Over the past year, potential threats to press freedom and freedom of speech in Estonia have been a frequent subject of public debate. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had a considerable impact on the media and entertainment industry.

Our experts Lee Raudsepp, Oliver Kuusk and Mihkel Miidla have analysed the latest trends in Estonia’s media and entertainment scene. Find out more in our yearly Technology, Media and Telecommunications Review.

Estonian press freedom under pressure

In 2022, a public debate arose on the issue of whether press freedom in Estonia was under threat. A controversial judgment was made by the Harju County Court in May 2022, wherein two journalists for Eesti Ekspress and its publisher were fined EUR 1,000 each for publishing a news article revealing the facts of a criminal proceeding.

The charges were filed by the Prosecutor’s Office, alleging they had not been informed of the publication of the article. They contended that prematurely releasing pretrial information could potentially jeopardise and undermine the gathering of evidence. This decision sparked debate, particularly as Estonia had recently received a high ranking in the Press Freedom Index

However, the Tallinn Circuit Court overruled these fines in June 2022, citing a lack of justification from the Prosecutor’s Office. Despite this, the debate continued, reaching the Estonian Supreme Court in January 2023. The Supreme Court ruled against the fine, emphasiszing the need for an approach balanced between the public interest and legal procedure.

This controversy has sparked discussions among politicians about potential amendments to media freedom laws, with differing opinions on the necessity of change. Nonetheless, there is a consensus on the importance of thorough discussion on the matter.

Russian media remains banned

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Estonia banned several Russian TV channels and websites. The Estonian film industry has called for boycotting state-sponsored films from Russia and Belarus, and is awaiting a response from the government.

While Russian books are still sold for educational use, periodicals from Russia have vanished from newsstands. Additionally, some Estonian authorities, like the Tallinn city government, have blacklisted pro-Russian artists to limit their entry , with the aim of curbing Russian cultural influence.

The Estonian media and entertainment industry is gradually reviving

The Estonian media and entertainment sector is showing signs of recovery. The 2023 state culture budget, approved in December 2022, includes significant salary increases for cultural workers and youth coaches.

Starting from 1 January 2024, Estonia’s VAT rate will increase from 20% to 22%, sparking debates among press publishers. While the VAT for press publications will remain at 5% for 2024, it will rise to 9% from 1 January 2025.

The film industry needs a financial boost, and private broadcasters address fair competition

To support the film industry’s recovery post-COVID-19, the Estonian government allocated an additional EUR 3.4 million to Film Estonia in April 2022, recognising its crucial role in the economy. The launch of the Walt Disney Company’s Disney+ streaming service in July 2022 intensified competition among streaming platforms, both local and international, vying for viewership.

In 2020, Estonian private broadcasters raised concerns about fair competition, particularly regarding the funding of ERR’s online news through the state budget. The European Commission is expected to decide on this issue, following a similar case in Lithuania where the judgement was in favour of the public broadcaster.

In October 2023, the parliament began deliberating on a draft law to regulate hate speech and hate crimes, which will undergo three readings before adoption.