On Friday I tried to access the Estonian Foreign Ministry's webpage, but it returned an error. The page simply could not be accessed. "Is this another cyber attack?" I thought to myself, scratching my head. But, fortunately, it seems to have been just a temporary outage.
Not that it would have done me any good to visit. The Estonian Foreign Ministry's website is available in Estonian and English, which is nice, but it typically takes days for the English-language updates to be posted after the Estonian ones. In the Estonian-language version, it's already May 31, but in the English-language version, it's still May 27.
This communication problem is, sadly, exemplary of a larger inability of the Estonian government, or indeed, other actors within Estonia, to communicate efficiently outside of the domestic market. Do a search in Google news on "Estonia" at anytime and you are likely to produce material from three sources: American or British press, which relies heavily on news services, like Reuters or AP; more analytical journalism or editorials, typically from the Jamestown Foundation or The Economist; and Russian-state owned propaganda, which covers only two themes: a) Estonian glorification of fascism; b) abuse of the rights of Russophone Estonians.
What is lacking is an Estonian voice in that information space. Other countries that wish to be heard, like Georgia or Poland, have official "news wires" that post information that gets recycled internationally. Estonia has instead decided not to participate in publicly funded information campaigns, and I understand why. Why should Estonia fund state propaganda to tune out Russian state-owned propaganda networks? By acting like them, doesn't that make us just as awful?
I have never believed that counter-propaganda is the answer to the inaccurate nonsense that spews forth from paid hands like Russia Today, who somehow can turn an Estonian communist who died in 1938 into a "Soviet war hero" and not blush. Instead, the only proper avenue in an information war is to saturate the market with more diverse opinions that swamp the primitive messages of the state-owned propaganda dealers.
The problem here can be solved both by creating a more prolific information environment that is geared towards the external media market as well as towards the domestic market, and by some non-governmental actors, especially the press, to do the same.
Perhaps it would sully the liberal reputation of Estonia to release the statements of Prime Minister Andrus Ansip on English-language news wires. But it would not discredit the reputations of partially government-funded think tanks, like the International Center for Defense Studies, to do the same. ICDS publishes a quality journal called Diplomaatia and regularly publishes insightful English-language material. Yet this information is not being disseminated to the extent that it could be.
And what of the Estonian press, that great love-in between the interests of Norway's Schibsted and Hans Hansapoeg Luik? Postimees debuted a Russian-language edition, but couldn't Postimees, Eesti Päevaleht, Äripaev, or Eesti Ekspress, at least circulate on a weekly basis some of their most prescient editorials in the English language? And by no means do they have to stop at English. If the Estonians could penetrate the Francophone, Germanophone, or Swedophone readerships, then the more the merrier.
Look at the Helsingin Sanomat. It has full, English-language international editions with archives going back to 1999. If you want to know about the Finnish position on the cluster bomb ban, go and read, it's all there. Shouldn't Estonia also have something like that? Shouldn't tech-savvy Estonia, with its Skype development office and its Second Life embassy, also have at least one of its newspapers available in an international format?
What do you think?,
(Itching for Eestimaa, palun.blogspot.com pühapäev 1. juuni 2008)
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