Baltic Media in Transition
Baltic Media in Transition, Peeter Vihalemm, ed. Tartu: Tartu University Press, 2002. 304 pp.
Montesquieu would be surprised (and perhaps even disappointed) by contemporary political observations that mass media, especially electronic mass media, are forming a fourth political branch, although it lacks any checks and balances. Such observations can be made in both established democracies such as the United States and those in Western Europe, as well as in the new NATO and EU candidate countries with post-Communist experience. A group of authors-political scientists, media experts, and officials from the Baltic countries-attempted to make sense of the media’s transition in recent decades in their respective countries. For this reason, Baltic Media in Transition is particularly interesting to read, because it deals with the role, power, and change of mass media in the three Baltic countries.
Among the three countries, Estonia is covered most extensively in this book; six of eight chapters deal with the mass media in that country, while only one chapter each is devoted to the media situation in Latvia and Lithuania. The authors try to cover many aspects related to the role of the media in the Baltics, which is both a strength and a weakness of the book. The Estonian part of the book has separate chapters dealing with print media, television, and radio. A chapter on the particular role of the mass media in Russia is also included. An influential force, the Russian-language mass media in the Baltics frequently plays the role of non-governmental organization (NGO), political party, and private business at the same time. Since Estonia and Latvia began their integration programs in the late 1990s, questions about the common information space for both majority and minority communities became an issue tackled by increasing numbers of conferences, seminars, and research activities. Boasting smaller numbers, the Russian-language print media remain the only media for many native Russian speakers in the Baltics who, until recently, have not obtained conversational skills in the languages of their host countries. This book also offers information on current mass media legislation in Lithuania and Estonia. For readers who are not as familiar with recent political history of the Baltics, this book provides insights and a chronology of the “Singing Revolution” that shocked the world with its re-establishment of democracy and independence in the Baltic region. For political scientists still in love with transition theories, this book gives the opportunity to revive dusty theories that probably will never be fully applicable to the Baltic states.
On the topic of gender issues, Latvian female readers appear to be in love with reading, particularly magazines. Currently, Latvia has more than ten highquality, women-oriented magazines, compared with one magazine targeting male readers. This book does not answer the question of who is responsible for such a discrepancy.
Overall, Baltic Media in Transition covers a large number of media issues in the Baltics, especially its responsibility in shaping public opinion. The authors make a praiseworthy attempt to discuss the role of the mass media in the increasingly interconnected world, and in the small Baltic environment just at the end of its transition period. They also comparatively analyze all three Baltic countries, despite the obvious misbalance in material devoted to each of them. Baltic Media in Transition is a valuable source of information to any reader interested in the Baltic region. It provides a good number of tables, graphs, and other graphics for humanities students desperate to get data for their theses. The authors are obviously in love, if not with their countries, then at least with their countries’ mass media. The Montesquieu question about mass media becoming an unchecked fourth political branch, however, remains unanswered.
Vidzeme University College Valmiera, Latvia
Copyright HELDREF PUBLICATIONS Fall 2003
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