Baltic Media Health Check: "media capture" a key trend in the Baltics

Media companies have been experimenting with different strategies to find new sources of funding in the environment of growing digital and financial pressures, and, in the Baltics, this has led them to expand beyond country borders and single media types. The annual snapshot study Baltic Media Health Check finds that, in 2015-2016, the regional giants and fierce rivals, Eesti Meedia and Ekspress Grupp, that both have their roots in newspaper business, have expanded and diversified their operations and now set the tone across all three Baltic states.

Ekspress Grupp owns the leading online player in all three countries, the Delfi news website. Eesti Meedia, owned by one of the Estonia’s richest men, Margus Linnamäe, has merged its newspaper assets - the most popular Estonian newspaper Postimees and the publisher of regional newspapers Uhinenud Ajalehed. And, after buying the veteran Baltic news agency BNS in 2014, Linnamäe’s investment holding UP Invest acquired Latvia’s biggest news agency LETA.

The study also found remarkable similarities in the current challenges faced by small local papers in Latvia and Estonia. Cash-strapped and losing traditional audiences, local newspapers are also facing the unfair competition from the pseudo-newspapers published by the municipalities and delivered to local residents free of charge. Experts warn against “media capture” in the regions and the threat it poses to quality journalism in smaller communities. In both Estonia and Latvia, civil society is fighting for the change of rules that would restrict publishing activities of local authorities. As one activist put it, if there is no understanding, in the political circles, that the pseudo papers are distorting the market and undercutting quality journalism then “we will soon return to the kind of authorities that informed us during Soviet times.”

Baltic Media Health Check is an annual journalistic snapshot study aimed at measuring the current ‘temperature’ of the media markets in the Baltics, identifying the present trends, leaders and threats, as well as examining the most significant common issues. Conceived and designed by the Baltic Investigative Journalism Centre Re: Baltica in collaboration with the Centre for Media Studies at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga in the aftermath of the financial crisis, Baltic Media Health Check was reassigned to the Baltic Centre for Media Excellence (BCME) in 2016.

Read full study here.

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