Country report – Latvia May 2014

04.10.2014 15:25

1.    Public Service Media – strengthening the area of information of Latvia taking into account the situation in the Latvian media environment in context with extraordinary events in Ukraine

  • Public radio “Latvijas Radio” channel LR4 which is targeted to Russian audience and other minorities in Latvia

The National Electronic Mass Media Council (Council) has asked and the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Latvia decided to grant additional resources from funds for unforeseen events for LR4 broadcasting in border area (border with the Russian Federation and Belarus), because not everywhere in border area the radio station could be heard.

  • Additional funding for public television and public radio for improvement of content in Russian language

Council has asked and The Cabinet of Ministers decided to grant additional resources from funds for unforeseen events for improvement of the content of public media for Russian speaking audience - TV channel LTV7 (every day morning news and every Sunday analytical news in Russian language), radio channel LR4 and (the Latvian Television and Latvian Radio joint news portal). Funding also granted for distribution of content and marketing.

2.    Restricting of the re-broadcastingdecision of the Council on restricting the broadcasting and identified problems in national and international legislation

  • Decision of restricting of the re-broadcasting

On 3 April 2014 Council decided to restrict the rebroadcasting of television channel Rossiya RTR on the territory of Latvia for a period of three months after the decision date. The decision was made in the context of official announcements made by the Latvian Parliament, the Saeima, in March 2014 strongly condemning the action of Russia in the Ukraine.

In its Decision NO. 95, the Council explains and justifies the reason of banning Rossiya RTR. After examining recordings of Rossiya RTR programmes rebroadcast from 2 to 17 March the Council stated that “the information presented on news and other broadcasts clearly and fundamentally violates Articles 26.3 and 26.4 of the Latvian Law on the Electronic Mass Media (LEMM)”. According to these provisions, programmes and broadcasts may not include any call for fomenting of hatred or discrimination against one or more individuals on the basis of gender, race, ethnic origin, nationality, religious belonging or belief, handicap, age or other factors; any call for war or military conflict. The decision is based on Article 19.5.1 of the LEMM stating that the Council ensures the freedom of broadcast reception, as well as the unrestricted rebroadcasting in Latvia of the programmes of the electronic mass media from other countries, except in such cases when the audio or audiovisual broadcasts of another country seriously and fundamentally violate the terms of Articles 24.9, 24.10 and 26 of the law.

The Council also refered to the letter (No. 21/869-IP, 1 April 2014) from the Security Police claiming that “Rossiya RTR, along with other television channels controlled by the Russian Federation, is disseminating tendentious information that has a negative influence on Latvia’s national security interests.”

Based on an analysis of the Law on the Electronic Mass Media, the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as well as similar recent cases in Lithuania, the Decision comes to the conclusion that the temporary banning of the retransmission of Rossiya RTR is legally justified; as the ban is notably deemed necessary to achieve a legitimate aim, proportionate and appropriate when comparing the interference with the rights of the private individual to public interest benefits.

It is interesting to add that prior to issuing this decision, the Latvian National Electronic Media Council organised a discussion panel “Can soft power be defeated by force?” on the restriction of Russian propaganda in Latvia inviting journalists, sociologists and foreign policy experts to express their point of view in this matter on 21 March 2014. Most of invited participants expressed their caution about banning of Russian TV channels. The Chairman of the Council, Mr Ainārs Dimants took an opposing view: “In times of war, state media are like instruments of war and not media in the classical understanding of the word.” All participants agreed that the content of news programmes made in Latvia had to be strengthened in both the Latvian and Russian languages.

  • Proposed changes in the legislation (National legislation and AVMS Directive)

-        National legislation: Council has made the request to the Latvian Parliament, the Saeima (Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee) to make amendments in the Electronic Mass Media Law of Latvia and Latvian Administrative Violations Code. Amendments should provide detailed rights to the Council in cases when the Council determines violations (materials of a pornographic nature; incitement to hatred or discrimination against a person or group of persons on the grounds of sex, race or ethnic origin, nationality, religious affiliation or faith, disability, age or other circumstances; incitement to war or the initiation of a military conflict) and need to restrict the retransmission of channels or programmes of an electronic mass media within the territory of Latvia from other states.

-        AVMS Directive: Council has determined problems of application of the Directive in crisis situations when it is necessary to take urgent decision – unefective communication / collaboration between member states.

To achieve the objectives of the Directive Council of Latvia encourages and will encourage to make amendments to the Directive. The aim of the amendments: ensure that if the channel is primary targeted to some of the Member States, it should be registered in that member state, not in another.

In order to deal with situations where a broadcaster under the jurisdiction of one Member State provides a television broadcast which is wholly or mostly directed towards the territory of another Member State, should be determined those cases:

- When media service provider should follow law of the State where it is registered;

- When media service provider should follow law of the state, where has received media service.

3.    Changes in Free Television broadcasting

Taking into account situation that the owners of the two most viewed /popular TV channels made a decision to leave free of charge television platform from the beginning of 2014, Council had to make urgent decision regarding free up places on such platform.

Council has assigned (tender procedure) part of public service remit to commercial regional mass media for the development of the electronic mass media sector. Council made the decision – additional (to public television channels) in free broadcasting platform will be three new national channels – each with different concept: 1) Regional content; 2) Informative-documentary content; 3) Content for children and youth.

4.    Council has created significant additions to professional standards for discussion programmes – in particular – for programmes before the elections.