, I
can easily fnd myself in the court. No other country in the world has
a regulation like that. A BBC journalist would not understand,” Rádi
Sághy exposed, while still working for Figyelő, malfeasances by the
Centrum Parking company. Even though outdoor posters all around
Budapest advertised the story with the front page of the paper on,
at frst there was no reaction whatsoever. Te article had a striking
message: the leading parties – the centre-right Fidesz party and the
centre-lef Hungarian Socialist Party – had, behind the scenes, joint-
About 2600 British
Afer the interview
was conducted
with Rádi, in late
September 2009,
Hungarian parlia-
ment amended the
relevant provision
of the Civic Code
and cancelled the
’objectivity clause’
limiting journalists’
Media Transformations 45
ly established and run the car parking business. “Ten the Hungarian
Democratic Forum party held a press conference, [party chair] Ibol-
ya Dávid waving around Figyelő and calling for an investigative com-
mittee to be established in parliament. Te case provided her with
an opportunity to act in public; this is when the party’s anti-corrup-
tion campaign was announced. Tat is how the whole country learnt
about the article and I got invited to a number of television shows [to
tell about the case]. Centrum sued us, but we won the case.” Sághy
has had several lawsuits. “But I have not received one serious threat,
ever. When you go public, you are under protection. Tey may be
threatening to launch a lawsuit against you in order to scare you of,
but you do not need to take it seriously all of the time. Just deal with
Vajda does not share the general scepticism about the impact of in-
vestigative reporting. “Some of my articles did have an impact. In-
cluding on me. We published an article in Manager Magazin in 2006
about why Hungarian Telecom did not have an annual balance and
suggesting that Elek Straub, CEO of the company, would likely be
dismissed over the investigation, which eventually happened. True,
in the meantime, the owner of the paper dismissed us, while Straub
continues to be a respected member of society. Perhaps this is what
most journalists have in mind when they say articles have no conse-
quences. But this view is a refection of Eastern European structures
and of the sense that those who have power can do whatever they
like as they will get away with it, no matter what. At the same time,
journalists also use it for the purpose of self-justifcation.”
According to Somlyódy, recent experiences have shown that it is an
illusion to expect investigative articles to lead to direct consequences.
“But a well-documented case can be of use at a later point in time, as
it can become a source. Despite what you ofen see, written facts are
not just being ‘out there’ but may have an impact on public opinion.
An interesting case is that of the real estate business in Budapest’s
District 7
. It has been explored in detail by various journalists, yet
one may have had the impression that it would have no consequenc-
es, should there be no political pressures. But an article by itself is
never enough to reach legal consequences,” she adds. Lawsuits and
the threats of lawsuits are common with Magyar Narancs as well.
“Statements like ‘I will never buy Magyar Narancs again,’ ‘I will never
Various buildings
in District 7, whose
municipality was
of a socialist and
liberal majority, were
transferred to foreign
investors below their
market price in the
mid-2000s. Afer an
investigation was
launched, several
local politicians were
Invisible Journalism? The political impact of investigative journalism in Hungary
give an interview to you again,’ and ‘I am going to sue you if you
publish this’ are made on a daily basis. Tis is a threat, psychologi-
cal warfare, rather than anything else. Our chief editor goes to court
every week. And the law is not on our side: when facing the court,
the paper has to prove its statements, not those involved their inno-
cence,” she continues.
But wonders do happen, sometimes. “In connection with the Sukoró
case, we saw what had never been seen in Hungary before,” accord-
ing to Bódis. “Technological details of the land exchange were inves-
tigated at the initiative of the Ofce of the Attorney and forwarded
to the Ofce of the Chief Attorney.” Bódis has been sued repeatedly,
too. “I could sue myself for every single article I have ever written.
Lawsuits usually focus on words and expressions rather than on sub-
stance. For this reason, I do not make statements in my articles any
more but circumscribe the information in order to avoid being sued
for violation of personality rights or libel. [Former Minister of Edu-
cation and senior member of the Alliance of Free Democrats party]
Bálint Magyar makes a fortune suing journalists for huge sums. But
I have never been seriously threatened. To be sure, the ‘big fsh’ do
not give you a phone call. Tey just let you know that they would
like to place an advertisement in your paper for a huge amount of
money. Business infuences are much more common [than political
infuences] and happen all across the Hungarian media.”
Te lessons of the interviews conducted with award-winning inves-
tigative reporters can be summarised like this:
1. Te majority of the interviewees agree that the quality
of investigative journalism in Hungary falls short of that in
the Anglo-Saxon countries. In particular, many reports are
ofen based on speculation rather than well-documented
2. According to the majority of the interviewees, Hungarian
investigative reporters are put under political and business
pressures every now and then, but these pressures are light-
er than in those post-communist countries – such as Russia
– where investigative reporters’ health and life is, some of
Media Transformations 47
the time, also at risk.
3. Te interviews suggest that the largely pessimistic pic-
ture drawn by media researchers needs to be reconsidered
to a degree. Schematic views about “clan journalism,” “dos-
sier-journalism,” or “campaign journalism” may be at odds
with facts. While the interviewees confrmed that compet-
ing elites try to instrumentalise the media in their power
games and, for this purpose, leak information that may be
detrimental to the reputation of their rivals, most journalists
treat the information received with scepticism and do their
best to double-check it; moreover, they try to uncover cor-
ruption themselves. Tere hardly is any general rule defn-
ing the extent of autonomy Hungarian investigative report-
ers have when dealing with the information they get hold of
and when searching for abuses of power by themselves; such
practices are largely dependent of the professional ethos of
their newsrooms and their personal devotion to profession-
al ethics.
4. Te majority of the interviewees question the general
view that investigative reporting has no consequences – but
then the interviewees do not represent the Hungarian jour-
nalistic community (as we interviewed only those whose
investigative reports have made some noise). While spec-
tacular cases of investigative reporting such as Watergate in
the United States or the MPs’ expenses scandal in the United
Kingdom are not known in the brief history of Hungary’s
Tird Republic
, Hungarian investigative reporters have
repeatedly forced those involved in corruption and other
abuses of power to explain and to defend their position, and
some of the protagonists of their investigative reports have
resigned – to be sure, people like that had occupied lower
ranks in the political and business hierarchies. And, while
legal consequences have rarely occurred, or are still awaited
because it usually takes years for the Ofce of the Attorney
and the courts to process the cases revealed, the political
parties involved have sufered a loss of popularity, that is,
some political consequences have been clearly manifest. In
particular, the case of the Budapest Public Transportation
A major exception
to this rule was the
resignation of Pál
Schmitt, President
of Republic, in 2012,
afer the news site hvg.
hu exposed that he
had committed plagia-
rism when writing his
Ph.D. thesis in 1992,
but this case occurred
afer the interviews
had been conducted.
Invisible Journalism? The political impact of investigative journalism in Hungary
Company (a state-owned company on the verge of bank-
ruptcy but distributing major primes to its senior managers)
was a major issue during the 2010 election campaign and
likely contributed to the massive fall of the Hungarian So-
cialist Party in the 2010 elections.
Te interviewees have confrmed that most outlets fail to keep the
corruption cases revealed earlier on the agenda. New issues and
events, many of which are produced by busy spin-doctors on the
payroll of political parties, remove abuses exposed by investigative
reporters from the agenda virtually overnight.
Perhaps even more importantly – but this is added by the authors of
this paper, not the interviewees – political elites also fail to keep sto-
ries of their rivals’ misdeeds, revealed by the media, on the agenda.
Typically, they do not even urge the Ofce of the Attorney and the
police to investigate these, even though anti-corruption slogans are
a key element of their rhetoric, on all sides of the political spectrum.
Teir reluctance to do so may be explained by behind-the-scenes
agreements and mutually benefcial arrangements among parties.
Should they break the law of silence and urge the proper investiga-
tion of corrupt practices, they would launch a chain reaction of scan-
dals that would undermine their own reputation, too – as the case of
the Centrum Parking company, in which both of the leading parties
were involved, demonstrates.
Te interviews also suggest that the existing but limited political and
legal impact of investigative journalism may also be attributed to the
fact that national commercial television channels, which reach many
more people than daily and weekly papers do, hardly ever engage
in investigative reporting or cover investigative reports publicised in
other outlets. More specifcally, mainstream commercial channels
only report on simple cases whose narratives may be captured by
their audiences without particular efort, including cases such as that
of the Budapest Public Transportation company, a state-owned ven-
ture on the verge of bankruptcy, whose top managers were granted
high primes that may be difcult to justify.
In sum, the relative inefciency of investigative journalism should
likely not be attributed to the lack of devoted journalists and outlets
or to the lack of the fnancial resources needed for investigation but
Media Transformations 49
to the fact that investigative reporting is typically practiced by low-
budget outlets – such as the weeklies Magyar Narancs and Élet és
Irodalom – that reach few people, while radio stations and television
channels attracting massive audiences largely ignore it. At the same
time, political elites do not feel urged to react to allegations that most
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Journalists’ roles and ethics in turbulent times: Contemporary controversies in Ukraine
Anastasiia GRYNKO
PhD, Lecturer, Post-Doctoral Fellow, 2013
Harriman Institute, Columbia University
New York, USA
Assistant Director for Research
Mohyla School of Journalism
National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy
Kiev, Ukraine
ISSN 2029-865X
Media Transformations 53
ABSTRACT: Te collapse of the Soviet Union started a new era of media transforma-
tions in Ukraine. Te end of state-controlled media associated with censorship and
informational isolation, frst lessons of transition to market-driven media system,
political turbulences and pressures, and the emergence of journalism professional
values, new rhythms dictated by technologies – they all caused signifcant and rapid
changes to journalism culture and media practice. Tis article is devoted to the issues
of media freedom in contemporary post-Soviet Ukraine. Based on the interpretive
and visual (collage elicitation) research, it suggests looking at the phenomenon of
journalists’ freedom through the journalists’ considerations and as a part of indivi-
dual ethics, and explores how journalists see their role within the media practices
they experience. Ukrainian journalists cannot play the role of agents in democratic
change. Justifying the experienced pressures by diferent, usually external, reasons,
Ukrainian journalists tend to adjust ethical norms to existing practices. It causes fur-
ther confict between normative standards and their interpretation and implemen-
tation in practice that is, according to Voltmer and Dobreva (2009), typical for new
democracies in which old structures and values coexist with new democratic norms.
In this paper, frst, a review of the path of journalism evolution in post-Soviet and
contemporary Ukraine and the forces behind the pressures journalists experience.
Further, I will refer to the particularities of normative and individual journalism
ethics as they are discussed in theoretical works and, fnally, present the results of
qualitative study showing how journalists interpret their ethical choices and decisi-
ons, and, more importantly, perceive their professional roles when they discuss their
experienced practices.
KEYWORDS: journalism ethics, individual ethics, journalism professional roles,
post-Soviet media, media freedom, Ukrainian media, visual research
One of the main challenges of transforming communication afer the
breakdown of authoritarian rule is to secure the independence and
quality of journalism (Voltmer and Dobreva, 2009). Since Ukraine
became an independent state in 1991, Ukrainian media entered a
new era of transforming from an ideology-governed system develop-
ment, and survival under new market conditions. Tese transforma-
tions, or “recovery” (Ivshina, 2008), are still going on, and Ukrainian
media practitioners experience challenges similar to those their col-
leagues have in other countries of the Eastern Europe: limited free-
dom of speech, little room for advancement, heavy workloads, and
inequality at work (Baysha and Hallahan, 2004; Dyczok, 2009, Tset-
sura and Grynko, 2009; Grynko, 2010; Grynko, 2012; Willard, 2003).
54 Anastasiia GRYNKO
Journalists’ roles and ethics in turbulent times: Contemporary controversies in Ukraine
Tis article is devoted to the issues of media freedom in contempo-
rary post-Soviet Ukraine. Specifcally, it explores the way Ukrainian
journalists’ view and interpret existing pressures that are referred to
ethical violations according to a normative perspective (1) and how
they view their professional roles when they discuss those practices
In this paper, frst, a review of the path of journalism evolution in
post-Soviet and contemporary Ukraine and the forces behind the
pressures journalists experience. Further, I will refer to the particu-
larities of normative and individual journalism ethics as they are dis-
cussed in theoretical works and, fnally, present the results of qualita-
tive study showing how journalists interpret their ethical choices and
decisions, and, more importantly, perceive their professional roles
when they discuss their experienced practices.
Te function of the media in the Soviet Union was largely as a chan-
nel for communicating decisions of the regional and local govern-
ment, and, like all Soviet media, Ukrainian media was controlled
from the top down. Terefore, once Ukraine gained independence,
the media needed to create its own national press on short notice
(Baysha and Hallahan, 2004). At the beginning of the 1990s, many
newspapers and magazines were closed as they struggled to become
economically and politically independent in the turbulent political
and economic times. When the transition from state-owned to pri-
vate hands was over, it became evident it did not bring media the ex-
pected liberty. “Many new media outlets were created for purpose of
infuence rather than to provide the public with information or gen-
erate profts” (Dyczok, 2009: 21). Importantly, during the mid-1990s,
the formation of large fnancial industrial groups that concentrated
substantial media assets under their ownership started. Tis was the
beginning of a media resources concentration that continues today.
It was also the time of the “oligarkhization” process. Media started to
play the role of instruments to infuence public opinion. Because of
the close relation between media and political elites, the state author-
ities could easily press on media outlets (ibid.).
Media Transformations 55
Te beginning of the 2000s was the time when Russian capital en-
tered the Ukrainian media market; “Kommersant Ukraine”, and
“Komsomolskaya Pravda in Ukraine” were founded. New forms of
media funding appeared. Grants of foreign donors supported such
media projects as “Ukrainska Pravda” (online media that is still infu-
ential and popular for its objectivity and journalists` investigations)
and “Telekrytyka” (media specialized in journalism issues).
In 2005-2010 (under the Victor Yushchenko presidency) western
investors demonstrated a growing interest in the Ukrainian media
market. However, non-transparent business practices, difculties in
distribution and political instability made it impossible for foreign
investors to develop proftable media projects within the country.
Te situation became even worse as a result of economic crisis. Tus,
the majority of foreign owners had to leave the market. Later, un-
der the presidency of Yanukovych, the media ownership was redis-
tributed among the main business groups in the country that own
enterprises in diferent industrial sectors (refning, chemical, heavy
machinery construction etc.) and, therefore, those businessmen are
ofen loyal to the authorities in order to save their own businesses
(Dutsyk, 2009).
Today, media business seems to exist in few “parallel realities”. Tere
are big media owners who control the major media corporations
in the country. Additionally, there are state and communal media
that cover regions. Tere are also separate media projects in regions,
founded by small, local businessmen (Ivanov et al., 2011). Media
ownership continues to remain non-transparent in Ukraine. Al-
though the law “on television and radio broadcasting” requires the
National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council of Ukraine to
provide information about the media owners, this information is not
enough to give a complete picture of the real owners hidden in of-
shore zones.
Te pressures, infuences and lack of freedom in media is an im-
portant characteristic that is usually attached to media situation
in Ukraine. Together with other Soviet Social¬ist Republics such
as Moldova, Belarus, and Russia, Ukraine has been mentioned as
56 Anastasiia GRYNKO
Journalists’ roles and ethics in turbulent times: Contemporary controversies in Ukraine
the country where media are still politi¬cally controlled and press
freedom is lim¬ited or non-existent (Mickiewicz, 1998). Ukrainian
journalists continued to experience various pressures that were es-
pecially visible in coverage of political issues and elections (Grynko,
2012). Later, at the end of 2001, the sources of infuences were main-
ly concentrated in the hands of state authorities who started to use
administrative power to infuence media.
Ten, during the presidential campaign in 2004, the ruling elite
strengthened their eforts to use media to win the presidency. Spe-
cifcally, they expanded news censorship to deny candidate Yush-
chenko access to media as well as discrediting him in analytical and
current afairs shows (Dyczok, 2009). Te journalists’ revolution,
started in October 2004, was directly connected with the political
events in the country. Tat October, Ukrainian media communities
initiated the action supporting the journalists of the 5th Channel,
which was under strong political pressure at that time. As a result,
on November 21, the 5th Channel began broadcasting the events on
Maidan [the central square in Kyiv] where more than 20 thousand
Ukrainians came to support Yushchenko, a presidential candidate
from the opposition. Te protests were supported by international
journalists’ organizations (Ligachova and Ganza, 2005).
Afer the Orange Revolution in 2004, Ukrainian journalism expe-
rienced positive changes, and journalists started to enjoy a relative
freedom from centralized government censorship. Freedom House’s
report that the Ukrainian media transition from “Not Free” to “Part-
ly Free” happened from 2004 to 2005, matches the Orange Revolu-
tion time line (Freedom House, 2005). However, afer 2004 the prob-
lem of infuences was shifed from direct government intervention
to indirect infuences through intra-organizational – level relations
between the media owners and journalists. Belyakov (2009) states
that “censorship of money” had started from the 2000s when oli-
garchs or simple advertisers manipulated media following the goal
of proft. Victoria Syumar (2008) also writes about the “censorship of
money” that changed government pressure in Ukraine and notes the
“election campaign in 2007 was followed by the signifcant growth of
paid-for media coverage”.
Media Transformations 57
Ukrainian oligarchs who own media, manipulate editorial policy
according to their private interests and also allow manipulation by
third parties if paid (Belyakov, 2009). Syumar (IREX, 2008) claims:
there used to be censorship by government; now it is cen-
sorship by money… Before, the censorship of the powerful
was performed by the stick. Ten those in power came to
realize that the stick is too crude, and the journalists were
starting to resist. So they started to exercise it with the car-
rot, as money is much more pleasant, and it is hard to refuse.
Tus, media owners came to understanding that elections campaign
may bring good profts and start selling pages in press and time in
TV programs to diferent political parties. Te 2007 parliamentary
election campaign reinforced such practices. So, the publishers be-
came major actors who negotiated “media plans” of coverage with
major political forces and their headquarters (Dovzhenko, 2009), ac-
cording to Syumar (as cited in Orlova, 2007), as a result of conscious
policy of media management.
During the Kyiv mayoral elections of 2008, media started to provide
“preelection services” that combined consistent loyalty towards one
candidate and serving others when paid (ibid.). As a result, journal-
ists demonstrated more and more loyalty towards paid-for materials,
thinking this is the only way to get proft for media. Accordingly,
they were losing motivation for professional work and this negatively
impacted the overall quality of media products. Terefore, the infu-
ences on media have been transformed from a “retail” into a “whole-
sale system” (IREX, 2008).
Afer the pro-Russian opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych took
ofce as the president, broadcast frequencies were withdrawn from
critical outlets and extra-legal harassment of journalists increased,
leading to greater self-censorship. Ukraine, which has consistently
been one of the best performers in its sub-region in recent years, saw
an erosion of media freedom, falling from 53 to 56 points (Freedom
House, 2010).
According to the Democratic Initiative Foundation’s report (2010),
although there is no formal censorship in the media, it does exist
“informally”. Media experts and activists state that governmental
58 Anastasiia GRYNKO
Journalists’ roles and ethics in turbulent times: Contemporary controversies in Ukraine
control is one of the main challenges of media transparency in the
country today. Based on the monitoring of daily TV news, Ukrainian
NGOs (Internews Network, Telekrytyka and the Mass Information
Institute) fnd the signs of biases in TV news and state that censor-
ship policy is mostly aimed at forming the positive image of the gov-
A sociological poll conducted in September 2010 shows that 41%
of Ukrainians recognize the decrease of freedom of speech afer the
presidential elections compared to results in April 2010 when just
18% of citizens believed there was a problem. According to another
survey conducted by Razumkov Center, more than 55% of Ukraini-
ans agree that political censorship exists in the country (Sociological
Group “Rating”, 2010).
Truthfulness and transparency in gathering and reporting informa-
tion and independence/integrity by refusing bribes or any other out-
side infuences on the work are normative principles, which are usu-
ally declared in codes of ethics for journalists (Laitila, 1995). Tere
are two national codes of ethics for journalists in Ukraine and both
formalize the rules that stay in line with international professional
regulations. Importantly, the majority of media practitioners report
they are familiar with the code of ethics (Umedia, 2012) which man-
ifests that journalists should be able to make their decisions inde-
pendently (CJE, 2002). Article eight of the code of ethics, adopted by
the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, specifcally states that
journalists should be objective and should not accept any rewards
that may infuence their judgment or prepare any materials in order
to self-promote or to materially beneft from publications (NUJU,
Ethical decisions are always about choices and the main force in this
choice is composed by ethical concern: when a media person realizes
commitments and thoughtful decisions among alternatives (Gordon
et al., 1996). Tere are two main schools of ethics explaining the di-
rection of journalists` ethical concerns; Te frst one says journalist
may be guided primarily by the external societal rules or community
customs (normative or communitarian ethics). Meanwhile the sec-
ond one argues that journalists frst and foremost ground their de-
Media Transformations 59
cisions on internal, personal perspectives (individual or libertarian
Although ethics are commonly associated with the normative area,
in real-life professional practice, ethics could be hardly limited to
normative concepts and imperatives. It is also an internal process
of making individual choices that may or may not correspond with
established rules. Tere is a human element in media practice that
highlights the ethics of every person within the mass media organi-
zation and how they approach their freedom and their responsibility
doing the job (Forunato, 2005). Ethics is always a process (or action)
of moral reasoning through which people express themselves, artic-
ulate their visions, make moral agreements and establish principles:
“ethics is not a passive act of obeying a set of rules handed down to
us. It is the dynamic activity of imagining new norms and adapting
old principles to changing social conditions and human purposes”
writes Ward (2004: 27). Looking at ethics as a process of invention,
Ward (2004) insists on the practitioners’ ability to construct concep-
tual schemes, norms, and test their interpretations in various con-
Terefore, individual factors (values, beliefs, knowledge, attitudes,
and intentions) are crucial component for moral reasoning and ethi-
cal decision-making, according to Ferrell and Gresham (1985). Oth-
er factors which infuence ethical actions are “signifcant others in
the organizational setting” and “opportunities for ethical/unethical
action” (i.e., establishment of professional codes and corporate poli-
cies, reward/penalty systems) (ibid.: 90).
As a way to understand media practices, this study approaches jour-
nalism practice within the social constructionist paradigm Assum-
ing that social life is processual, there are emergent, multiple realities,
with facts and values linked (Charmaz, 2006:126). My investigation
is built on the methodology of grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss,
1967; Corbin and Strauss, 2008; Charmaz, 2000; Charmaz, 2006)
and applies methods of individual interviews and focus-group dis-
cussions with media practitioners in Ukraine as well as the creative
art-based method.
60 Anastasiia GRYNKO
Journalists’ roles and ethics in turbulent times: Contemporary controversies in Ukraine
Interpretative science believes that social reality is socially construct-
ed and the goal of the scientist is to understand what meaning peo-
ple give to reality, not to determine how reality works apart from
these interpretations (Schutt, 2006). Working under the mentioned
assumptions, interpretative researchers rarely ask objective survey
questions, aggregate the answers of many people, and claim to have
something meaningful. Instead, each person’s interpretation must
be placed in a more personal, idiosyncratic context, and the true
meaning of a person’s answer will vary according to the interview or
questioning context and how the situation is perceived by individual
respondents (Gunter, 2000).
Applying qualitative methodological approach, this study is based
on the assumption that journalists possess an internal sense of me-
dia practices in which they are involved, by sharing the meanings
of their professional actions and interactions they understand and
construct their professional roles and identities.
A total of 100 media practitioners participated in the study. 49 per-
sons (34 journalists and 15 editors) were interviewed and 51 (23 ed-
itors and 28 journalists) took part in the 8 focus-group discussions.
Te practicing media representatives, editors and leading journal-
ists of national and regional media were invited to participate in the
study. Te selection of study participants was based on their current
active leadership position (top or middle-level management/editor/
leading reporter) and participation in making decisions about topics
and angles of media coverage, extensive work experience in the feld
of at least two years, specifcally, and, fnally, a volunteer agreement
to participate in the study.
Each focus group discussion lasted between 90-120 minutes and
included between 5 and 10 participants. “Te group must be small
enough for everyone to have the opportunity to share insights and
yet large enough to provide diversity in perceptions” (Krueger and
Casey, 2009: 6). According to Onwuegbuzie et al. (2009), the ration-
ale for the range of focus group size should stem from the goal that
within focus groups there should be enough participants to yield di-
versity in the information provided; yet they should not include too
Media Transformations 61
many participants because large groups can create an environment
where participants do not feel comfortable sharing their thoughts,
opinions, beliefs, and experiences.
Group members varied by gender, age and types of media, but had
the commonality of being leading media practitioners who have been
working in media for at least 2 years and who are responsible for or
can infuence the selection of topics and angles of coverage. Stewart
and Shamdasani explain that interaction is easier when individuals
with similar socioeconomic backgrounds comprise the group (1990:
38). A lively, interesting discussion tends to build a sense of cohe-
siveness. Equally important, the sharing of experiences and recogni-
tion that other participants have had similar experiences add to the
cohesiveness of the group (ibid.). Interviews were tape-recorded in
Ukrainian or Russian (depending on language which was convenient
for the participant), completely transcribed, and then analysed to
identify all relevant statements for inductive analysis of identifying
emerging themes through multiple readings.
Te unstructured (specifcally, on the very frst stages of data col-
lection, pilot interviews and group discussions) and semi-structured
(mainly on the fnal stages of data collection and verifcation) types of
interviewing were applied for data collection. Berger explains that in
unstructured interviews the researcher is focused on specifc topics
of study but exercises relatively little control over the responses of the
informant, and in semi-structured interviews, the interviewer has a
written list of questions to ask but at the same time tries to maintain
the casual quality found in unstructured interviewing (2000: 112).
Tis methodological approach provided a free fow conversation and
allowed insights based on the respondents’ professional experienc-
es. Imposing too much structure on the interview inhibits the inter-
viewee’s responses and may cause an incomplete understanding of
the phenomenon under investigation (Zhang and Wildemuth, 2009).
Discussing the function of media in Ukraine, journalists argued that
they still have not gained the role of the “fourth power” in Ukraine;
the fgure of journalist was ofen depicted as powerless, manipulated,
and speechless; some participants also noted that journalists need to
62 Anastasiia GRYNKO
Journalists’ roles and ethics in turbulent times: Contemporary controversies in Ukraine
survive and adopt to the existing system, and this adaptation ofen
costs them diminished ethical values:
Journalism is corrupted and compromised…so journalists
have to operate in a “muddy water” and some of them try to
“catch fsh” in it and gain proft.
Talking about the main causes of pressure and ethical violations,
journalists named the undeveloped media market in Ukraine as a
primary problem and obstacle for development of journalist profes-
sion and media freedom. Specifcally, journalists agreed that media
usually “do not follow strategic business plans” and, thus, “are not
managed to be a long-term efective business” that intends to build
to be proftable and respond to the audience demand. One media
practitioner commented:
“...frst and foremost it depends on how long you plan the
business. If it is planned for 15 years, it must be profession-
al and transparent. Meanwhile, our media businesses are
usually planned as a short-term business aimed at getting
quick proft or publicity, and follow so-called “now-and-
here strategies”.
Besides, journalists agreed the dependence on owners and sponsors
is one of the most signifcant factors of infuence, which complicates
media development and causes the violations of journalism prin-
ciples. Moreover, some participants said there are many media in
Ukraine that were created as a “platform for the owner’s communica-
tion” and are aimed at promotion of the owner’s messages rather than
being a competitive business project. In fact, almost all participants
shared their experience about the owner’s pressure and two groups of
reasons behind those pressures, as they feel them:
Controlling the coverage content (1), coverage of preferable topics
and avoiding unfavorable ones. As journalists explained:
“the owner has his interests or his friends’ interests, so we
[reporters] have to cover concrete topics”; “…we are spon-
sored by “Privat Group”, and that is why we never place any
negative information about their business even if it is news-
Media Transformations 63
One regional journalist shared her example:
…two TV channels in our region belong to two diferent
businesses: “Zaporizhstal” [ the name of the plant] and
“Motor Sich” [the name of the plant]. So, these channels “are
specialized” in diferent sectors and never mention news of
competitors even if something important and newsworthy
Maximizing the proft (2) is another reason behind the owners’ pres-
sure on media. As the research participants explained – intending to
get proft, owners tend to keep friendly relations with advertisers and
may establish internal policy that violates ethical principles of media,
for instance, by asking journalists to cover topics that are prefera-
ble for advertiser. Specifcally, journalists recollected examples when
owner, being manipulated by the advertiser, manipulated the work
of the editorial department: “the founder manipulates editorial staf
‘to satisfy’ the advertiser and get more money”. Consequently, jour-
nalists mentioned advertisers as a factor of infuence on Ukrainian
media but also noted that this is an “indirect infuence”, which is usu-
ally realized through the owner or media marketing department for
proft maximization.
Describing the ethical dilemmas they face and solve in their every-
day work in media, they provided an interesting shared pattern of ex-
planations; “why” and “how” they think it works and how they view
individual journalist (or themselves) in the mentioned practices.
Journalists were generally negative about any kind of infuence pres-
sures and told that the pressures that challenge the quality of jour-
nalism in the country are faced by the majority of the media outlets
and people working in media. Respondents rarely connected the
pressures to a wider problem of pressure within “personal” profes-
sional experience, choice and responsibility. Whilst there were nu-
merous instances when research participants defned the pressures
64 Anastasiia GRYNKO
Journalists’ roles and ethics in turbulent times: Contemporary controversies in Ukraine
existing and widespread in Ukraine, they also frequently articulated
the problem as one of “my personal” experience:
“I have never experienced it personally but have heard much
from my friends, they told as they were ofered money and
placed materials for that. As for me, I am not a person of this
kind, may be I am not a right person” (journalist).
“It is strongly controlled in our newspaper; journalist will be
fred for accepting bribes. But not all media organizations
have such a strict policy” (editor).
“I have only heard from my friend that they are rewriting
materials fve times depending on which side gives more
money to editor. Tey have hard time at their work…” (jour-
nalist). .
Such statements might be interpreted as the perception of infuences
as ones happening “somewhere there” and do not really refer to in-
dividual respondents’ experience. Equally important, they also func-
tion rhetorically to conceptualize the problem which is “not mine”
or “my media” but “theirs”, for example, “other journalists”, “friends”,
“colleagues”, “other newspapers”, “magazines”, “TV-channels”, “com-
Although the lack of freedom was problematized and labeled as top-
ical for the Ukrainian media feld, the participants’ description of the
problem as not “mine” but “their” might then be interpreted as the
intention to present themselves as not involved into the practices that
are considered to be ethical by their nature. Tis can be connected
with a sensitivity of the issues discussed. Possibly, the participants in-
tentionally avoided speaking about the practices of pressures as “their
own” experiences because those practices are assumed to be unethi-
cal. Tis may also mean the journalists have personally experienced
pressures and they did not want to reveal them under the in-group
settings or during individual interviews; consequently, I would con-
clude they fnd this experience “uncomfortable” or “immoral” and
prefer not to be associated with the mentioned professional cases.
Media Transformations 65
While sharing the experiences, study participants were mainly fo-
cused on the explanations of “why pressures happens” and “who is
responsible for them”. As it was noted from the transcriptions, the
reasons of non-transparent practices were ofen refereed to “they”
or “other” markers and were connected with other people’ decisions
or external factors rather than personal decisions and responsibili-
ties. Specifcally, the patterns of shifing responsibility and problem
legitimization were constructed by the expanded explanations of the
reasons and responsibilities for non-transparent practices. Hence,
responsibility for the problem was ofen shifed to the third person
“them” (someone or generalized others) while the reasons were re-
ferred to broader conditions (social, economic, professional contexts)
which, according to respondents, force them to behave unethically.
Te marker “they” referred to diferent actors who were blamed for
media bribery existence and called responsible for the pressures. Spe-
cifcally, “they” journalists usually meant editors, who were blamed
for causing the pressure on journalists as a result of acceptation of
cash or other benefts. Meanwhile, the interviewed editors called
journalists responsible for paid-for materials as “lazy, non-profes-
sional” and that is why accept cash from the news sources. Both
journalists and editors expressed the shifing of the responsibility on
advertising departments or media owners that “infuence editorial
policy to maximize profts from advertisers”.
Tis pattern of blaming the other stakeholders for the existence of
media bribery practice also concerned Public Relations specialists
who are “too aggressive”, “not professional”, “unethical” and “lazy”,
and prefer to pay for publicity rather than work professionally. An-
other variation of the “blaming others” or “shifing responsibility”
pattern concerned readers and the media, blaming consumers who
are not very fastidious, “do not demand high quality product” and
usually “can not even recognize paid-for materials”.
Te problem of legitimization was another pattern that, in partici-
pants’ accounts, functions like a “good” reason for accepting bribes
and pressure from news sources. It was articulated in a broader con-
text of social, economic and political conditions:
66 Anastasiia GRYNKO
Journalists’ roles and ethics in turbulent times: Contemporary controversies in Ukraine
“…Journalists get not much money nowadays, but they have
to feed their families. Teir life is hard, believe me”.
“It is hard to survive without taking bribes now, everyone
takes them, and our life is corrupted starting from politics”.
“Tis practice is not regulated here, so there are no sanc-
tions and almost every media takes bribes. Why and how
should we be transparent?”.
By these phrases respondents made attempts to prove the necessity
of accepting bribes and tried to legitimize this practice by extremely
hard social, economic conditions or commonness of corruption in
diferent spheres. Te legitimation is realized through the construct
of “hard reality” which is usually comes with such concrete attributes
as “low salaries” and “fnancial struggles”, “undeveloped system of
law and ethical regulations”, “absence of competition in media feld”,
“lack of good example” “corruption in social and political felds
which is common”.
Meanwhile, research participants almost never mentioned the efects
and outcomes of the practice (why this happens). Specifcally, the
research indicated the lack of attention to the consequences of the
individual responses to the pressures and too much attention to the
reasons (especially, their justifcation) and responsibility (who is re-
sponsible or should be blamed) for unprofessional actions.
Focus group participants were asked to create collages refecting how
they see (and experience) journalists’ work in Ukraine. Collage is
constructing a picture by sticking images or other materials to a sur-
face. To make the collages, journalists received colourful magazines,
booklets and newspapers, so they had plenty of choices and could
cut and stick any pictures, photos, headline and pieces of texts from
there; they were also given markers and pencils to write and draw
anything they wanted to express their view in a graphic way. Journal-
ists were asked to create collages in small groups of two-three people,
and then to give commentaries on what they had depicted.
Media Transformations 67
Since knowledge can not be reduced to language (Eisner, 2008) and
verbalized notions, I have combined traditional qualitative inter-
viewing with elements of visual method (creation of collages), allow-
ing people to refect creatively on the topics of the research interest
and show the world beyond the text, words and verbal descriptions.
Creatively mixing methods encourage thinking “outside the box”
and generating new ways of interrogating and understanding the so-
cial realities (Mason, 2002).
Methodologists refer to collage as a creative art-based visual method
that helps to enhance participants’ refexivity and to take into account
also their diferent needs and expressive styles. Applying drawing
methods in the context of an interview opens up participants’ in-
terpretations of questions, and allows a creative way of interviewing
that is responsive to the participants’ own meanings and associations
(Bagnoli, 2009). Collage seems to work best when we move from the
intuitive to the conceptual so it is an appropriate medium for explor-
ing identity, ethics and professional dilemmas (Ridley and Rogers,
2010). Te work with images helps to communicate more holistically
and through metaphors (Prosser and Loxley, 2008). Besides, collab-
orative work helped to get more insights as participants were sharing
ideas and discussed images they chose for their collages. Collabora-
tive drawings produced in larger groups can extend the insights to
more complex forms of communication and meaning-making (Rid-
ley and Rogers, 2010).
Te analysis includes review of the main components (both people
and objects) that appeared on the collages and that, according to re-
search participants, infuence professional lives of Ukrainian jour-
nalists (1). Here I was looking at what (objects) and who (actors)
were present on the collages. Second, I analyse the representation of
“the journalist”; specifcally, how the journalist role and professional
functions are visualized (2). Te third category is the review of gen-
eral composition of the collages (how elements are located, what are
their sizes and proportions) (3). It is also important to note that every
single collage made by journalist was original and contained unique
details I will also mention as meaningful features and descriptions.
Te fgure of journalist was present on every collage. Pictures of in-
fuential political and business fgures also appeared on the collages.
68 Anastasiia GRYNKO
Journalists’ roles and ethics in turbulent times: Contemporary controversies in Ukraine
Mainly they were shown as important and powerful stakeholders in
journalism practice and ones who infuence journalist’s work. Te
infuence was mainly related to fnancial pressures or fnancial de-
pendence, and it was mainly refected by the issues of ownership or
fnancial manipulations (which may be associated with corrupted
practices). More rarely, journalists drew political and business actors
as ones who infuence journalists only as news makers.
Te concept of money was somehow marked at almost every collage.
Specifcally, the sign of “money” was presented as a tool of manip-
ulation and infuence on media practice (see Collage 1) and as the
purpose why media owners open media outlets. Tis may indicate
that journalists are especially concerned with the fnancial side of
their work and, especially, their fnancial dependence. Te concept
of money also appeared in Collage 1 at the part titled “How journal-
ism should work”; here the creators put their expectation about the
“high salaries” journalists should get for keeping their professional
Mainly, research participants who created collages described money
as a tool of pressure, which politicians and business owners apply
to manipulate media. Te makers of Collage 1 placed the numbers
meaning certain (big) amounts of money under the pictures of two
business fgures illustrating oligarchs who are competing and fght-
ing to make more money; in their fghts they use media as an instru-
ment for their business goals.
Collage 3 also contains fragments illustrating money issues. As jour-
nalists depicted it, the thoughts about money (profts) determines
the decisions of the media owners and frame editorial policy. Final-
ly, at Collage 4, the Presidential Advisor Anna Herman is depicted
portrayed as the one asking journalists “How much do you cost?”.
Tis image illustrates a cynical attitude of state authorities towards
Generally, the images of politicians and businessmen were ofen se-
lected as the main stakeholders of media practices and the ones who
greatly infuence the work of journalists. Tese fgures, presenting
ones who have greater power and infuence, were ofen bigger sized,
with brighter colours and located at the centre or on the top of the
whole picture.
Media Transformations 69
Interestingly, the fgure of the journalist was placed under the photos
of oligarchs and under the “money”. Te question “Who pays more?”
is written near his head, indicating the real thoughts and intentions
of the media professional. It may illustrate that journalists are serving
the interests of ones who have fnancial resources and power in the

Tis situation, as research participants believe, diminishes the pro-
fessional ethics of journalism. Tey have illustrated it in a met-
aphoric way, selecting the picture of a journalist’s ID/certifcate
(“посвідчення журналіста”) in a dirty, oily, trash-like pan (see Col-
lage 1). Tis picture, according to the practitioners who were work-
ing on the collage, illustrates a real state and nature of journalism in
Collage 1.
Translation of
the phrases,
from left to
right: “23 mln,
hryvnas”, “Who
pays more?”, “2
billion hryvnas”.
70 Anastasiia GRYNKO
Journalists’ roles and ethics in turbulent times: Contemporary controversies in Ukraine
Ukraine. Tis was an ironic way to show that values of profession are
cynically neglected and “burnt to ashes”. It is signifcantly to note, that
the same photo of journalist ID, fried in a dirty pan with the pieces of
stale food, was used by the creators of another collage. Terefore, this
picture seemed to be meaningful for participants and worked best to
present how they characterize their professional work.
Te composition of the collages also says a lot about how research
participants present the way the power is distributed in media prac-
tice. Specifcally, the fgure of journalist is located on the bottom;
meanwhile the faces of ones who represent political and business
elites are in the middle of the picture (see Collage 1). On the top of
the picture journalists put the sign of ”struggles between, those two
infuential fgures”.
It may say that business (and political) interests and struggles are
interpreted as the main issue that guides and shapes the work of jour-
nalist. Collage 3 also presents the fgures of journalists working in
an editorial department on the bottom. Central and top parts of the
picture are occupied by a big image of the media owner (particularly,
his head) and the image of “the President Administration”; this fnd-
ing may convey the meaning that the owner and government play a
crucial role in the work of media.

Collage 2.
Translation of
the phrases,
the frst part:
a journalist –
smaller fgure,
- a bigger one;
the second
part: “ideal
journalism”, “big
salaries”, “airy
goals”, “true
Media Transformations 71
Te minor and instrumental role of the journalist was clearly illus-
trated by Collage 2, where focus group participants showed the fg-
ures of journalist and investor in a metaphoric way. Te media owner
is given as a huge faceless and grey monument, meanwhile a small
cartoon-like (childish looking) character following the monument
and looking at his back, represents the journalist. Te fgure of the
journalist creates the impression of a small, powerless and manipu-
lated man who has nothing to do but hide behind the big fgure of
the owner.
Te powerless and instrumental role of media is clearly refected in
Collage 3. Te editorial department is drawn as a group of small, grey
and similar looking people (journalists) and is titled as a news selling
(instead of news production) division. Focus group participants also
drew journalists as “speechless and silent” who cannot (or do not
want) to express their opinion; the pictures of “people with closed
(plastered) mouths” represent media workers on Collage 4.
Terefore, the visualization of the journalist role and function stays
in line and adds new metaphoric features to the image of journalist
constructed by the research participants’ narrative stories and inter-

Collage 3.
Translation of
the phrases
from right tot
left: “President
“What ofers
does the
President of
Russia have?”
72 Anastasiia GRYNKO
Journalists’ roles and ethics in turbulent times: Contemporary controversies in Ukraine
Terefore, media owner, infuential politicians, state authorities and
businessmen are drawn as the main actors in media practice togeth-
er with journalist. Te latter ofen shown as small, powerless fgures
mainly doing the technical work of producing “news for sale” or
news for serving owners’ interests.

However, no one collage contained any piece representing either the
audience nor any interests of public consuming media products. Te
concept of audience and public interest was not portrayed in any of
the collages. Having analysed the visual data, I have noted that imag-
es of people reading newspapers or watching TV or any visual signs
that could be interpreted as their needs, interests, expectations were
not included in the pictures of journalist work.
Te absence of audience among the actors in the picture of Ukrainian
journalism and in the focus group transcriptions may be interpreted
by the fact that research participants may experience very small (or
extremely small) infuence of news consumers on their work. Te
issues of money and purposes of serving the interests of infuential
people (political and business elites) seem to replace audience needs
and expatiations. Tis fnding corresponds with the ideas sounded
during the interviews, when practitioners mentioned that many me-
dia organization play instrumental roles rather than intend to meet
audience needs and serve public interests.
Collage 4.
Translation of
the phrases:
“How it happens
now” (meaning
situation) –
from the top
to the bottom:
“Terrible love
and beautiful
silence in all
the languages”,
“Beauty does
not rescue so
far”; How it
should work:
Media Transformations 73
Aimed at the exploration of journalists’ ethical interpretations that
guide them in their professional work, this research suggests to look
at the phenomenon of journalists’ freedom through journalists’ con-
siderations and as a part of individual ethics, and explore how jour-
nalists see their role within the media practices they experience. Ac-
cording to Koltsova (2006), the study of media practice is especially
helpful for fnding observable units of social reality and struggling
with “normativism” as it describes how people act, and not how it
is required by perspective rules. Tis notion is especially true about
Ukraine, where both media market and journalism professional cul-
ture are still developing, journalism value system is being established
and journalists continue to question their professional roles and ob-
ligations within existing political, economical and cultural environ-
Lauk notes (2008) that afer the fall of the communist regimes in
the Central and Eastern European countries, media and journalists
found themselves in a certain “normative vacuum” and there was
confusion as to how to behave in the changing public sphere where
the old patterns did not work and new ones were yet to be introduced
or adapted. According to the study, although Ukrainian journalists
are aware of the normative rules and ethically responsible practices,
they demonstrate relative and blurry ethical considerations when it
comes to the discussion of every-day professional choices. Tis can
be widely found in other post-communist countries where “legal
and/or conventional framework that would motivate journalists to
follow the principles is still missing” (ibid.: 194). Tis fnding corre-
sponds with what Zielonka and Mancini identify as a blurred jour-
nalists’ professional identity, putting it as a common feature across
Central and Eastern Europe: “it has proved difcult for journalists
to develop a strong and clear professional identity in the constantly
changing political, economic and social environment… Journalists
difuse and frequently overlapping social roles have generated confu-
sion and lack of coherence” (2011: 7).
Te interviewed journalists tended to realize the threats coming
from the side of media owners, put the concept of “money” and fg-
ures of political and business elites in the centre of both visualized
74 Anastasiia GRYNKO
Journalists’ roles and ethics in turbulent times: Contemporary controversies in Ukraine
and verbalized images of contemporary media practice, and men-
tion “self-censorship” as the main challenge for journalistic work. At
the same time, discussing their own experiences, journalists tend-
ed to position themselves as victims of the existing practices (and
manipulations in media). Respondents ofen explained the pressures
as mainly “external factors” (in particular, “unethical” journalists or
representatives of other professional groups as well as political and
economic hardships or general “culture of corruption” in the society)
and rarely referred to the importance of personal choice and respon-
sibility for involvement into unethical practices.
Discussing the function of media in Ukraine, respondents argued
that journalists still have not gained the role of the “fourth power”;
the fgure of the journalist was ofen visualized as powerless, manip-
ulated, and speechless; some participants also noted that journalists
needed to survive and adapt to the existing system (“…to operate in a
“muddy water” and “catch the fsh”), and this “adaptation” ofen costs
them diminishing ethical rules.
Generally, the discussions ofen focused on justifcation of the prac-
tices that are not normally justifed by ethical rules and blaming
”others”. Speaking about the issue of pressures, journalists tended to
pay attention to the reasons (why this happens?) and actors (who
are involved and guilty?) of experienced media practices rather than
outcomes of the journalism that lacks freedom, specifcally, public
interests or reputation of media organization, its credibility and pro-
fessional and business success, etc. Te notions of audience and pub-
lic interest were usually excluded from the journalists’ discussions
about media experienced practices. Both textual and visual data
demonstrates that journalists do not perceive readers and viewers as
ones who infuence or are somehow present in the overall picture of
media practice. Media owners, political fgures, businessmen, adver-
tisers, editors and reporters are mentioned among the main actors
who compose and infuence media practice and set the rules of me-
dia practice.
Terefore, the reformation of a media system that, according to the
normative view, was expected to ensure media independency has not
fully worked in a Ukrainian context. Having experienced the years of
state control under the communist regime, Ukrainian journalists did
Media Transformations 75
not manage to gain expected independence afer the Soviet Union
collapse. Specifcally, media privatization did not ensure the free-
dom as well as the attempts to adapt ethical values formalized in the
codes. Owned by political and business elites (“oligarchs”) private
media continue to face the pressures that, in many cases, question
journalists’ independence and the transparency of media practices.
It is hardly debatable that working under such conditions Ukrainian
journalists cannot play the role of agents in democratic change. Jus-
tifying the experienced pressures by diferent, usually external, rea-
sons, Ukrainian journalists tend to adjust ethical norms to existing
practices. It causes further confict between normative standards and
their interpretation and implementation in practice that is, accord-
ing to Voltmer and Dobreva (2009), typical for new democracies in
which old structures and values coexist with new democratic norms
(or what is understood to be democratic norms).
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Editorial independence in the Latvian news media: Ownership interests and journalistic
PhD, Head of the
Department of Communication Studies
Faculty of Communication
Riga Stradiņš University
Riga, Latvia
ABSTRACT: Editorial independence in the each media organization is infuenced
both by external factors (sources of information, business partners, advertisers) and
by internal factors (business interests and the goals of the media owner and the ma-
nagers of the outlet). Tere are at least three levels at which editorial independence
can be evaluated in accordance with various players in the media environment – the
level of the individual, the media organisation and the media industry. Editorial in-
dependence at each of these levels, in turn, depends on self-regulation and media
regulation mechanisms. In this specifc research, the question about attitude to edi-
torial independence has been analyzed. With the goal to determine the conditions,
which afect the level of editorial independence in the media frms, the formal and
informal factors in the relationship between owners and editors have been evaluated.
Te data of the Latvian journalist survey has been compared with data acquired du-
ring semi-structured interviews with media owners and chief editors. In Latvia, the
will of the owner to use media in his own interest both political and commercial is
perceived as natural, as well as the belief of the owner that the opinions made by the
editor must not interfere with the owner‘s business venture. However, even in edito-
rial ofces where strict limitations of editorial independence exist, journalists fnd a
way to produce content independently. For journalists it doesn‘t mean the situation
at the ofce, but their own individual work, defning the editorial independence as
a chance freely produce specifc content. Respondents in this survey think highly of
the individual autonomy of journalists, but media workers clearly understand the
limitations on editorial independence that are implemented by owners, directors or
KEYWORDS: editorial independence, self-censorship, media ownership, editors
ISSN 2029-865X
Media Transformations 81
Editorial independence is a defnitive prerequisite for media quality.
Traditionally, editorial independence has been defned as a separa-
tion between decisions that are taken by media owners and those that
are taken by editors. In reality, however, the interests of the editorial
board and the media outlet’s advertising, marketing and fnance de-
partments interweave, which means that the existing understanding
of editorial independence at each media company is crucial.
Tis paper is part of a broader study about Latvian media owners
(2010–2013), focusing on attitudes which media workers have to-
ward editorial independence. Te goal has been to determine the
conditions which have afected the level of editorial independence
during changing eras in terms of the transition of the media mar-
ket and journalism, and the formal and informal factors in the re-
lationship between owners and editors have been evaluated. Data
from a survey of Latvian journalists has been compared with data
acquired via semi-structured interviews with media owners and ed-
Te level of editorial independence in Latvia represents a compro-
mise between the principle of media social responsibility, as defend-
ed by editorial personnel, and the business or political interests of
the media owners. From the perspective of owners, media independ-
ence is linked to the ability to fulfl the owner’s stated goals by setting
boundaries on editorial independence. Editorial staf, in turn, per-
ceives independence passively and reactively and as conceivable or
inconceivable work conditions. Te level of editorial independence
between editors and media owners is not defned in the contracts of
Latvian media organisations.
In Latvia, the desire of owners to use the media in terms of their
political and commercial interests is perceived as natural, as is the
belief among owners that opinions presented by editors must not
interfere with the owners’ business ventures. Even in editorial ofces
in which there are strict limitations on editorial independence, how-
ever, journalists do fnd ways of producing content in an independ-
ent way. Terefore, this author proposes the concept of individual
editorial independence to characterise the Latvian media situation.
For journalists, this does not refer to the situation at the ofce; in-
Editorial independence in the Latvian news media: Ownership interests and journalistic
stead it speaks to individual work, with editorial independence being
defned as a chance to freely produce specifc content.
Te editors and journalists of commercially focused media organi-
sations are responsible for the market success of their enterprise, but
the level of editorial independence is higher. Owners defne market
goals, but do not infuence content. In this media group, the person-
ality of the editor is essential to ensure editorial independence, be-
cause the editor acts as a shield which protects staf from unwanted
interference by owners in terms of daily content production.
Data from the study refect several contradictory media ownership
strategies in various industries, making it possible to analyse the level
of editorial independence, the patterns of media content production,
and the correlations of self-censorship in the Latvian media.
Editorial independence is one of the most important principles in
media operations, because at the level of the practices of media or-
ganisations, it reveals the way in which freedom of the press operates
(Himelboim and Limor, 2008) and how pluralism is ensured. Edi-
torial independence is also a part of normative views about media
operations (McQuail, 2010) in that it is linked to honesty, truth, neu-
trality, objectivity and a professional understanding of journalism.
Several other terms have been used to describe editorial independ-
ence, including editorial freedom and editorial autonomy. Editorial
independence or freedom usually means that editors-in-chief must
have full authority over the editorial content of their media unit. De-
scriptions of editorial independence usually emphasise the right of
the editor to be independent from the owners and top managers of
the media organisations, whose decisions cannot have an efect on
the selection and choice of media content, the editorial process, or
the form of publications. For that reason, appropriate circumstances
must be created at media outlets in accordance with the aforemen-
tioned principles. Editorial independence or freedom usually refers
to the professional work of media professionals, while editorial au-
tonomy refers to the structure of media organisations, in which the
development of content at the management level is kept separate
from co-operation with advertisers or other business partners, as
Media Transformations 83
well as from the company’s fnancial operations, marketing and oth-
er functions, which are essential in medial operations. Te term also
covers the autonomy of journalists (Scholl and Weischenberg, 1999).
In everyday situations, however, editorial independence is not some-
thing unambiguous and stable in terms of editorial operations, be-
cause the process of shaping content at media organisations is in-
fuenced both by external factors (sources of information, partners,
advertisers) and by internal factors (business interests and the goals
of the media owner and the managers of the outlet). Editorial inde-
pendence depends on the business models of the media, as well as
on the commercialised media environment of the present way – one
in which many decisions are taken on the basis of their advantages
and proft potentials. Studies related to the media in Eastern Europe
regularly identify violations of editorial independence because of the
ability of politicians or political parties to infuence media content
(Metyková, Waschková and Císarová, 2009).
Editorial independence in present-day media practices can be eval-
uated on the basis of the extent to which the media outlet, its man-
ager or editor and each journalist can collect, correlate and publish
information, viewpoints and interpretations. Tere are three levels at
which editorial independence can be evaluated in accordance with
various players in the media environment – the level of the individ-
ual, the media organisation and the media industry. Editorial inde-
pendence at each of these levels, in turn, depends on self-regulation
and media regulation mechanisms. Editorial independence is also
infuenced by the overall status of the media industry, the legal status
of journalists, wage and compensation systems, and the operations
of media regulators. Tere is always interaction among legal regu-
lations, self-regulations and private regulations which apply to each
specifc media organisation. Tese and other issues are analysed in
detail in the European Council’s Mediadem study (Mediadem, 2012),
which fnds that the greatest threats against editorial independence
relate to the liberal and commercialised media system. Te study was
focused on an analysis of media policies and media freedoms in the
European Union, and it concluded that in countries with powerful
traditions related to the education of journalists and with strong la-
bour unions there are fewer problems with editorial independence
and the autonomy of journalists.
Editorial independence in the Latvian news media: Ownership interests and journalistic
Although editorial independence is an inviolable component of me-
dia policy and is of unquestionable importance (Hoey, 2008), the fact
is that editorial independence is not absolute in any country or any
segment of the media world. Because of this approximate situation, a
critical evaluation of the real manifestations of media practices leads
to a situation in which the concept of editorial independence is seen
as old-fashioned (Grattan, 1998), or as one which is not realistic and
is more of a myth (McLellan, 2008), because it sometimes refects the
desire of media professionals to avoid the changes which occur in the
media environment.
In a commercial media system, editorial independence is understood
as the obligation of the editor not only to ensure free media content
and to be responsible for it, but also to satisfy the duties of media
directors. Tis usually relates to specifc ratings, the obligation of
reaching a specifc target audience, and the need to take responsibil-
ity for the fnancial results of the media content as the content is put
together. In her blog, Michele McLellan has called for a true eval-
uation of the everyday nature of the media, writing that it is naïve
to think that editors can fail to count on the business strategies of
their media companies. An editor cannot act at the national level
and spend money for this purpose if the relevant media outlet is fo-
cused on the local audience. Te editor cannot change the owner’s
attempts to develop or not develop content for the Internet audience,
and editorial independence does not allow the editor to infuence
the place on the page where a specifc advertisement will be placed
alongside a specifc article (McLellan, 2008). In other words, edito-
rial independence is not similar to the Sunday-best suit of an editor.
It changes and must be defended at all phases of creating media con-
tent. Editorial independence is discussed not just by the media, but
also by specifc publications such as scholarly journals in the feld of
medicine (Smith, 2006) and other niche publications which link it to
intellectual liberty (Hoey, 2008).
As the media system, policies related to media regulations, and the
condition of the media business change, there are also alterations in
views about editorial independence, interpretations of the concept
and the use of the concept in the work of every media professional.
Events occurring during the frst decade and the early part of the
second decade of the 21st century ofer good reason to analyse the
Media Transformations 85
situation with editorial independence. In many countries, the media
industry has experienced an economic recession, fnding it necessary
to adapt to operations in the Internet environment, to seek out new
business models, and to experiment with media content.
Latvia’s media environment lost more than 50% of its advertising
investments over the past fve years, and those investments are re-
turning to the environment very slowly. Tere have been ownership
changes in all media sectors, and there has been an exacerbation
during the period of economic difculties of previously identifed
problems with media responsibilities (Balčytienė, 2009), their com-
mercial orientation, and the use of hidden advertising in the business
models of the media (Rožukalne, 2013). Te Latvian media system
is currently undergoing increased concentration in the media busi-
ness. Te nature of the work of journalists and editors is changing,
and the modern communications environment means that editors
have less and less of an opportunity to dictate media content. Te
job market for journalists is unstable and shrinking. Te principle of
editorial independence that was enshrined in Latvian law in 2010 is
only declarative. Can we hope during this period of change that the
situation with editorial independence has remained unchanged?
Te primary goal of this research has been to investigate conditions
which, during a period of change in the media market and a process
of journalistic transition, afect the level of editorial independence,
also evaluating the formal and informal factors which exist in the
relationship between owners and editors. Te study consists of two
parts. First, a questionnaire for journalists and editors came from a
set of semi-structured interviews with Latvia’s most infuential me-
dia owners (Rožukalne, 2013). Secondly, the author has interviewed
editors and conducted a survey of journalists on their evaluation of
editorial independence.
Te survey that was related to various aspects of editorial independ-
ence took place in April and May 2013. Tere were 22 questions about
the views of respondents on various aspects of editorial independ-
ence in their work and in their media outlet. Te discussion focused
on the personal experiences of each respondent in defending edi-
torial independence, whether positive or negative, on factors which
Editorial independence in the Latvian news media: Ownership interests and journalistic
endanger editorial independence in Latvia’s media environment, and
on the roles of editors and journalists in ensuring editorial independ-
ence. Te questions applied to all levels of editorial independence –
the individual, media organisation and media industry level.
A net-type or serial-type selection method was used to determine
the cohort for the survey, the goal being to reach media professionals
at all types of media organisations. In the event, the author surveyed
265 representatives of the Latvian media. 25% of them represented
regional or local newspapers, 23% came from broadcasting organi-
sations, 21% worked for magazines, 15% were employed by national
newspapers, 7% came from Internet news portals, 7% represented
more than one media organisation, and 2% hailed from local TV and
radio stations. 64% of the respondents were women, and 34% were
men. Most of them had extensive experience in media work. Tis
may suggest trust in the profession, as well as stable views about its
essence. 28% of the respondents had worked in the media for more
than 20 years, 14% had work experience between 16 and 20 years,
29% had worked between 11 and 15 years, 18% had been employed
for 6 to 10 years, 8% had worked for 2 to 5 years, and 3% had worked
in the feld for less than 2 years.
Te survey of Latvian journalists shows that professionals from Lat-
via’s regional newspapers, news portals and the public media have
the highest opinions about their editorial independence. Answers to
other questions, however, were full of contradictions. Media people
believe that their professionalism can protect editorial independ-
ence, but they also admit there are media outlets which have been
established on the basis of political interests, as well as that a depend-
ence on commercial interests is a fundamental problem. Analysis of
Latvian media content in the context of the goals of media owners
shows that very few media organisations fnd social responsibility
principles to be of importance, because in most cases the media have
been established and managed in order to earn a proft. Te views of
journalists difer in the sense that they accept the infuence of polit-
ical and business factors, but they also believe these factors cannot
have any major infuence on the everyday work of each media pro-
Media Transformations 87
Tere were only two questions in the survey, related to problems
with editorial independence, with respect to which journalists, ed-
itors and producers in Latvia all had the same opinion – the essence
of editorial independence and the role of editors in ensuring it. Te
former question related to the defnition that editorial independence
meant an opportunity to take independent decisions about content,
sources of information, and other professional materials. 96% of re-
spondents fully or partly agreed with the statement.
Latvia’s media environment is very heterogeneous. Tere are media
outlets which belong to journalists themselves and, therefore, enjoy
a higher level of editorial independence, as well as media outlets at
which the work of journalists depends on the business or political
interests of the relevant owners. Only 4% of respondents disagreed
with the aforementioned defnition, and even fewer (3%) wished to
amend it (see Figure1). Tis suggests that varieties in working con-
ditions, experiences, jobs and statuses, education and the issue of
whether one works for a local or international media company do
not mean there are diferent interpretations of editorial independ-

Te best idea about factors which infuence editorial independence is
provided by answers to questions as to whether media professionals
agree that the quality of their work depends on the political ambi-
Figure 1.
The defnition
of editorial
Editorial independence in the Latvian news media: Ownership interests and journalistic
tions and proft interests of media owners. Te statement was this: “I
believe that editorial independence can be limited by the interests of
advertisers or other business partners”. 21% of respondents agreed
with the statement (9% fully agreed with it, while 12% partly agreed
with it). 27% partly disagreed with it, and 49% fully disagreed with
the statement (see Figure 2). Tis clearly proves something that has
been noted in other Eastern European countries –the work of jour-
nalists is dangerously close to the model of relations between a ser-
vice provider and a client – a model which journalists must respect
and uphold with the aim of ensuring the relevant media organisa-
tion’s commercial interests (Roudakova, 2008).
Tere are diferent answers when it comes to political infuence on
the everyday work of media outlets. Te statement was this: “I be-
lieve that editorial independence can be limited by the political in-
terests and ties of the media owner”, with 28% agreeing, 15% partly
disagreeing, and 55% fully disagreeing (see Figure 3). Tis may show
that journalists partly accept the infuence of politicians on the me-
dia, particularly if the economic survival of the relevant media out-
let is not possible without such involvement. Te level of political
parallelism in the Latvian media world is dictated by several media
organisations which were established with the express purpose of
representing the political interests of their owners. Articles in such
media outlets combine infuenced and freely prepared content. Tese
journalists must adapt to political infuence and also try to work in
accordance with the relevant political principles.
Figure 2.
An evaluation
of the impact
of business
on editorial
Media Transformations 89
Answers to questions about limitations on editorial independence
coincide with results which speak to the professional everyday work
of respondents. 76% of respondents claimed that they did not face any
regular limitations on editorial independence – ones which could re-
duce the quality of journalism. It is not a bad thing if three-quarters
of media professionals believe they work freely and are independent
in making decisions but sadly, 11% of respondents say their everyday
work involves a violation of professional principles (the other 14% of
respondents could not answer the relevant question or ofered difer-
ent interests) (see Figure 4). Some of the respondents said, moreover,
that although limitations on editorial independence do not occur
regularly, “they do happen occasionally”.

Tere are contradictions in answers which respondents gave to other
questions. Freedom in deciding on content is not a natural element
Figure 3.
An evaluation
of the impact
of political
on editorial
Figure 4.
An evaluation
of restrictions
on editorial
Editorial independence in the Latvian news media: Ownership interests and journalistic
in the everyday lives of journalists, with 54% of respondents fully or
partly agreeing with the statement “everyone at our editorial ofce
clearly knows the topics, information sources, views and positions
which can be refected freely, as well as those which should be avoid-
ed” (see Figure 5).
Te author posed this question to fnd out how common is the prac-
tice which some journalists have mentioned in interviews – that the
interests of media directors are implemented by cultivating specifc
information or, alternatively, by banning the use of certain sources of
information and topics. Answers to this question also coincide with
something which a few media owners have said about their status as
“media bosses”: If necessary, they instruct their employees to sup-
port a specifc viewpoint, to focus attention on a subject, or to avoid a
subject. Te instructions which relate to “desirable and undesirable”
sources or topics are usually implemented by editors.

Editorial independence is linked to the autonomy of journalists, but
38% of respondents fully or partly agreed with this statement: “I un-
derstand that because of the interests of media owners or managers,
part of my work is self-censorship”. 40% disagreed and 16% partly
disagreed with the statement (see Figure 6).
In answering a question about self-censorship, one respondent said
that the taking of free decisions is not always limited by political or
commercial interests. Instead, the selection of sources or topics is
Figure 5.
An evaluation
of restrictions
on editorial
Media Transformations 91
infuenced by editors; their experience, their taste, their beliefs and
their social contacts. Journalists also fnd that to be a limitation on
their professional autonomy. Respondents in the survey argued that
editors are of particular importance, with journalists believing that
the editor is fully responsible for editorial independence and must
ensure it.

A second issue with respect to which Latvian media professionals are
prepared to agree is the role of the editor in ensuring editorial inde-
pendence, with 93% of survey respondents agreeing that the editor
must be a “shield” between the editorial ofce and the media owners
or managers so as to protect editorial independence. Tis view re-
fects a situation in which journalists are prepared to delegate greater
responsibility to their editors. Tis, in turn, shows the great role of
the editor’s personality, ability to have a strong backbone, and the
ability to ensure the respect both of employees and media managers.
Professional self-confdence is also see in another answer – 31% of
respondents said all of the staf of the editorial ofce work together
to ensure editorial independence, 22% argued that it depends on the
professional position of the respondent as such, and another 22%
plumped for the principles of the editor in this regard (see Figure 7).
Figure 6.
An evaluation of
Editorial independence in the Latvian news media: Ownership interests and journalistic
Tere is a fip side of the coin, however, when it comes to the impor-
tant status of editors. It could be said that “god” and the “devil” are
one and the same, because in other questions respondents insisted
that editorial independence can be limited by the views of the editor
about the mission of the media (13%) or the understanding which
the editor has when it comes to the interests of the media outlet’s au-
dience (19%) (see Figure 8). Tis shows that editors have a typically
authoritarian management style. If the editor believes a specifc top-
ic will not attract the attention of the audience, then the recommen-
dation for the journalist is to avoid it altogether. When it comes to
ensuring editorial independence inside media organisations, howev-
er, also of great importance is the professional position of journalists.
Media professionals believe the principle of editorial independence
is linked to the quality of their work.

Journalists also understand that the commercial interests of media
companies are essential. Tey believe that editorial independence is
also determined by the business interests of media owners (13%) and
the infuence of major advertisers (11%) (see Figure 8). Tese an-
swers coincide with the fndings of other studies – that members of
the audience cannot infuence media content.
Te formal level of editorial independence is also revealed by an-
swers to the question of whether journalists discuss autonomy and
freedom when they accept new jobs. Te statement was this: “Upon
beginning work in the media, I agreed to the existing level of editori-
Figure 7.
Driving forces
behind editorial
Media Transformations 93
al independence”, with 32% agreeing, 45% disagreeing, 11% not be-
ing able to answer the question, and 12% ofering a diferent answer
(see Figure 9). Tis shows that editorial independence is ofen seen
as something that goes without saying, and there are no discussions
about it unless there is a serious reason to do so. “Tese are intuitive
issues”, said one respondent. “I think that my employer understands
my level of thinking and does not fnd it necessary to constantly re-
peat information about where my limitations on freedom end”. An-
other respondent’s replies, however, indicated that discussions about
editorial independence are necessary at editorial ofces. “I thought
that [editorial independence] goes without saying and that no agree-
ment was necessary, but the truth turned out to be much worse”,
she wrote. Another respondent felt the issue is not unambiguous:
“I have no sense of how that could lead to an agreement, nor with
whom such an agreement could be struck”. Tese answers confrm
respondents generally have a clear sense of the principle of editorial
independence, but editorial ofces have not established management
instruments to ensure it. Tis suggests that editorial independence,
like norms of professional ethics, is perceived in a situational manner
(Rožukalne and Olšteina, 2012).
Figure 8.
Limits on
Editorial independence in the Latvian news media: Ownership interests and journalistic

Of fundamental importance in the survey is the discovery that edi-
torial independence, in most cases, is not a part of the job’s contract.
Only 27% of respondents said their contract included an agreement
on editorial independence, while a few more – 32% – said they agreed
on the principle of editorial independence when starting their new
job. Te rest (41–45%) either did not discuss these issues with their
employer or did not have the principle enshrined in the contact (see
Figure 10). Tis indicates that media organisations in Latvia are un-
concerned about the regulation of this principle therein.

Figure 9.
about editorial
Figure 10.
on editorial
Media Transformations 95
Answers to questions about the desirable and actual regulations
related to editorial independence show that journalists have equal
thoughts about the essence thereof, but also that editorial independ-
ence is not a natural value in their everyday lives.
Te most contradictory responses were given to questions about the
evaluation of editorial independence in each respondent’s media or-
ganisation, as compared to other media outlets. 68% of respondents
argued that there is a high level of editorial independence in “my
media outlet”, because “I can freely fulfl my professional goals” (25%
said that the level is average, while 4% said that it is low) (see Figure

A question about editorial independence at other media organisa-
tions leads to bemusing answers. 68% of journalists felt that the level
of editorial independence is comfortable at their media outlet, but
an equal number – 68% once again – said that “the level of editorial
independence at other media organisations with which I am familiar
is average, because sometimes colleagues have to compromise be-
tween the interests of the editorial board and those which come from
outside” (13% said that the level is high, while 16% argued that it is
low), because “journalists are not able to work in accordance with
professional principles” (see Figure 12).
Figure 11.
An evaluation
of editorial
at “my media
Editorial independence in the Latvian news media: Ownership interests and journalistic
On the one hand, this might suggest that most respondents repre-
sent “comfortable” media organisations such as the public media of
Latvia, but they have had bad experiences or know colleagues whose
working conditions are not as acceptable. Tis may be true, because
some respondents asked the author to send questions to private
E-mail addresses, insisting they did not want to receive them at work.
On the other hand, the answers also confrm that which was stated at
the beginning of this paper – that approximately one-quarter of me-
dia professionals in Latvia encounter limitations on editorial inde-
pendence. 33% of respondents, in turn, fully or partly agree that they
feel fairly comfortable, while colleagues at their own media outlet are
forced to follow the orders of advertisers or the “political partners”
of the owners.

Tis question retested thoughts that had been expressed in earlier
interviews with journalists and editors – that most of the journalists
at media outlets which face political and commercial infuences work
independently, while a few colleagues regularly follow “instructions”
which come from outside the media organisation. Tis relates to ser-
vicing the interests of owners, as well as the duty to prepare hidden
advertising – paid news, interview and reports. For that reason, the
level of editorial independence in Latvia is easiest to evaluate at the
individual level, as opposed to the level of editorial boards or media
outlets. Journalists who say that the level of editorial independence at
Figure 12.
An evaluation
of the editorial
at the “other
Media Transformations 97
the level of organisations or the media industry is average or low are,
at the same time, likely to insist that they, as individuals, are free to
do their work in accordance with professional principles.
Te aforementioned answers can be compared to those which re-
spondents gave to a question about the greatest threats against edito-
rial independence. Cited most ofen was the answer “media owners
establish media outlets for political purposes” (30% of respondents),
followed by “media owners are highly dependent on advertisers”
(24%), “the media are conceived primarily for business purposes,
with social responsibility being in the background” (20%), “the audi-
ence underestimates the importance of free and independent media”
(18%), and “editors are unable to defend their professional interests”
(8%) (see Figure 13). Tis means that journalists are aware of the
infuence of media owner’s goals, a lack of traditions in terms of the
free press, and carelessness about professionalism (Saalovara and
Juzefovičs, 2012).
Some journalists think that few members of the audience consider
the independent media to be of value. 18% of the answers show that
journalists are well aware of audience attitudes about the quality of
media that are subject to pressure and related to ratings and circu-
lation, and instead demand entertaining and easily perceived con-
tent. Tese journalists agree with the statement that “the audience
underestimates the importance of free and independent media”. Tis
Figure 13.
The main threats
against editorial
Editorial independence in the Latvian news media: Ownership interests and journalistic
answer may show journalists are looking for the causes of limitations
on editorial independence and fnding them in terms of the concepts
of media editors, as well as situations outside of the media organisa-
tion – needing to respect the low demands which one segment of the
audience have toward media quality.
Data from this survey can be analysed by correlating them with the
status of respondents. Respondents who judge the level of editorial
independence at their media organisation as low or average represent
the regional media, as well as national newspapers and magazines,
admitting they have prepared hidden advertising. Most of these re-
spondents have a great deal of professional experience in journalism
and have worked in the media world for more than 11 years. Tis
shows there are big problems in Latvia’s printed press with editorial
independence and the autonomy of journalists. Tis is confrmed by
a study of Latvian media owners, which shows the infuence of daily
newspapers has been lost specifcally because of their political links,
with magazines being saturated with commercialised information
that is published in the interests of advertisers.
Respondents who agree that editorial independence can be limited by
political links or business considerations admitted to self-censorship.
Teir job contracts include no agreement on editorial independence,
these respondents work as editors, and they have more than 15 years
of experience. At the same time, these same respondents believe that
the level of editorial independence at their media outlets is average
or high. Although these are contradictory data, analysis of interviews
with media professionals make it possible to conclude that the status
of an editor forces the individual to take responsibility for editorial
independence even if that independence must be implemented un-
der limited circumstances. Most editors accept rules from owners
which apply to political or business interests, because they believe
that that is the only way to survive in an oversaturated media market
and to keep their jobs.
Even at those media organisations at which there are limits on edi-
torial independence, journalists fnd ways of working independently,
and that is why this survey shows that editorial independence is rated
more highly at the individual level than at the level of organisations
Media Transformations 99
and the media industry as a whole. Journalists implement editorial
independence by fnding ways of freely shaping content that is devot-
ed to a specifc topic or by being responsible for their “own” columns,
sections or broadcasts. Tis ofen relates to columns related to cul-
ture or entertainment, sports journalism, educational materials and
social issues. Tis professional strategy allows the journalist to feel
free and independent, avoiding commissioned content in the rele-
vant media outlet and not losing professional self-confdence, clearly
knowing that editorial independence does not go without saying as
part of the everyday work of journalistic professionals.
Latvian journalists are accustomed to limits on editorial independ-
ence and the situational nature of the extent to which this principle
is observed. At an informal level, there are discussions about editori-
al independence at media outlets, but few professionals discuss this
when getting a new job, and even fewer respondents say that the legal
right to observe editorial independence in their work is enshrined
in their job contracts. Tis means that the current situation is one
in which there is a clearly evident lack of professional principles and
traditions, as well as media goals which relate to social responsibility.
Respondents in this survey think highly of the individual autonomy
of journalists, but media workers clearly understand the limitations
on editorial independence that are implemented by owners, direc-
tors or editors-in-chief. Te contradictory evaluations of editorial
independence between “our” and “their” media organisations show
that there are diferences in the culture of the media and the everyday
professional work of journalists in terms of a single media industry.
Editorial independence in the Latvian news media: Ownership interests and journalistic
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Privatisation of press in Central and Eastern Europe 1989-1991. Case study: Romania
1989–1991. CASE STUDY:
Assistant lecturer of Romanian contemporary history
Departament of Romanian History and Southeast Europe
Faculty of History, University of Bucharest
Bucharest, Romania
ABSTRACT: One of the measures which had a major impact in achieving a free
press was the liberalization of the media market, and thus foreign trusts were able to
enter the market. Tese trusts promoted a politics free from any political interests,
and also being passed over in the property of certain persons or national groups.
In the frst years afer 1989, foreign press trusts attempted to develop a powerful
media network in the respective countries, aiming at making huge profts, since the
“hunger for press” was so high that proft was guaranteed. Afer December 1989 in
Romania, the state monopoly gradually vanished due to the appearance of some
new press enterprises, even though, at an early stage, setting up a publication did
not have the required legal framework. In 1990, it may be noticed that press was
regrouped into two large categories: one consisted of headlines which belonged to
the state and were later to undergo privatization, and the second one consisted of
headlines created by private enterprises, individually or grouped. During the priva-
tization process, various methods were used, according to case. As compared with
the other countries in the region, Romania did not beneft from the contribution of
foreign capital dedicated to the development of the mass-media system. Despite this
lack of foreign capital into the mass-media market, Romanian undertakings were
courageous enough to invest in this feld, in which gains had become a certainty.
KEYWORDS: privatisation, press, Romania, Hungary, media economy, transition
ISSN 2029-865X
Media Transformations 103
In a capitalist society, the media plays a number of roles, serving the
readers, society, and consumers. Te media disseminates informa-
tion and ofers the interested parties the opportunity to hold pub-
lic talks, directed towards political and social matters and economic
issues. Soon afer communism fell, in Central and Eastern Europe
several newspapers appeared and their number exceeded the fnan-
cial power of the patronage and the readers, which turned the battle
between newspapers into a fght for survival.
At the same time, journalists in this region realized that both poli-
ticians and the audience did not have a preference for investigative
journalism. Even the governments and political leaders in the most
democratic states in Central and Eastern Europe continued to be-
lieve that the most efcient use of the media was to consider news-
papers “attack dogs” and not “watch dogs”. Tey believed the noisiest
and the most sarcastic voice was the most efcient one (Johnson,
1998: 113–121).
Te paper at hand shall endeavour to analyse the manner in which
the press in this region underwent the privatisation process in the
years 1989–1991, with emphasis on the manner in which it was con-
ducted in Romania. Furthermore, the paper will endeavour to pres-
ent the manner in which Western trusts entered these new markets.
In Romania’s case the paper will analyse the reasons why this action
was not possible. Among the sources used in Romania’s case are a
number of interviews with journalists and newspapers’ managers
from that period.
One of the measures that had a major impact on achieving a free
press was the liberalization of the media market, thus allowing for-
eign trusts to enter the market, and these trusts promoted a policy
independent from any political interests. A stronger censure in coun-
tries such as USSR, Romania and Albania as compared to Poland or
Yugoslavia lef a mark on the formation of a real class of journal-
ists who should have other aspirations than the ones related to Party
propaganda. State media was frst monopolized and subsequently
the liberalization process led to privatisation (Mungiu-Pippidi, 2008:
90). As compared to other countries some of them were an attraction
for foreign investors; as such they may be divided into three groups:
Privatisation of press in Central and Eastern Europe 1989-1991. Case study: Romania
1. Countries that rushed to take over the Western model by
way of an infux of movies, television programs and other
media products however investments being excluded. Tis
lead to a decrease in the growth of local products, which
were not too numerous.
2. Countries, such as the Baltic countries, in which the polit-
ical stability, economic growth and the development of the
market economy brought investors a proft, however it was
too small to achieve a signifcant growth of their incomes.
3. Countries, such as Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slova-
kia and Poland, also including some actions in others which
were seen as markets favourable to large investors (Jakubow-
icz, 2007: 216–217).
Other factors that made the privatisation of the media easier were
identifed in Central and Eastern Europe: (1) in some countries in
the region, clandestine media was an initial and natural source for
the new private press; (2) collapse of state and government control
generated some conditions of semi-freedom for the written press; (3)
written press private institutions were cheaper and easier to incorpo-
rate than private radio and television institutions; (4) great number
of former communist newspapers allowed an already existing system
to undergo privatisation (Gross, 1999: 89).
Afer 1989, media became the manager of its own undertaking, by
taking over the newspapers, either by privatisation, or by acquiring
the name and history of certain publications. As a result of the chang-
es in August 1989, the media underwent profound structural modi-
fcations which afected their legal and economic statute. In the frst
years afer 1989, foreign press trusts attempted to develop a strong
media network in these countries, counting on huge profts, since the
“hunger for press” was so great that proft was guaranteed. With the
economic changes, the new reforms, and decrease of the purchasing
power of the people, these trusts redirected their attention to certain
niche publications, which were able to support themselves and, as in
the case of Hungary, they chose to withdraw. Te explosion of the
press also led to an explosion in the number of journalists, driven by
their desire to become involved in this sector.
Media Transformations 105
As regards privatisation, one success case in that period was the case
of Hungary. Due to the liberalization during communism and the
subsequent transition, the media was able to become an institution
and an independent political player, thus becoming legitimized in
front of their readers (Hall and O’Neil, 1998: 125).
Te daily newspaper Népszabadság, the newspaper with the largest
circulation at national level, separated from the Labour Party, and
40% of the shares were sold to the German conglomerate “Bertels-
mann AG”. Te government newspaper Magyar Hírlap became an
independent concern, and 40% of the shares were sold to Robert
Maxwell – Mirror Holding Company. At the same time, the ofcial
newspaper of the trade union, Népszava, separated from the state
ideology and the connections with the trade unions, however with-
out benefting from the support of foreign capital (Lánczi and O’Neil,
1996: 89).
During the most popular event that occurred in early April 1990,
seven regional newspapers, former bodies of the Hungarian Labour
Party, achieved a spontaneous privatisation, transferring them to
the ownership of the German press magnate, Axel Springer. Te lat-
ter did not pay anything for this takeover, he simply guaranteed he
would continue to keep them operational (Lánczi and O’Neil, 1996:
As such, the Hungarian press achieved the highest degree of priva-
tisation in Central and Eastern Europe, benefting from the largest
foreign capital infusion since the socialist and communist regime,
prior to the organization of free elections.
As regards the Polish example, the newspaper Rzeczpospolita, the
former government press body, afer privatisation became a limited
liability company, a sort of joint venture between the Polish govern-
ment and the French company Socpress. Tis change allowed the
publication in question to gain its editorial independence (Lánczi
and O’Neil, 1996: 26).
Another important daily newspaper was Zycie Warszawy, the oldest
newspaper in this category, incorporated in 1944. In 1991, the news-
paper became part of a new company, which was made up of the
following: Societa Televisiana Italiana, several Polish companies and
Privatisation of press in Central and Eastern Europe 1989-1991. Case study: Romania
Warsaw Press (the shares were held by several Polish journalists). In
1993, several shares belonging to the Polish party were sold to the
Italian partners, which in the end came to hold 80% of the shares
(Lánczi and O’Neil, 1996: 26).
Te case for privatisation to foreign trusts in the Czech Republic
may be exemplifed by way of the newspaper Mladá fronta – Youth
Front – the newspaper of the party’s youth organization, which
quickly gained credibility with the help of a team of young journal-
ists who joined the newspaper and which presented in a favourable
manner the student demonstrations from November and December
1989. Afer being renamed into Mladá fronta dnes – Today’s Youth
Front, the newspaper started to follow a new path in the Czech me-
dia. Mladá fronta dnes became part of trust Socpress, owned by the
French magnate Robert Hersant (Kettle, 1996, 45–47).
In 1990, the Swiss Group Ringier entered this market with the f-
nancial newspaper Proft, confusing the market all of a sudden by
launching the tabloid Blesk – Tunder – in 1992, which quickly be-
came the bestselling newspaper in the Czech Republic.
As regards the case of Romania, the private sector began to make
its presence felt in the context of confusing economic politics led by
the state and given the absence of regulatory measures able to en-
sure coherent development. Te “sui generis” enterprisers profted
by the advantages which the new “free market” of consumer goods
ofered for coming out of the clandestine state and developing eco-
nomic activities. Te present state was so natural that the free will
of each individual became a certainty, lacking any boundaries. Tey
acted on a market which lacked any regulatory measures, and even
if they existed they were disregarded (Pasti, 2006: 309). Te disso-
lution of the communist state led to a ferce fght for taking over its
patrimony, especially the one belonging to the party. Tis fght was
regarded by Silviu Brucan as being part of the stage of “wild capital-
ism” (Brucan, 1996: 61–128), a stage when an economy of prey was
born in which the main elements were the primitive acquisition of
capital and the formation of new economic and political elites, and
ofentimes they were rooted in the party activists and members of
the Security Services (Brucan, 1996: 61–128; Pasti, 2006: 307–498). It
is a fght fought on all fronts and which was not subject to any rules.
Media Transformations 107
Nicolae Arsenie, former journalist with Adevărul, remembered a
discussion with Darie Novăceanu, the newspaper’s manager, with
two Spanish journalists, who told him about Spain’s transition from
Franco’s dictatorship to democracy. Tey told him that: “You are lef
with what you put your hands on”. “And in this manner I succeeded
in mobilizing some colleagues into scraping together a patrimony for
Adevărul” (Interview 1).
Another problem which the Romanian economy faced was the lack
of foreign investments, which may be explained by the lack of politi-
cal measures aimed at drawing capital. Te politics promoted by the
National Salvation Front, and expressed in an electoral campaign in
the 90s, had a properly defned path contained in the slogan: “we are
not selling our country”. Tis latter remark was directed against Ion
Raţiu, one of the opposition leaders, and his program of becoming
more open towards the West. Te communist isolation had contin-
ued afer 1990. On the other hand, Western investors were not drawn
to Romania in those years. An explanation for this attitude could rest
in the lack of information on Romania, which was known primarily
from the stories written by Bram Stoker.
As regards the media, afer the 1989 events, the state monopoly grad-
ually vanished through the incorporation of new press enterprises,
even if, in a frst stage, the establishment of a new publication did
not beneft from the required legal background. In 1990, we notice a
regrouping of the press into two large categories, a part comprising
publications belonging to the state and which were to be later priva-
tised, and the other part comprising publications printed by private
individuals or grouped enterprisers. Te transfer of ownership from
the lawful owners (Romanian Communist Party, Communist Youth
Union, Romanian Trade Unions General Union) to the government
and thereafer to the employees was achieved by way of a number of
normative acts (Petcu, 2002: 94). Te frst normative act was the de-
cree dated 15 January 1990, which gave birth to the Printing House
“Presa Liberă”.
As compared to other countries in the region, Romania did not ben-
eft from the contribution of foreign capital in its efort to develop a
mass-media system. Te state of the press editors, in Bucharest, in
the year 1991, had the following structure (Petcu, 2002: 96):
Privatisation of press in Central and Eastern Europe 1989-1991. Case study: Romania
Full foreign private capital 2 1
Mixed capital, Romanian state and
private capital
1 1
Full Romanian private capital 244 175
Romanian and foreign private
24 16
State owned capital in full - 5

As can be noticed from Table 1 above, in 1991 the publications held
in full by Romanian capital were predominant. In its capacity as own-
er, the State was only marginally represented, and the involvement of
foreign capital accounted only for an insignifcant share. Despite the
prospect of gaining a signifcant proft, the foreign capital and West-
ern investors did not see ft to invest in the Romanian mass-media
market, in this frst period of transition. Afer the 1989 Revolution,
Romania’s image was afected by the political and economic meas-
ures of the newly installed power. Te inherited communist system
could not be radically reformed, therefore as regards the discussed
aspect, we may speak about a lack of activity in Romania, as com-
pared to other countries in the region.
Despite the lack of foreign capital in the mass-media market, Ro-
manian enterprisers had the courage to invest in this feld, in which
achieving a gain had become a certainty. In 1990, press owners relied
on obtaining proft from selling publications. Advertising was added
to this process, which did not exist in the communist period. Profts
achieved from press were considerable, and an example of this was
România Liberă, which in the frst fve months of 1990 earned RON
80m with expenses of RON 51m, paid taxes worth RON 11m, and
was lef with a proft of approximately USD 800,000 (Petcu, 2002:
78). Ofentimes, profts achieved from press were invested in oth-
er felds, and thus some of the owners in the mass-media business
shortly became successful businessmen.
Table 1.
The structure of
the Romanian
press – 1991
Chamber of
Commerce and
Media Transformations 109
We will hereinafer present the manner in which the main Romanian
daily newspapers were privatised, in particular Adevărul – the heir
of the former press body of the Romanian Communist Party and
România liberă, which became the main opposition newspaper.
As regards România liberă, the manager from that period and, later,
also one of the main shareholders of the daily newspaper, Petre Mi-
hai Băcanu, recalls the following:
We were the frst newspaper that was privatised. Our asso-
ciation contract was numbered 001. Te problem we were
facing was that the printing house was a nuisance for us, in
the sense that we had to pay upfront in order for the printing
workers to start their work and secondly they had began to
censure us. It was at that time that we thought to ourselves
we need our own printing house. Decree No. 54 was passed,
if I am not mistaken, conceived by Iliescu, (the president
of Romania) and Roman (the prime minister of Romania),
at the level of slightly larger workshops, no more than 20
persons. I read the law and consulted a specialist in business
law, who told me a little about the history of this decree. At
the time the decree was conceived, they thought let’s play
experts in business law and they turned to a professor in
business law, a great authority under the communist regime;
he added to the law a very simple matter, these small com-
panies, of no more than 20 persons, as per the Commercial
code of 1885, as far as I know it had not been abrogated,
could become associated. I consulted with a lawyer and I
said “here’s the story, we are a number of 123 persons, we
incorporate six companies and we immediately become as-
sociated”. I was told nothing was against the law. And there
on the spot, at the reception desk, we named six enterprises;
I forgot to write the name România Liberă, for which reason
when the government found out that we were privatised the
entire press became alerted, and all kinds of commissions
were sent to investigate us (Interview 2).
When I asked whether he paid any money for this privatisation, he
Privatisation of press in Central and Eastern Europe 1989-1991. Case study: Romania
We had nothing, other than our pens, at that time it did not
have a name, matters of this nature, with rights registered
with OSIM (authority handling the registration of trade-
marks). We were lucky we had created a printing house,
which we named România liberă and any printing house
was able to also print a newspaper (Interview 2).
Petre Mihai Băcanu, along with other members of the editorial staf,
began the process of incorporating small enterprises under Decree
No. 54/1990. It is not a privatisation process per se, since at that time
there were no laws in force in this sector.
By using the provisions of this decree, six small enterprises were in-
corporated, which became associated, giving birth to the Company
R. Transferring România Liberă from the state’s ownership into pri-
vate ownership was achieved in exchange for no money. Given the
conditions previously presented, some criticisms brought against
this process are substantiated, because a brand having a signifcant
circulation was privatised. Tis was achieved as a result of the ex-
isting legislative void. In 1991, Company R was registered with the
Commercial Registry.
Te second presented case is more spectacular, given that the priva-
tisation of the daily newspaper had implications at the highest level
in Romania.
In 1990, the daily newspaper Adevărul was the main Romanian news-
paper, with a circulation that reached 1.5 million readers a day. At the
same time, it was the descendent of the Communist Party’s newspa-
per, following its direction. In particular it supported the country’s
leaders, in the case at hand the team installed by Ion Iliescu.
Te moment chosen by Darie Novăceanu (newspaper manager) to
privatise Adevărul is not poor in political implications. In March
1991, Petre Roman was elected the national leader of the National
Salvation Front. Ever since the autumn of 1990, a ferce fght had
begun for grasping power between the group led by Petre Roman
and the group led by Ion Iliescu. Albeit at that particular moment,
one could not speak about a face to face fght between the two group
leaders, the fght was starting to get fercer. In an article published in
Adevărul, Silviu Brucan described this confrontation: “young Turks
Media Transformations 111
and a group of Martians, Bârlad citizens and Ştefan-Gheoghiu fol-
lowers on the Cotroceni Hill, desperately clinging to key positions in
the nomenclature”. Since Darie Novăceanu was close to Petre Roman,
Adevărul was an essential “endowment” in the service of his fght.
Ever since December 1990, Darie Novăceanu had accepted for pub-
lication an article written by C.T. Popescu, Daruri pentru preşedinte
(But Mr. President) (Popescu, 1990), one of the articles criticising
Ion Iliescu in Adevărul, thus the newspaper had begun to outline its
position in this dispute.
At the time the newspaper was privatised, two very important mat-
ters signifcantly infuenced this process: the frst one was politics,
by the fact that Adevărul was a true weapon used in the fght for
power, and the second was the economy, the huge patrimony it had
gathered, and dividing this patrimony was very important (in 1990
a number of assets were transferred from the ownership of the state
in the patrimony of Adevărul; at the same time the incomes achieved
from selling newspapers were very high).
From among the interviewees, the paper will present the opin-
ions of some journalists, who played a signifcant role in its priva-
tisation. Te process was commenced by its manager, in particular
Darie Novăceanu, who attempted to take over the publication, along
with the patrimony gathered in the previous year. Afer a meeting,
Novăceanu was excluded and the journalists took over the newspa-
Sergiu Andon (at that time a journalist with Adevărul and the pres-
ident of the Romanian Newspaper Company, the most important
press trade union) recalls:
Te day of the general meeting followed. Te morning was marked
by tensions, and the meeting was extremely stormy. I recall speaking
excessively. I had put all my eggs in one basket. Most people came
from Scînteia (predecessor of Adevărul), not necessarily from a com-
pany made up of calm people, but from a professional community
that included disciplined persons by their nature. On the one hand,
at Scînteia there were free talks, as compared against other editorial
stafs, and the sense of discipline and the fact that it was a privilege to
work where they worked caused them to be disciplined. All of a sud-
den they played everything in an adventurous manner, their biogra-
Privatisation of press in Central and Eastern Europe 1989-1991. Case study: Romania
phy, their job, their salary, their social status, and a rebellion within
Scînteia was unimaginable. It is quite a miracle for me even now,
that these people joined a dissident mission. A dissident position
was against personal nature, biorhythm and daily refection. And I
imagine that it was only the desperation to continue with such an
inspiriting experiment, which we were living, that made them come
together so quickly and only two of them remained by Novăceanu’s
side. Te newspaper would have ceased to exist if it had turned into a
government ofce. Te winning current was very precarious. Victory
resembled the victory of a street revolt, which at the time seemed to
be winning. Te newspaper could be easily sufocated, despite Darie
Novăceanu’s departure (Interview 3).
In addition, Ion Marin (journalist with Adevărul, who became the
deputy chief-editor) recalls:
We convened an ad-hoc general meeting. Many people gathered in
the meeting room. Darie Novăceanu continued his work with the
newspaper, together with his team and friends. Afer that, things got
a bit more intense. Te calm and academic voice was put aside. Te
talk lasted for an entire day, the bafing tone was permanent, he used
to come and leave, he said he had things to attend to, that he need-
ed to produce a newspaper. Roman together with Darie Novăceanu
wanted to create a very powerful media tribune (Interview 4).
Te last interview is with Cristian Tudor Popescu (journalist with
Adevărul, one of Darie Novăceanu’s trusted people, who became one
of the most renowned Romanian journalists):
Some time had passed and an editorial meeting was called in which
Mr Novăceanu put forward this privatisation plan. I had little idea
what privatisation meant, but I realized this was no privatisation. Te
State held more than 90 per cent and I will tell you why my article
written in December was published. Darie Novăceanu could have
told me that it would not be published. Faced with the article Darie
Novăceanu pulled his moustache and told me: “My dear Cristi, it
stings pretty bad.” He told me, please leave it here and he did not
tell me whether it would be published or not. Afer that, I read the
article in the newspaper. What happened then. At that time the op-
tion for the newspaper was Petre Roman’s. Te silent war between
Iliescu and Roman had begun. Darie Novăceanu was closer to Pe-
Media Transformations 113
tre Roman. His political preference was very clear. At that moment,
Darie gathered the entire staf and presented this plan. I had little
idea about such things but I felt chills down my spine. Te govern-
ment was supposed to hold over 90 per cent of the shares, not the
state but the government. Darie Novăceanu was supposed to hold 1
per cent and the remaining shares were to be divided among the oth-
ers. Te government had a huge stake, Novăceanu had a small stake,
but larger than the others. I asked what kind of privatisation was this.
Afer this, people had become agitated. Tings got out control, Darie
Novăceanu got to his feet and lef” (Interview 5).
As presented by the interviewees, the journalists were successful in
eliminating Darie Novăceanu and they declared their independence
in relation to the state, thus launching the process of taking over the
publication. Te publication encountered a number of problems at
the time the editorial staf took over the publication. One of the most
signifcant problems was the political one. Te next step was a visit
paid by the board of directors to Ion Iliescu, thus proving that the
paper was the object of a dispute between the two factions of the
National Salvation Front. As Sergiu Andon says “notifying the in-
tentions”, meant presenting Ion Iliescu with guarantees with regards
to the paper’s new direction. Te fght for privatisation was ferce, in
which Petre Roman, through Darie Novăceanu, attempted to acquire
control over a media tribune which was very powerful especially for
the voters of the National Salvation Front, and also to acquire control
over a huge patrimony, in exchange for little cost.
In the end Adevărul was privatised by following the much blamed
model of România Liberă, by way of a company incorporated in De-
cember 1990, by Nicolae Arsenie and other members of the editorial
staf and who fnancially controlled the state newspapers subscrip-
tions for several months. Tus, we believe the allegations that the
journalists took over Adevărul only in possession of their pens are
unsubstantiated, as they had a considerable number of subscrip-
tions, made on behalf of Adevărul S.A., ever since December 1990
and moreover they had the beneft of an important brand, which
they took over free of charge. Tis privatisation process refected a
manner in which several state economic bodies were transferred to
private ownership.
Privatisation of press in Central and Eastern Europe 1989-1991. Case study: Romania
Te emergence of external investors in Hungary, Czechoslovakia
(the Czech side) and Poland meant signalling a company open to-
wards a Western type democracy. In Romania and Bulgaria, the state
attempted to maintain their control over the press, hindering or fail-
ing to create mechanisms aimed at drawing such investments. West-
ern investors saw in this market a fnancial opportunity and they
stayed there as investors as long as they were able to achieve large
incomes without signifcant investments. In Romania, the transfer of
ownership from state institutions to private persons or entities was
achieved without their owners achieving any income. At the same
time, simultaneously with this transfer, the transfer of the assets held
by the publications was attempted. As compared to other countries
in the region, Romania did not beneft from foreign capital for devel-
oping the mass-media system. Despite the lack of foreign capital on
the mass-media market, Romanian enterprisers had the boldness to
invest in this sector, in which winning had become a certainty.
Media Transformations 115
Brucan, S. (1996). Stâlpii noii puteri în România. Bucureşti: Nemira.
Gross, P. (1999). Colosul cu picioare de lut: aspecte ale presei românes-
ti post-comuniste. Iaşi: Polirom.
Hall, R. A., and O’Neil, P. H. (1998). Institutions, Transitions and
the Media: A Comparison of Hungary and Romania In P. H. O’Neil
(ed.), Te Media and Political Transitions. Lynne Rienner Publisher,
pp. 102-123.
Interview 1. With Nicolae Arsene on June 12, 2009.
Interview 2. With Petre Mihai Băcanu on March 2, 2011.
Interview 3. With Sergiu Andon on June 10, 2009.
Interview 4. With Ion Marin on June 10, 2009.
Interview 5. With Cristian Tudor Popescu June 15, 2009.
Jakubowicz, K. (2007). Rude Awakening: Social and Media Change in
Central and Eastern Europe, Hampton Press.
Johnson, O. (1998). Te Media and Democracy in Eastern Europe. In
P. H. O’Neil (ed.), Te Media and Political Transitions. Lynne Rienner
Publisher, pp. 103-124.
Kettle, S. (1996). Te Development of the Czech Media Since the
Fall of Communism. In P. H. O’Neil (ed.), Special Issue: Post-Com-
munism and the Media in Eastern Europe, London : Cass.
Lánczi, András, O’Neil, Patrick H. (1996). Pluralization and the pol-
itics of media change in Hungary In Patrick H. O’Neil (ed.), Special
Issue: Post-Communism and the Media in Eastern Europe, London:
Cass, pp. 82-101.
Mungiu-Pippidi, A. (2008). How Media and Politics Shape Each
Other in the New Europe. In K. Jakubowicz and M. Sükösd (ed.),
Finding the Right Place on the Map: Central and Eastern European
Media Change in a Global Perspective. Bristol: Intellect Books, pp.
Privatisation of press in Central and Eastern Europe 1989-1991. Case study: Romania
Pasti, V. (2006). Noul capitalism românesc. Iaşi: Polirom.
Petcu, M. (1996). Tipologia presei româneşti. Iaşi: Institutul Europe-
Popescu, C. T. (1900). Daruri pentru preşedinte. Adevărul, No. 305,
Media Transformations 117
Media for the minorities: Russian language media in Estonia 1990-2012
ISSN 2029-865X
ESTONIA 1990–2012
PhD, Associate Professor
Baltic Film and Media School
Tallinn University
Head of Media Research
Estonian Public Broadcasting
Tallinn, Estonia
Estonian Public Broadcasting
Tallinn, Estonia
PhD Candidate
University of Jyväskylä
Jyväskylä, Finlanda
ABSTRACT: Tis article aims to explore the ways in which Estonian public broa-
dcasting tackles one specifc media service sphere; how television programmes for
language minorities are created in a small country, how economics and European
Union media policy have infuenced this processes. Te article highlights major ten-
sions, namely between Estonian and Russian media outlets, Estonian and Russian
speakers within Estonia and the EU and Estonia concerning the role of public ser-
vice broadcasting (PSB). For research McQuail’s (2010) theoretical framework of
media institutions’ infuencers – politics, technology and economics – is used. For
analyses media regulatory acts and audience surveys are accomplished with me-
dia institutions fnancial data from the beginning of 1990s until 2012. Tis kind
of approach gives a comprehensive overview of development of Russian language
media in such a small media market as Estonia is.
KEYWORDS: public service broadcasting, Russian language media, European me-
dia policy, Estonia
Media Transformations 119
From the end of the 1980s, Eastern and Central European countries
had the noble aim of changing from the communist regime towards
free democratic wel¬fare states. Among the important aspects of
that development were changes in the media systems. In transition
states, commercial broadcasters were founded, state-owned print
media was mainly privatized, state radio and television companies
became public service broadcasters. ‘Europeanization’, as defned by
Jakubowicz (2009), took place. Te overall aims of Pan-European
media policy were preserving cultural diversity and safeguarding
media pluralism. For doing so there are two main approaches to or-
ganizing the media – the free market liberal and collectivist-statist
strategies (Curran, 1997: 139). Coming from the communist regime,
an alternative, the collective provision, was difcult to introduce due
to the experience from the recent past. Terefore, the frst strategy
was introduced mainly in CEE countries, especially in the Baltic
states. Te free market liberal approach was supported by Europe-
an Union media policy, which is a common market ideology. Sev-
eral researchers claim that economic welfare is a dominating value
in communications policy (Picard, 2002a; Croteau and Hoynes,
2001: 21; Murdock and Golding, 1989: 192). Private ownership of
media was also idealized by ruling politicians (Jõesaar, 2011). Te
former Television Without Frontiers Directive (TVWF), now the
Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), does not take into
account country-specifc circumstances such as size of the national
(and media) market, economic conditions, cultural and historical
specifc context. However, these are important factors which have a
strong infuence on media development and performance (Lowe et
al., 2011). Implementation of the same EU legal framework in difer-
ent circumstances gives diferent results in diferent member states
(Jakubowicz, 2007a).
Knell and Srholec (2007) have analysed the post-communist coun-
tries using a Varieties of Capitalism framework defned by Hall and
Soskice (2001). Teir fnding provides a solid cornerstone for fur-
ther media analyses – Estonia is described as a country with a liberal
market economy. Bohle and Greskovits’ (2012) and Buchen’s (2007)
researches come to the same conclusions afer comparing Estonian
and other Eastern European countries economies.
Media for the minorities: Russian language media in Estonia 1990-2012
For development, small market size plays an important role (Puppis,
2009; Lowe et al., 2011). Tis has been an advantage in building up
the Estonian e-State (Charles, 2009), but a disadvantage where na-
tional journalism is concerned.
Market size determines resources’ availability. In smaller states there
are fewer resources available (Doyle, 2002; Lowe et al., 2011; Jõe-
saar, 2011). If the market is big enough for proftable business and
resources are available, the general media tasks (variety, pluralism
etc.) are fulflled and launch of niche media outlets will follow. On
the other hand, restricted market entry and global concentration of
ownership encourage common denominator provision for the mass
market. Market-based media system is incapable of presenting a full
range of political and economic interests in the public domain and
fnding expression in popular fction (Curran, 1997: 140).
Functioning base for private media is driven by the basic principles
of market economy, not by the needs of civil society in the frst place.
“One dollar, one voice” is a generalization of market economy prin-
ciples by Croteau and Hoynes (2001: 21). Tis is a simplifcation of
the essence of mass media, but also a relevant factor which shapes
commercial media in particular and through this the whole media
economy. Privatized communication markets primarily address peo-
ple in their role as consumers rather than as citizens (Murdock and
Golding, 1989: 192).
Market forces do not guarantee that the media will serve their
non-economic function as institutions of the democratic public
sphere, and in many ways the breakdown of the forces that coun-
terbalanced market forces has already taken its toll on the quality of
news, sensationalism and other ethical problems, biases in the seg-
ments of society served by the media, and in some cases potentially
dangerous concentrations of media power (Hallin, 2008: 55).
Due to market limitations, it is unproftable to launch a wide range of
media products in smaller markets. Te diversity of content ofered
will be lower in smaller states than in large markets. In the frst place,
commercial media focuses on mainstream content. If the market is
not big enough for the private sector to deliver a variety of media
Media Transformations 121
products in a national language, how then are the interests of minor-
ity groups served? Minority language groups in small countries are
a tiny, unproftable niche market. Tis case study examines one such
niche market – the Russian language media in Estonia.
When talking about economical background of multilingual mar-
kets, Hesmondhalgh (2013) refers to the taste of diferent ethnic
groups. Can we talk about common culture or about geocultural
markets as defned by Hesmondhalgh (2013: 279)? Even if there is a
shared history, the interpretation of it still remains largely diferent
for the main ethnic groups. It is more relevant to talk about geo-
linguistics and diasporic media. Tere are defnitely some positive
examples of cross border television progressive with cultural conse-
quences (Hesmondhalgh, 2013: 285), but the separation of the Rus-
sian-speaking audience from the Estonian information feld caused
by foreign Russian channels creates many challenges for Estonian so-
ciety. Gitlin (1999: 173) argues whether democracy requires a public
or a set of publics, a public sphere or ‘separate public sphericules’. It
can be so, but according to the habermasian theory of public sphere,
these sphericules must also have a higher communication space or
sphere. Otherwise there will be isolated ‘islands of diferent groups’
in the society. It is argued that if there are no ongoing negotiations
among members of diferent groups then media can provide help. If
this is true, then how can media policy support these processes?
According to McQuail (2010), infuencers of media institutions are
politics, technology and economics. In the next chapters an analysis
of these three aspects is carried out. As already noted, Estonia had
and still has a very liberal media policy. Print media is unlicensed.
Tere is no need for extra permission or registration. Establishing
of a newspaper or a magazine is as easy as founding of any private
company. From the language perspective there are no diferences in
publishing in Estonian or in other languages.
Due to the scarcity of transmission frequencies broadcasting was,
and still is, regulated on the state and European level. Te question
is, however, not only a technical one. Licensing of broadcasting com-
panies is an important part of overall media policy.
Media for the minorities: Russian language media in Estonia 1990-2012
In the frst half of the 1990s, dramatic changes on the Estonian me-
dia landscape took place: a) Privatization of the print media; b) Ter-
minating re-transmission of pan-Soviet radio and TV channels; c)
Te sharp decline of availability of pan-Soviet newspapers issued
in Russia (Russian newspapers which were previously widely and
cheaply available were to be ordered on the same basis as all other
foreign editions); d) Transition radio frequencies from UKV to FM
and closing of medium wave radio stations; e) Replacing SECAM tel-
evision standard with PAL; f) Opening radio and TV frequencies so
far strictly used by the state only for emerging private broadcasters.
As already mentioned, according to McQuail one of the infuenc-
ers of the media institutions is technology (2010). During the 90s,
the impact of technology in Eastern Europe was related to the re-
placement of Soviet broadcasting standards with western ones. All
production, transmission and receiving equipment was replaced.
Large investments were needed on both sides – on the side of media
companies and on the side of audience. Print industry needed mod-
ernization as well. Old Soviet technology was amortized and did not
meet the needs of modern print industry.
Radio programmes could be listened to with old Soviet radios on
UKV frequencies whereas FM frequencies could be heard only with
technology compatible with western standards that could not be
purchased in the Soviet Union. Te use of UKV frequencies ended
by the beginning of 1993 with the national frequency plan and the
programmes using those frequencies were either shut down or trans-
ferred to FM frequencies.
Tough one can say the impact of technology was the same for all
media companies, there was still a diference in the impact on audi-
ences. It was easier for wealthier population groups to buy new radio
and TV sets. People with lower incomes, especially among the Rus-
sian-speaking population in the eastern part of Estonia, who could
not aford new sets, continued to follow Russian radio stations and
TV channels which broadcasted in the old standards. So it can be
said that, at least for a certain time period, technology was an ad-
Media Transformations 123
ditional producer of separation between the two language groups.
Roots of this process are hidden in economy.
Afer regaining independence, Estonian media became depend-
ent on economic, social and political factors to a great extent. Tis
concerned media in Estonian and Russian language as well. In the
process of privatization two of the oldest newspapers, Estonija and
Molodjozh Estonii, were involved. Until 1991, the papers were fnan-
cially and ideologically controlled by Soviet authorities.
Te editorial staf of both newspapers created joint-stock companies;
the majority of shares belonged to the editors who indeed became
owners of these newspapers. However, step by step, journalists who
were not able to invest lost their shares and further sales of newspa-
pers to other owners took place without their participation (Inter-
views with Ella Agranovskaja and Leivi Sher, 2013).
Afer a turbulent transition period, relative stability was achieved in
the market of Russian-language press by the end of the 1990s. Jakob-
son pointed out that new journalists, formats and contents of out-
lets, (Russkii Telegraf, Russkii Potshtaljon, ME-Subbota, Stolitsa) etc.
have appeared. Due to the economic crisis in the years 1998–2001,
the audience’s purchasing power decreased and the main tasks of the
Russian-language press were to survive, to preserve or fnd audience
and fnances (2004: 211). Te local Russian language press market
reached its peak in number of outlets by 2001 when there were 17
newspapers with a circulation of at least 1000 outlets each.
During this period, the frst news portal (1999) in the
Russian language emerged. Other news portals in the Russian lan-
guage began to appear afer 2005. Today Rus.delf has 200 000 unique
readers per week. Te second most popular Internet-portal in the
Russian language,, has ca 90 000 readers per week
Te period between 2004–2007 in the Russian-language print and
on-line markets, which ended with worldwide economic crisis, can
be described in terms of concentration of capital. Huge media com-
panies with foreign and Estonian capital – Bonnier Group, Schibsted
Media Group, BMA Estonia, Ekspress Grupp – appeared in the Es-
1 –
СМИ Эстонии.
Media for the minorities: Russian language media in Estonia 1990-2012
tonian media market. All of these companies also launched Internet
news portals on the basis of their newspapers.
Te second economic crisis, in 2007–2011, had a drastic impact on
the Russian language press landscape and its afer-efects can be no-
ticed through today. Both national and local outlets sufered severe
fuctuation. Only four national newspapers survived.
Te circulation of Molodjozh Estonii dropped from 90 000 in 1990
to 8000 by 2001 and to 5900 by the middle of 2008. Molodjozh Es-
tonii was not an economically proftable project. It was fnancially
supported by the Onistar company, which produces alcoholic bev-
erages. Financial crisis in the company resulted in the bankruptcy of
the newspaper.
Estonija (Vesti dnja since 2004) had a circulation of 76 000 in 1990
that dropped to 6400 by the end of 2003. Afer shifs in ownership in
2004, the paper changed its format and title (Vesti Dnja) and became
the representative of the political interests of the Central party
Weekly Komsomolskaja Pravda v Estonii started and stopped appear-
ing in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
Simultaneously with the extinction of national Russian-language
press there has been an active appearance of on-line news portals,
which actually replaced the function of Russian-language national
dailies in Estonia. Several on-line outlets were created on the base
of existing newspapers (Postimees na russkom jazyke, Den za Dn-
jom, Delovyje Vedomosti, MK-Estonija, Stolitsa). Te Public Service
Broadcasting company launched the Internet-portal in
May of 2007. Tallinn City Government launched their Internet-por-
tal (since 2008) in addition to the weekly Stolitsa.
In 2011, among national newspapers, there was one daily, Postimees
na russkom jazyke (with circulation ca 11600), and two weeklies with
general content, one business paper and one weekly which was deliv-
ered in the Baltic countries (with circulation between 4 700 and 12
500 each)
. Te circulation of all six local newspapers was between 1
000 and 40 000 each.
2 –
СМИ Эстонии.
Media Transformations 125
Tere is no national daily published in the Russian language nowa-
days. Postimees na russkom jazyke has been issued only three times a
week since June 2013. Anvar Samost, editor-in-chief, explained that
with the shortage of advertisement market
During the crisis between 1998–2001, two weeklies, in the begin-
ning Vesti Nedelja Pljus and Den za Dnjom, reported growth of cir-
culation, but the period ended with downturn. Circulation of dailies
Molodjozh Estonii and Estonija was constantly dropping. Only Busi-
ness Weekly demonstrated quite a stable position on the market, its
circulation even grew between 1998 and 2001.
Te years 2002–2005 were quite difcult for Russian-language press
in Estonia. Circulations of weeklies Vesti Nedelja Pljus and Den za
Dnjom were constantly decreasing. Finally Vesti Nedelja Pljus stopped
appearing in 2004, Den za Dnjom – in 2005. Weekly (and brand)
Den za Dnjom was saved by Schibsted which purchased this paper.
In 2006, the weekly Den za Dnjom appeared again with a circulation
of 17 000 copies. During this period, circulation of dailies Molodjozh
Estonii and Vesti dnja increased, decreased and fnally ended with
bankruptcy in 2007.
In the years 2005–2006, two new newspapers were launched in the
Russian language press market: weekly MK-Estonija and daily Pos-
timees na russkom jazyke. Tey both started quite successfully, but
then circulation began to drop. Most remarkable was the continued
drop of circulation of Postimees na russkom jazyke while weekly
MK-Estonija managed to increase its circulation in years 2009–2012.
Business weekly Delovyje Vedomosti has a relatively stable position.
Tis can be explained by the fact this paper has a stable readership,
whose income is quite high. However, its circulation has still de-
creased in last two years.
A major trend is that circulations of all print-presses have been
decreasing since 1998. Dailies are in the most vulnerable position
whereas weeklies have a more preferable situation. It is obvious that
production of dailies is not proftable, especially with the active ap-
pearance of Internet-portals since 2003 (See Table 1).
Media for the minorities: Russian language media in Estonia 1990-2012
1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012
Molodjoz Estonii 7.2 4.9 7.5 7.7
Estonia / Vesti Dnja 8.7 7.9 6.3 8.5 9.2
Vesti Nedelja Pljus 21.2 23.5 19.9 16.1
Den za Dnjom 16.7 19.4 18.6 14.5 17 13 13.2 10.4
Delovyje Vedomosti 4.8 4.8 5.1 5.3 6 5.8 4.8 7
Molodjoz Estonii Subbota 9.9 7.1 10.3 11.3 11.5
MK Estonii 14.3 11 11.1 12.9
Postimees na Russkom
17.1 12.3 11.5 9.6

Tallinn’s local weekly newspaper Stolitsa, with the largest circulation
of 40 000 outlets, is published by the Tallinn city government and de-
livered for free via subscriptions and special newspaper-boxes in Tal-
linn. Tis paper shares the political views of the Central Party which
governs Tallinn and is oppositional on a parliamentary level. In re-
cent times, it has became a considerable player in the Russian-lan-
guage press market because of the shortage of Russian-language
press and its free availability. Terefore one can notice that political
and economic benefts of the newspaper and news portal Stolitsa are
intertwined and serve the interests of Tallinn city government.

Table 1.
of Russian-
1998–2013 (in
Source: www.
Figure 1.
The trends
of the
language press
and on-line
outlets market
Media Transformations 127
It is obvious the Russian-speaking population still prefers to con-
sume information in Russian language and this trend will continue
in the future. According to Integration Monitoring 2011 ca 50 per
cent of Russian-speakers cannot follow media (print, online, radio
and television) in Estonian because of insufcient knowledge of the
Until the beginning of the 1990s, the main TV channels that broad-
cast in the Estonian territory were Estonian Television (ETV) and
three channels from Russia: Ostankino TV, Russia TV (both re-trans-
mitted from Moscow) and Leningrad TV. Te re-transmission of all
Russian television and radio channels (Majak, Junost) was terminat-
ed in 1993–1994. Te frequencies and networks they had occupied
were licensed to newly born Estonian private broadcasters.
For the Russian-speaking audience, the changes taking place at the
beginning of the 1990s were dramatic; the number of programme
hours ofered through terrestrial broadcasting in Russian dropped
substantially. No domestic national TV channel targeting speakers
of Russian was established. Te market demand for programmes
in Russian was met by cable operators who rapidly expanded their
networks and started to re-transmit Russian channels available on
Te primary objective of the frst Broadcasting Act (RHS, 1994)
passed in Parliament in 1994 was to establish a dual media system;
the co-existence of PSB and a commercial sector. Te former State
Radio and Television Committee was reorganised into two inde-
pendent public service institutions: Estonian Radio and Estonian
Television. Licenses for private broadcasters were issued through
public tenders.
In order to ensure political consistency and awareness of the Estoni-
an population, Director General of Estonian Radio Peeter Sookruus
(1991: 19) envisioned Estonian Radio as a public service broadcast-
er producing and broadcasting three programmes in Estonian and
one in Russian. Such a vision was in accordance with the linguistic
distribution of the population. Te following period shows that this
Media for the minorities: Russian language media in Estonia 1990-2012
proportion – one of four – was achieved in public service radio in
1993 when, in addition to the three programmes in Estonian, a Rus-
sian-language programme was launched.
1995 2013
Private radio channels in Estonian 41 21
Private radio channels in Russian 2 8
Public service radio programmes in Russian 3 4
Public service radio programmes in Estonian 1 1
Finding the appropriate balance between the state language and local
Russian-speaking media space design has been one of the key media
policy issues.
During the licensing process for new private broadcasting compa-
nies in the early 1990s, media policy makers were particularly con-
cerned with the protection of emerging markets from foreign capital,
enrichment of Estonian culture and development of media space. In
the context of this article we can point out two important general
criteria in the terms of licenses issued. First, the requirement that in
the broadcasting organization, Estonian capital must have at least 50
per cent of the votes, and secondly, the requirement that Estonian
authors’ work share must be at least 35 per cent of the daily output of
a radio program.
Te frst three radio licenses were granted by the Minister of Culture
on 21 May 1992 to the newly created private companies (AS Trio
and AS Rumor) and a municipality (Viljandi county administration’s
ofce of culture). National Estonian Television and Radio received
their broadcasting licenses three weeks later. Te frst private TV li-
cense was issued to a local entrepreneur (AS Alo TV) on 8 June 1992.
From the total of 29 broadcasting licenses issued in 1992, there were
nine for television and 20 for radio. Te language requirement was
not shown separately in any of them. Programmes in Russian were
produced and aired by Estonian Television, Estonian Radio, by pri-
vate AS Reklaamitelevisioon, Orsent TV and by one AS Trio radio
Table 2.
Number of radio
channels in
Estonia. Source:
Ministry of
Media Transformations 129
channel. Te frst three broadcasted some output in Russian within
Estonian programmes. Orsent TV’s full ofer was in Russian and was
targeted at a Russian-speaking audience, but in total they broadcast-
ed only around six hours weekly. In their license application to the
Supreme Council of Information and Journalism Commission, Ors-
ent described the aim of the channel as an endeavour to contribute to
the integration of the local Russian minority into Estonian and global
. In the application submitted, Orsent declared they intended
to produce and transmit broadcasts three hours a week in the Tallinn
area only (the same frequency was also used by AS Reklaamitelevi-
sioon for broadcasting their programme RTV). Orsent’s application
was accepted and they were given permission to air programmes no
less than three and not more than ten hours per week on Tuesdays,
Tursdays and Saturdays afer the end or before the start of RTV’s
program. Although the channel had a small output of hours, and pro-
grammes were aired on inconvenient time for viewers, Orsent must
be counted as the frst free-to-air television station broadcasting for
a Russian language audience. Nowadays, Orsent has their own chan-
nel and is transmitting considerably more programme hours which
are viewable over cable networks. Unfortunately, Orsent’s audience
fgures were, and still are, very small, which again was a reason for
low revenues and minimum proftability. Te station never became
an important platform and voice for the Russian-speaking audience.
AS Trio launched Raadio Tallinn as the frst legal
private radio station in autumn 1992. Te station started broadcast-
ing at a UKV frequency and later transferred to FM.
In the spring of 1993, Estonian Radio launched Russian-language
broadcasts on an FM frequency, which rapidly evolved into a full-
time program, Raadio 4. Te same year, 20 private broadcaster li-
cences were issued (5 for TV and 15 for radio). Out of those, 2 were
issued for broadcasting in Russian language. Te national company
Viru Information Centre was given permission to broadcast through
a radio relay network and AS Trio to expand the coverage of Raadio
Tallinn (later known under the names Raadio 100 FM/ Narodnoje
Radio) to Eastern Virumaa. One local TV broadcaster – EMPI TV –
was issued temporary licences for broadcasting in Kiviõli.
AS Orsent. Applica-
tion letter. Ministry
of Culture (March 9,
In the beginning
of the 1990s, Sovi-
et-minded Radio
Nadezhda functioned
on the territory of
Soviet Army’s Keila
Tank Regiment. Tis
station had neither the
permission to use ra-
dio frequencies of the
Estonian Republic nor
broadcasting licence.
Radio Nadezhda
closed along with the
departure of Soviet
armed forces from
Estonia in 1994.
Media for the minorities: Russian language media in Estonia 1990-2012
In the spring of 1994, AS Narva Televisioon and Sillamäe Munici-
pal Information Centre obtained licences. Te applications to launch
both TV channels were also supported by local authorities. Te po-
litical motives were also important for these municipalities, at the
same time being minimal or non-existent for the owners of Estoni-
an-speaking broadcasting organisations. Ensuring ‘correct political
undercurrent’ of broadcasting stations was a crucial issue for both
legislative and executive powers. Free journalism was promoted for-
cibly. However, when issuing broadcasting licences, ‘Russian danger’
or possible infltration of Russian capital into Estonian media was
closely guarded. At the same time, satisfying the needs and consid-
ering the interests of the Russian-speaking audience was considered
With the passing of the Broadcasting Act in the summer of 1994,
all current licences became invalid and 32 new fve-year broadcast
licenses were issued in tight competition. Estonian Radio and Esto-
nian Television did not need to apply for broadcasting licences an-
ymore, as they now functioned according to the rules set in Broad-
casting Act. Te already active Russian channels Narva Televisioon,
Orsent TV and Raadio Tallinn were granted new licences. Similarly
to Orsent, Narva TV was given broadcasting time only on certain
days of the week before or afer the programme of the main channel.
Tey were given permission to broadcast 7.5 hours a week. By now,
Sillamäe and Narva TV channels have stopped working.
1995 saw the continuation of expansion of private broadcasters. 19
new radio and 1 TV licences were issued. Only one of those – Narva
Päikeseraadio, owned by Mediainvest AS – aimed to broadcasting
Russian radio programs.
1996–1998 saw a decrease in the number of broadcasting licences
issued due to the shortage of free frequencies. A total of 13 licences
were issued in three years. Among those was Taevaraadio AS-owned
Raadio Sky Klassik, originally intended to broadcast classical music,
that was renamed Russkoje Radio in 1998 and started Russian broad-
casts. Under new conditions, original Russian programme produced
or acquired for this station had to be aired during daytime (between
7:00 and 20:00). Te majority of the programme was to be Russian
music; at least 15 per cent of the day’s programme had to be speech.
Media Transformations 131
In 2000, the conditions of this broadcast licence were mitigated and
the requirements for speech and Russian music broadcasts were
Eesti Sõltumatu Televisioon AS started with TV1 programmes in
1997. Te broadcast licence issued to TV1 stated that the programme
had to include at least 30 minutes of news in Russian every day. TV1
did not do that. Tere were only 5 minutes of news in Russian per day
and these were broadcast at 23:30 or later. Te Ministry of Culture
gave two warnings to TV1 for the violation of their licence. Despite
promises (TV1 letter to Ministry of Culture 14 Sept 1998) TV1 did
not manage to produce and broadcast Russian language programmes
in bigger amounts before their bankruptcy.
In the 1990s and even during some years afer the millennium, other
Estonian commercial channels had a business-driven aim to max-
imize their audience by ofering Russian-language programmes on
certain time slots. Tis kind of limited ofer was unsuccessful in
commercial terms and audiences were attracted by channels of the
Russian Federation.
In 1999–2002, most of the valid fve-year broadcast licences were
renewed. No terrestrial TV channels were created. Tere were 12
cable TV licences issued in 2001, out of which fve belonged to the
operator AS STV and targeted Russian audience. Also AS Nom’s pro-
gramme Infokanal was aimed at Russian viewers.
In the feld of radio, there were 24 newcomers, most of them either
replacing closed down programmes or refecting a change and con-
solidation of owners. Local studios were shut down and instead of
their own programmes, centrally produced programmes were aired
over the networks. Te roots of this process were in afordability – in
smaller regions there was not sufcient (advertising) money and hu-
man resources to produce and air so many local programs. Te Tartu
Pereraadio Ühing-owned Christian radio station operating under
international broadcasting licence Semeinoje Radio (later Radio Eli)
and AS Trio LSL-s Russian music Radio Katjusha started Russian
broadcasts in 2000.
In 2004, the list of Russian radio stations was lengthened with Russ-
koje Radio Tartu, Euro FM, Raadio DFM and AS Trio LSL’s Raadio
Media for the minorities: Russian language media in Estonia 1990-2012
Uuno Pluss Dynamit FM. Te licence conditions for most Rus-
sian-speaking radio stations were even more laconic than before,
usually including the requirement to broadcast local news (that can
be produced in cooperation with several broadcasters), cover local
life and contain a 20 per cent ratio of Estonian authors in their daily
During 2004–2008 there were just few new TV licenses given. All of
them were local. OÜ Lites LT started the programme LiTeS in East-
ern Virumaa in 2004, MTÜ AB Video started the programme TV-N
in the cable network of Harjumaa and Tallinn in the end of 2006
(nowadays it is available all over Estonia). And in 2008, SA Lasteka-
itsefond’s programme LNTV was launched, which showed mostly
cartoons over a couple of years’ existence.
Te spread of Russian-speaking radio and TV programmes follows
the location of Russian-speaking communities – most broadcasters
are active in Tallinn, Eastern Virumaa and Tartu. Te content regula-
tion of all media service providers is minimal according to Estonia’s
liberal media policy. Tis and the smallness of the advertising market
have resulted in the cluster of music radio channels mostly playing
mainstream music and TV channels mostly showing feature flms.
Out of 29 radio licences, 8 were given to broadcast Russian-language
programmes, while Raadio 4 functions under the National Public
Broadcasting Act. Tus it can be said that by 2013, the radio land-
scape in Estonia refects the ratio of 3:1, the linguistic distribution
of population as drafed in the 1990s, where there are three Estonian
radio programmes to one Russian one.
Tere are 14 valid TV licences in Estonia as of 1 July 2013. Tree of
those – Orsent-TV, TV-N ja LiTeS – are targeted to Russian-speak-
ing audience. With the widespread use of cable networks and IPTV
in the living areas of the Russian-speaking population these pro-
grammes are now easily accessible. At the same time, they are not
as popular as Russian TV programmes (see thereinafer). It is note-
worthy that there are a number of foreign thematic TV channels in
Russian available in cable packages. In total, these ‘other’ channels
reached 87 per cent of Russian speakers weekly and took up 39 per
cent of their viewing time in 2012 (see Figure 2).
Media Transformations 133

Te most popular TV station among Russian speakers is Pervõi Balti-
iski Kanal (First Baltic Channel, PBK), which is owned and operated
by a Latvian independent legal entity working under two jurisdic-
tions, a broadcasting license issued by LNRT Latvia and by OfCom
U.K. Te PBK programme is available in all Baltic countries on all
technical platforms: satellite, cable, IPTV and DTT pay TV packages.
It primarily re-transmits the Russian commercial TV channel ORT
(controlled by the Russian government), but also includes a daily
newscast produced locally in each country in the format of ORT’s
main news programme (Vremja), which is scheduled immediately
afer the latter on prime-time.
Based on these facts it can be said that a big part of Russian-language
Estonian population is mainly following Russian television channels
and is therefore more integrated into the Russian information feld
than into the Estonian one.
Te third infuencer of the media institutions is economics (Mc-
Quail, 2010). A signifcant diference in the development of Estonian
and Russian-language private media is the inclusion of private cap-
ital. Estonian media enterprises developed mostly with the help of
western investments – Nordic media companies generally became
the owners of these enterprises. Norwegian Schibsted AS purchased
the most widespread national newspaper Postimees, several county
newspapers, TV channel Kanal 2, a printing house and later shares in
Figure 2.
An evaluation
share of
viewing of the
main Russian
TV channels.
Source: TNS
Media for the minorities: Russian language media in Estonia 1990-2012
the Trio radio group. Finnish Mainos TV invested in AS Reklaamitel-
evisioon that later merged with EVTV to form TV 3, part of Swedish
Modern Time Group. MTG also founded two radio stations. Bonnier
Group acquired shares in newspapers Eesti Ekspress and Äripäev.
Te main goal of all these foreign companies that invested in Estoni-
an media sector was to gain proft in a newly opened market.
Contrary to the Estonian market, no foreign investments came to
Russian-language media. Media channels were owned or created by
local non-Estonian entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, they did not have
sufcient resources to create good quality, audience-capturing media
products. Tere was a lack of critical mass – of quantity, quality, and
audience. Considering the smallness of the potential market, foreign
capital did not have any interest in contributing to this narrow sector.
Taking into account Russia’s close foreign countries policy, Russian
money could have come to the Estonian media sector with political
aims. Tis however did not happen, at least not in the extent to start
and keep up a local Russian-language TV programme, newspaper
and/or radio station. Probably such investment was not considered
important as Russian-speaking people living in Estonia followed
Russia’s main TV channels anyway. Attempts to involve foreign capi-
tal from either East or West were not successful.
Te proft and outcome of Russian-language media companies pro-
vide a good description of the shortage of resources. Analysis of
Russian-language print media indicates that because of unproftable
business, the newspapers ofen went bankrupt or changed owners
frequently. In several cases the ofcial fnancial results were not de-
clared. As an example, the fnancial standing of the newspaper Den
za Dnjom by the owners in 2001–2008 can be considered. Tere is
no data regarding the fnancial status of the company in ofcial da-
tabases before that time and data from the years 2004, 2005, 2007
and 2008 is missing. In 2008, the publisher of the newspaper was
purchased by AS Postimees. In 2012, the publisher was merged with
Postimees and the fnancial results of the newspaper are no longer
available separately (see Figure 3).
Media Transformations 135

In comparison with the fnancial results of the two biggest private
TV channels (see Figure 4) the turnover of Russian-language broad-
casters follows a similar pattern (see Figure 5). Tere is nevertheless
a diference in the proftability of the channels. As the main source
of income for major TV channels is advertising sales, the econom-
ic crises atn the end of the 1990s and beginning of 2008 infuenced
their income far more than that of small companies functioning on
project support.

While the fnancial results of Estonian-language media companies
can usually be found in ofcial databases from the mid-90s to the
present, the same information regarding Russian-language publica-
Figure 3.
Proft and loss
of newspaper
Den za Dnjom
Figure 4.
Financial results
of TV3 and
Kanal2. Source:
Media for the minorities: Russian language media in Estonia 1990-2012
tions is incomplete in the national register. Despite that a general
trend in Russian-language printed media can be pointed out – this is
the decrease in income.

Comparison of fnancial results of the two biggest newspaper pub-
lishers (see Figure 6) and Russian-language newspaper publisher (see
Figure 3) in Estonia indicates a magnitudinal diference. Te same
diference occurs when fnancial parameters of Estonian commercial
TV channels (see Figure 4) are compared with the Russian languages’
TV ones (see Figure 5).

Figure 5.
Financial results
of Russian
Figure 6.
of media
companies Eesti
ajalehed (EA)
and Postimees.
Media Transformations 137
Diferently from the Russian languages print media there has been
no change of ownership or bankruptcy of Russian-language TV
channels but it must be pointed out that there is still no domestic TV
channel producing and broadcasting nationwide full-time free-to-air
Russian-language programme in Estonia.
Te private sectors’ unwillingness to work for these niche audiences
is understandable from a business point of view. Investments into
expensive niche media products are not proftable. A potential audi-
ence of around 300 000 Russian-speaking viewers is not big enough
for the launch of a commercial TV channel, especially in the situa-
tion where there are plenty of attractive foreign Russian TV channels
available through cable networks and satellite platforms. A cheaper
form of mass media – newspapers – is facing problems to gain enough
readers needed for sustainable business. Economic regression which
started in 2007 has heavily decreased advertising revenues. Tradi-
tional newspapers lost more than 60 per cent of their yearly advertis-
ing revenues (see Figure 7). While major media companies had some
internal resources which helped them to survive under extensive cost
cuttings, smaller companies were forced to close down their activi-
ties. Private media companies with Russian-language media prod-
ucts belong to the latter group. Russian-language media’s already un-
favourable economical situation deteriorated dramatically.

Figure 7.
market value.
Source: TNS
Media for the minorities: Russian language media in Estonia 1990-2012
When all circumstances (resources available, market conditions,
economical atmosphere, etc.) are not favouring commercial media
then this kind of market failure should be balanced by public service
media (PSM). Terefore PSM is even more responsible for delivering
diverse content and high-quality information for all citizens, includ-
ing minorities, on a smaller market. Despite fast and large changes in
the media, public service media still has an important role to play in
the public sphere from this point of view.
Tis argument is supported by the broader defnition of public ser-
vice broadcasting (evolving into public service media). Public service
broadcasting (PSB) is defned by McQuail (2010: 569) ‘as the system
of broadcasting that is publicly funded and operated in a non-proft
way in order to meet the various public communication needs of all
In other words – PSB’s ultimate function is to serve public interest.
In normative criteria this is described as enhancing, developing and
serving social, political and cultural citizenship; being universal with
high quality standards (Born and Prosser, 2001: 671).
Te justifcation for PSB existence is to serve public interest. Accord-
ing to McQuail (2010: 568), public interest ‘expresses the idea that
expectations from, and claims against, the mass media on grounds
of the wider and longer-term good of society can be legitimately ex-
pressed and may lead to constraints on the structure or activity of
media’. Critics of PSB declare that public interests are also served by
commercial broadcasters and PSB rationale no longer exists (Jacka,
2003). On the other side, scholars are convinced that PSB is needed
more than ever in new, rapidly changing, communication contexts
(Murdock, 2005). It might be a case that commercial broadcasters
are fulflling some public interest tasks, but mainly only these, which
are commercially proftable, unproftable services are (most likely)
lef out of scope. Jakubowicz (2007c) argues that the underlying aims
of public service broadcasting are still to enhance culture, promote
education, maintain social cohesion and strengthen democracy. For
successful fulflment of these four criteria, PSB needs to have suf-
cient resources (human, fnancial, technical etc.) and favourable leg-
islative framework.
Media Transformations 139
Researches made by Lauristin (2004; 2009), Lauk (2008), Lõhmus
et al. (2010) underline the special role public service broadcasting
carries for small countries like Estonia. It is especially important,
in markets where private broadcasting is commercialized, that PSB
maintains its role as the reliable provider of trustful sources of in-
formation. PSB’s important role in the public sphere to substantiate,
support for democratic development and pluralism are described as
crucial ones. All these factors have direct infuence on society and
citizens. Enhancing democracy and cultural heritage, improving
social cohesion, developing platform for open debate, guaranteeing
media pluralism, being a source of reliable and independent infor-
mation – these are important functions of PSB. Without fulflment of
these functions, overall development of democratic society is under
serious threat.
On the EU level there are no tools or mechanisms dictating a mini-
mum PSB quantity or quality level a Member State should guarantee
for citizens. Tere is no binding legal EU regulation towards PSB.
Tere are no European Union’s fnancial instruments, for example
solidarity funds for infrastructure development, dedicated for the
enhancement of public service media. Decisions on remit, funding
model and funding level of PSB are totally lef to Member States.
Tere is no common PSB model or standard which applies to all
countries (European Commission, 2011). Governance and fnancing
models, remit, legal framework and relations with political powers,
accountability obligations towards society, etc. vary a lot. But overall,
EU media policy is subordinate to economic policy and the public
service media is treated in a similar manner to any other industry
(Harcourt, 2005; Jõesaar, 2011). In a similar way to other industries’
regulations, media regulations are shaped by market forces in a large
extent. Te result of a liberal regulatory process is that media will be
more and more commercialized. As shown by Lowe et al. (2011) and
Jõesaar (2011), in the poorer, smaller states commercial media tends
to be more entertainment oriented than in smaller, wealthy states.
To balance entertainment biased commercial media, PSB should
have strong and interesting own-production, which is more costly
Media for the minorities: Russian language media in Estonia 1990-2012
than mass production acquisition programs. Tis results in the con-
clusion that for strong PSB, the PSB funding on small markets should
be on a relatively higher level than on large markets. In reality the
situation is opposite. Te level of available funding is (an immediate)
cause for PSB performance. It gives reason to assume that sufcient
funding will support high quality production which is needed to at-
tract an audience. In the case of Estonia, there actually exists two
main audiences – national language speakers and Russian speakers.
Tis means that for serving both communities in the best way, a dou-
ble amount of funding is actually needed. It is evident that private
media is not able to serve Russian-language citizens on a proper lev-
el. Tere is no nationwide daily newspaper nor full-scale TV-channel
in Russian; Russian language music radio stations are oriented on en-
tertainment of young audiences; newspapers in Russian have a very
moderate penetration.
In the case of Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR), the question of
serving minorities has been debated for a long time (Jõesaar and Ran-
nu, 2013). Te idea to increase ERR output in Russian on all media
platforms, especially in television, has not received political support
and because of that is heavily under-fnanced. Terefore television
programmes ofered in Russian still do not have the critical mass to
attract its target audience in a large scale. Only the Estonian Public
Broadcaster’s nationwide radio programme in Russian, Raadio 4, is
ofering quality journalistic content for a Russian-speaking audience.
Te next part of this article focuses on Russian language TV-pro-
gramme of Estonian Public Broadcasting.
Te next section of the article will focus on PSB programming for mi-
norities. Soviet-era ETV produced news and primarily cultural and
educational programmes in Russian during the 1960s and 1970s. In
the mid-1970s, the ofer of pan-Union Russian programmes intensi-
fed. In the context of the USSR, local Russian language programmes
were never treated as those targeted to a minority, because the speak-
ers of the non-native language among the population of a republic
of the Union were never considered as minorities. Programmes in
Russian, broadcast by the TV stations of the republics, expressed one
of the Russifcation methods used by the USSR; the production of
Media Transformations 141
these programmes was not driven by the modern idea of complying
with the informational needs of a minority. In Estonia, where only
one local TV station existed, a third of its schedule was flled with
the Central Television programmes of the Soviet Union. Te content
scope of local programmes in Russian developed only partially. From
1980 to 1991, ETV aired only approximately an hour of domestic
programmes in Russian (including news) daily (Shein, 2005). Few
television journalists spoke Russian as their mother tongue, and the
content they produced was limited, mainly cultural, music and edu-
cational programmes; analytical journalism was almost non-exist-
ent. Even the topic of ethnic minorities was subsequently raised by
Estonian-speaking journalists, afer the founding of Te Union of
Estonia’s Nationalities in 1988.
From 1990, with the exception of news, the Russian ETV programmes
were aired on Saturday daytime and the content scope extended
from information to entertainment. Te volume of programmes was
fewer than 200 hours per year. Due to the lack of viewers, attempts
were made to fnd a better timeslot, and in the middle of the 1990s, a
programme strip in Russian was created to air before the pre-prime
news in Russian on work days.
In the early 1990s, Russian language TV journalism existed only in
ETV. Independent producers had not yet appeared and when they
did, around the end of the decade, the majority were individual pro-
ducers fully dependent on their fnanciers. Commercial stations did
not pay to show programmes in Russian, instead, barter deals were
ofered: the producers could sell advertisement time inside their pro-
grammes. Te budget of PSB television was also highly dependent
on advertisements, so, as the volume of other productions grew, the
programmes in Russian were pushed into the background, as some-
thing unattractive to advertising agencies.
Although some good publicists emerged among the Russian-speak-
ing television journalists, they probably felt the air of suspicion of
disloyalty, and therefore tried to choose topics as neutral as possible,
which, in return, did not help to increase the interest of viewers. Te
integration programme, launched in the second half of the 1990s
and funded by the EU, produced a shif in the content focus, which
moved to integration-related topics (Lauristin, 2004).
Media for the minorities: Russian language media in Estonia 1990-2012
Notwithstanding the incompleteness of the statistics covering the
end of the 1990s, we can estimate the volume of Russian language
programming rose above 200 hours in 1998-1999, when over 10 dif-
ferent series’ were aired on ETV (Trapido, 2000: 112; Shein, 2005).
Unfortunately, this was the time of the economic downturn, and the
attempt by the management to increase its own production’s output,
in circumstances whereby the state grant had been cut back by 10
per cent, caused a serious budgetary crisis. At the beginning of the
2000s, the crisis led to a recession in all activities, including the pro-
duction of Russian programming on ETV. By April 2000, the budget
for Russian programmes had decreased fve times since 1998, and
enabled the production of just one half-hour programme per week
(PRTM, 2000).
Afer the crisis, it was primarily the production of the news that con-
tinued to be fnanced from ETV’s budget of the original Russian pro-
grammes. Te remainder of the in-house productions received fund-
ing from the Integration Foundation or from other public funds. Part
of the schedule was acquired from Russia, and re-runs of some Es-
tonian programmes with Russian subtitles were also scheduled for
Russian timeslots.
A budgetary crisis in ETV in 2000–2002 resulted in cut-backs in
several programming sectors and produced changes in management
logistics. Te Russian-language programme unit was closed. Te
production of Russian programmes was initiated on the orders of
ETV’s programme management, mainly in the form of co-produc-
tions between independent producers and ETV employees; several
former employees of ETV now work as independent producers, ac-
quiring the necessary additional fnancing from public funds.
However, a specifc centre of competence, which should work on
developing a cohesive concept of television programmes aimed to-
wards non-Estonians and executing related ideas, does not currently
exist in Estonia. Tis fact has also been pointed out in the debates
discussing the launch of a television channel in Russian (Ajutrust
Konsultatsioonid, 2007).
Media Transformations 143
Public service Raadio 4, once the indisputable leader among Rus-
sian-language radio stations, is still a leader, but the listening trend
is clearly negative (see Figure 8). Commercial music radio stations
are gaining market share. It will be challenging for PSM to retain its
position in the Russian language radio market.

Estonian Television’s position among the Russian-speaking audience
is even more complicated. Te launch of the PSB Russian language
channel, ETV2, has been debated for almost two decades. It has been
mentioned in parliamentary debates and has been part of a number
of PSB’s development plans. A short list of arguments supporting and
opposing ETV2 in Russian is as follows:
FOR: Te channel will support the enhancement, develop-
ment and servicing of social, political and cultural citizen-
ship; it will ofer adequate and reliable information to all cit-
izens and inhabitants; it will extenuate tensions between two
ethnic groups; it will serve as a balancing force to Moscow,
lowering national security risks.
AGAINST: To attract a Russian audience (extra) high qual-
ity programmes are needed; It is too expensive; sufcient
additional fnancial resources are unavailable; whatever the
programme, it is unrealistic to expect it will attract the atten-
Figure 8.
language radio
stations share
of listening.
Source: TNS
Media for the minorities: Russian language media in Estonia 1990-2012
tion of the Russian audience due to high competition from
abroad; there is no need for such a channel — in the long
run, all citizens will understand Estonian and will there-
fore be capable of watching Estonian programmes; if state
fnanced propaganda is required, these programmes should
be ordered from, and aired on, PBK.
In 2008, another economic downturn forced ETV to make budgetary
cut-backs and the volume of Russian language programmes dropped
to a level last experienced in the middle of the previous decade (see
Figure 9). Only one series was produced for the Russian audience,
which also received funding from external sources. Despite the lack
of funding, ETV2 started broadcasting in the summer of 2008 and
continues to be on air. However, the original concept of this new
channel, broadcasting in Russian at least on prime-time, was revised.
Today, the main scope of the channel is cultural and educational pro-
grammes and this task is primarily fulflled by using ETV’s archives.
As no extra fnancial resources are allocated from the state budget,
new in-house production is minimal, primarily consisting of original
children’s programmes, which also have an important role in ETV2.
Notwithstanding, the launch of ETV2 opened up new possibilities
and, from 2009 onwards, the volume of Russian language program-
ming has signifcantly increased, although the major part of in-house
productions (with the exception of the news) was still fnanced from
external sources. Furthermore, re-runs from the ETV archives and
Estonian language current afairs programmes with Russian subtitles
Figure 9.
ETV’s yearly total
hours targeted
at the Russian-
Source: Authors’
Media Transformations 145
increased the output. Te result is that a prime-time slot, including
news and some information and discussion programmes scheduled
for Russian speakers, today exists on ETV2. Te decline in 2012 was
caused by the cut in the production of original programming in Rus-
sian (see Figure 9). In 2012, ETV’s channels occupied only 1.8 per
cent of the viewing time of non-Estonians (TNS Emor).
Particularly, a remarkable increase in output of Russian language
news occurred afer the news was transferred to ETV2, where a
longer timeslot was available. Unfortunately, the shif to ETV2 meant
that the Russian-language news lost some of its viewers. Since 2010,
the news is repeated on MTG channel 3+, but the audience remains
quite small.
Despite all these ERR eforts, it is not efcient enough to attract the
Russian-speaking audience and integrate them into the Estonian in-
formation feld.
Afer the regaining of Estonian independence, the following pre-
sumptions were applied to establishing Estonian media system polit-
ically, economically and technically regarding the Russian-language
1. Domestic Russian-language media does not need nation-
al support because the Russian population will decrease be-
cause of emigration and those remaining will acquire suf-
cient language skills to be able to follow Estonian media to
satisfy their information needs.
2. Free market principles in media will provide a solution for
the issues of informing and integrating language minorities
without specifc state-initiated regulations.
Tese presumptions proved only partially right in reality. Te Rus-
sian-speaking population is decreasing and their Estonian language
skills are improving but only 14 per cent of them prefer Estonian me-
dia. Domestic Russian-language media is preferred by 21 per cent of
non-Estonians. 2/3 of Russians consider the media channels, mainly
television, of the Russian Federation more important for themselves
(Vihalemm, 2011). Te end of transmitting Russia’s TV channels in
Media for the minorities: Russian language media in Estonia 1990-2012
the beginning of 1990s brought along an explosive spread of cable TV
in Russian-speaking residential areas in Estonia, thus transferring
viewers to Russian-language satellite channels within a few years. In
the market economy situation, Russian-language printed media has
undergone a severe decline, resulting in the cessation of publishing
national daily newspapers. Weeklies and local newspapers have fared
slightly better. Private enterprise has shown considerable ability in
developing radio and Internet media; private TV channels, howev-
er, have desisted from engaging a Russian-speaking audience afer
short-timed attempts. Public broadcasters have been relatively suc-
cessful in developing Russian-language radio, while TV programmes
are confned to broadcasting Russian-language news and translating
Estonian programmes into Russian because of lack of resources.
In broadcasting, this has resulted in a situation where two commu-
nities are infuenced by diferent independent information felds;
Estonian-speakers (mainly) receive daily information from national
broadcasting channels, while Russian-speakers receive such infor-
mation from Russian Federation TV stations and global TV chan-
nels. Tis could be acknowledged, if the Russian population’s strong
beliefs towards foreign television channels did not constantly raise
problems with regard to their participation in Estonia’s everyday life
and the degree to which they are informed about this. It has been
hoped that one solution could be the target ordering of specifc Rus-
sian television series’ on themes of integration, but their audience is
more Estonian- than Russian-speaking. Te reasons for this lie in
the contents of the broadcasts, as well as in the environment. Media
research has claimed that the Russian-speaking audience views itself
more like integration objects than subjects in these shows. Tis is not
useful, as it decreases the attractiveness of the programmes. As a rule,
these programmes are aired on Estonian-language ETV channels in
fexible volumes and slots. Terefore, the Russian-speaking audience
has not developed a viewing habit. No agreement has been reached
on the strategies or funding of the development of Russian language
television programming. Terefore, there is no reason to believe that
anything will change in the (near) future, unless there is a substantial
increase in the Russian programme funding that is required for the
production of high quality programming on a considerably larger
Media Transformations 147
When observing the development of Russian-language media in Es-
tonia afer the country regained its independence, its political, eco-
nomic and technological infuencers, it can be seen how a market
failure occurs in an important sector of everyday life of a small coun-
try, resulting in linguistically diferent population groups ending at
diferent information felds. Tese information felds are separated
not only by linguistic but also notional national borders.
It must be admitted that such division has its roots in the Soviet
era when non-native populations, settling in USSR’s republics, con-
sumed mostly pan-Soviet media – newspapers, magazines, TV and
radio that were ideologically and economically strictly controlled by
the central power. Establishment of liberal media principles in re-in-
dependent Estonia ended undemocratic supervision and gave media
independence. One of the prerequisites to this was economic inde-
pendence that subjected to free market principles only. However, to
Russian-language media in Estonia, free market proved disadvanta-
geous. While Estonian media companies soon found investors from
the Nordic countries, Russian-language enterprises had to rely on
domestic resources only which turned out to be scarce. Te number
of readers decreased rapidly and in 2013 no Russian-language daily
newspaper was published in Estonia. Te weeklies have done slightly
better. Te newspaper with the widest circulation is a city newspaper
refecting the political interests of the capital’s city government.
Domestic Russian-language broadcasting in Soviet Estonia limited
itself to some educational and cultural programmes as the only na-
tional TV channel, while the choice of programming at pan-Sovi-
et TV channels was abundant. A number of Russian-language TV
channels were created afer the end of re-broadcast of Soviet TV
programmes with the hopes of making a proft from the advertis-
ing market. Unfortunately, broadcasting such channels was limit-
ed. Terefore the amount of viewers was not considerable enough
to rouse the interest of advertisers. In addition, satellite TV ofered
ferce competition, making Russia’s TV channels accessible to the
Russian-speaking audience in Estonia. Tis however did not fulfl
the duties of a democratic media system. Information and debate
on the development and functioning of Estonia’s society could only
Media for the minorities: Russian language media in Estonia 1990-2012
come from domestic media, mainly from Estonian Radio and Es-
tonian Television that were being transformed into public service
broadcasting organisations.
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program. Estonian Television had one Estonian-language channel
only, where the Russian-language slots did not fnd viewers, and the
political agreement to launch the second channel was not reached.
At present, the amount of time spent on watching any Estonian-lan-
guage TV channel, including commercial channels, is decreasing to
a marginal level among the Russian-speaking audience. From the
viewpoint of Estonia’s social and cultural coherence, this is a negative
trend but altering an established framework presupposes a clearly
stated political program.
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Media Transformations 155
Media Transformations (ISSN 2029-865X) is a peer-reviewed acade-
mic journal of media and journalism studies, particularly focusing on
the comparative aspects of media transformations. We invite papers
addressing a wide range of topics around the global and local transfor-
mations of media and journalism, including technological difusion
and convergence of media industries, commercialization and homoge-
nization of journalism, changing media values and policies, journalism
training and media education. Contributions which address the above
mentioned topics from the conceptual, empirical and methodological
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European Journal of Communication, Vol. 24(1), 5-26. DOI: http://dx.
For book chapters:
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search. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp. 463-477.
For online publications:
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