Although press freedom is guaranteed on the legal and political levels, journalists face the risk of self-censorship due to anti-defamation legislation and cyber-bullying.
Subject to consolidation over the last decade, the Estonian media market now features two major media houses (Postimees Group and Ekspress Group), public broadcaster ERR, local media, and a number of independent online outlets. Russian-speaking media, including a public TV channel, public and private radio stations, as well as independent websites cater to the Russian-speaking minority that makes up 25% of the population.
The political environment has been characterized by a relative neutrality towards journalism and few verbal attacks, which has contributed to journalists being able to hold politicians accountable without fear of persecution.
Although constitutionally guaranteed, media freedom is constrained by legislation protecting against defamation and disclosure of private data. While the fear of defamation lawsuits may lead to self-censorship, the laws protecting private data have recently become a pretext of Estonian authorities to increasingly restrict media’s access to public information. The ethical framework for journalists is codified by the Association of Media Companies and by most media organizations separately.
Media ownership in Estonia is so concentrated that it can be considered an oligopoly. The owners of the two major media groups also have stakes in other business sectors. Estonian private media are operating within a small market with limited access to funding, which constrains them to looking for new revenue sources such as organizing events. The budget for public broadcasting is increasingly limited and may be subject to political influence.
Although no long-term cultural or societal constraints have prevented journalists from doing their job, the media were accused by a part of the population of complacency with the authorities and pharmaceutical companies during the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, journalists suffered online and offline verbal attacks.
While physical attacks against them are extremely rare, journalists have been exposed to a growing number of online threats by private individuals, the most severe cases being reported to the police and investigated. The media houses have deployed measures to better protect journalists, but in the context of lacking systematic psychological assistance, cyberbullying may have a self-censorship effect on journalists.