Briefs

Estonia: 18-24 July 2016

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On 11 July, the Russian-language propaganda website Baltnews.ee compared Internet freedom in Estonia with that in Russia, concluding that, since in Estonia hate speech is considered a crime, it has less Internet freedom and freedom of speech than Russia does.

Event: In a recent article published by the Estonian-language daily newspaper Eesti Päevaleht, an Estonian  lawyer explains the rules governing the posting and sharing of hate speech in social media. The Russian-language propaganda website Baltnews.ee in an article commenting on that, accused Estonian media and politicians of double standards: if Russia makes rules governing the Internet, it is labeled a totalitarian country that relies on censorship. If Estonia makes similar rules, it is considered to be completely normal. The article was reprinted in Seti.ee, a Russian-language web portal based in eastern Estonia. 

The false fact or narrative: Baltnews.ee alleges that Internet freedom in Estonia is as limited as in Russia, or more so. It incorrectly argues that the Estonian government monitors social networks and fines or severely penalizes anyone who posts material the government doesn’t like. It also falsely argues that freedom of speech means anything can be posted on social media. Since Estonia regulates the Internet, it concludes, Estonia has no freedom of speech.

Reality on the ground: The 2015 Freedom House report on Internet freedom classifies Estonia as “free” based on an assessment of obstacles to Internet access, restrictions on content and violations of user rights. By those same standards, Russia’s status is “not free.” In Estonia, ciizens have the constitutional right to protect their dignity and can take legal action in the event of threats, insults, false facts and hate speech, committed either on Internet or outside of it. If a court finds the claim justified, the offender will be convicted under the law. 

However, freedom of speech has its limits and is subject to reasonable restrictions. Under the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 10.2) and Estonia’s constitution (§45), the exercise of freedom of speech and expression carries with it duties and responsibilities. These include preventing disorder and crime; protecting health and morals; protecting the reputation or rights of others; preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, and  maintaining the judiciary’s authority and impartiality.  

Technique: 
  • Tu quoque—you, too (“We may be bad, but others are just as bad”) - a technique that, in this case, justifies Russian Internet restrictions by comparing them to the alleged shortcomings of Internet regulations in Western countries. 

Audience: The Seti.ee article received 637 hits.

Analysis: Russian media outlets often justify Russian misdeeds by comparing them to what Western countries do. This usually replaces a denial (“we didn’t do it“) when a denial is impossible to use because of the absence of clear supporting evidence. 

Description of sources: Seti.ee is the Russian-language, non-official web portal of Narva, Estonia’s third-largest city. Located at the eastern tip of Estonia near the Russian border, Narva is home to 62,000 people.  Almost 94 percent of them are Russian speakers, and 82 percent are ethnic Russians. Almost 47 percent of the city’s inhabitants are Estonian citizens, 36.3 percent are citizens of Russia, and 15.3 percent of the population has undefined citizenship. Seti.ee is owned and financed by  Estonian businessman Roman Gribov. Seti.ee was one of the first web portals in eastern Estonia to be directed to a local audience. Most of its content is not original but is based on content from other channels, nor does it clearly distinguish between journalists and non-journalists. Anyone who has an account can use the web portal to publish an article. Most of its authors write under pseudonyms. Seti.ee receives about 2,000 daily visits.

Baltnews.ee is a Russian-owned and Russian-language propaganda site in Estonia. Baltnews news portals were launched simultaneously in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—baltnews.ee, baltnews.lt and baltnews.lv, respectively—in late 2014.  According to the Annual Review of the Estonian Internal Security Service, Baltnews portals are funded by Rossiya Segodnya, a news agency wholly owned and operated by the Russian government. Aleksandr Kornilov, a member of the local Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots and head of the propaganda portal baltija.eu, leads the Estonian operations of baltnews.ee. Media Capital Holding BV, a Dutch-registered company controlled by people related to Rossiya Segodnya, funds the Baltnews project. One of the project’s founders was Vladimir Lepekhin, director of the Eurasian Economic Community Institute, who participates in Russia’s influence-peddling operations in neighboring countries.