The offering of media services is regulated in Estonia by the Media Services Act, the General Part of the Economic Activities Code Act and the Audiovisual Media Services Directive 2010/13/EL. According to Media Services Act, a television or radio channel needs to apply for a activity license to offer its services. A license is not needed to offer on-demand audiovisual media services.
The state supervisory authority is the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority, which is operating in the administrative area of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications. Its one goal is to regulate the market in the field of communications and media.
In the first decade of the 2000s, the European Union has urged that media licenses have to be issued and monitored by an independent regulator and instead of a political body, i.e. the Ministry of Culture. Thus, it was decided in 2013 to move the activities out of the Ministry of Culture and introduce the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority as an independent regulator. However, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications didn’t take from Ministry of Culture over more general media policy-making. The Ministry of Culture is responsible for broadcasting policy and participates in a number of trans-European policy making processes.
The major private television channels have mainly foreign ownership and, as well as major newspapers, are all politically independent. Broadcasting legislation guarantees the independence of media organisations from the state and requires political balance. It also specifies quotas for the share of news and programmes produced by the broadcast organisation itself.
The entire Estonian broadcasting industry includes the Estonian Public Broadcasting, private television and radio stations plus companies that produce television programmes and series for several channels.
Estonian Television and Estonian Radio are united in the Estonian Public Broadcasting (EPB) since June 2007. It is a legal entity governed by public law: the Estonian Public Broadcasting Act. EPB is funded directly from Estonia’s state budget and supervised by the Parliamental Cultural Committee as well as the Broadcasting Council. This council is made up of a panel of independent members as well as one for each political party represented at the Riigikogu.
This means that both bodies have a multi-party line-up, and that they are neither appointed nor instructed by the Estonian government. Their task is to supervise EPB in terms of the use of its finances and resources as well as its mission to inform the Estonian people.
EPB broadcasts three television (one in Russian) and five radio (one in Russian) programmes plus a number of specialised web-portals.
The General Principles of Cultural Policy 2020 (see chapter 1.1) state the following regarding broadcasting:
- The EPB, operating under public law, is an independent and reliable media organisation that reports on a regular basis to the public and to the cultural committee of the Parliament, which evaluates whether the operations of the national public broadcasting organisation are in compliance with the law, the development plan and the public interest. With their activities, the EPB promotes the development of Estonian language and culture, the preservation of cultural diversity, and contributes to the commemoration and preservation of Estonian history and culture;
- The state considers it important that the EPB takes an active part in the creation of culture, among other things resulting in the production of television films and series of historic value on the basis of the works of Estonian authors, recording radio theatre programmes and participation in the co-production of cinema films;
- The EPB has an important role in the preservation of Estonian history and culture in sound and vision and the preservation, restoration and digitalisation of recorded material. The state supports the efforts of the public broadcasting organisation in making public the audio and visual materials available in the archives of the EPB as well as other institutions of historic memory. It is important for the state that people interested in Estonian life, either at home or abroad, have access to the information stream of the public broadcasting organisation. The state supports the development of the public broadcasting organisation on a contemporary level and electronic media platforms.
The Media Pluralism Monitor of 2017 concludes the following for Estonia: “There is major concern in relation to the aspects of social inclusiveness and market plurality. The highest potential risk within the area of social inclusiveness is related to the sustainability of the regional media. For an independent regional newspaper, it is very hard to maintain itself by producing local news in a market where the audience for traditional media is shrinking. There is, basically, one major media outlet serving the most populated areas of the country (i.e, Eesti Meedia). Only a few regions in Estonia have their own independent newspaper or radio station which is not part of a bigger media organization.” (Andres Kõnno; CMPF 2017). The report brings out three aspects which need to be stressed. Firstly, the horizontal and vertical concentration of media ownership has been growing, especially as far as the regional media are concerned. Secondly, the tradition of municipal media is strong all over the country and it offers the ruling parties the opportunity to spread their messages by using public money. And thirdly, municipal media, as a rule, also sell advertising, and this tends to create market distortions.