Country report - Latvia September 2015

30.09.2015 09:27

Saeima dismisses head of broadcast regulator

In an extraordinary session held on 8th of July, Saeima decided to dismiss Ainārs Dimants, head of the National Electronic Mass Media Council (NEPLP). The other members of the board remain in their posts. Dimants told that he'll turn to the Constitutional court to overturn the decision. NEPLP is not only media regulator, but as well is also in overall charge of the funding of public broadcasting in Latvia. 50 MPs voted for dismissing Dimants, 8 voted against but 3 abstained. President of Latvia Raimonds Vējonis that the decision to sack Dimants was "wrong", and said that it endangers the democratic values of Latvia. The proceedings for firing the NEPLP started on June 17th when leaders of four Saeima factions, including the leading Unity party, the Regional Alliance Party and the Greens and Farmers Alliance filed a submission for the dismissal of the NEPLP, criticizing it for inefficient spending, increasing Russian programming on the radio, and 'losing face'. 

The National Electronic Mass Media Council reassigns Council’s duties

The National Electronic Mass Media Council has elected Deputy Chairwoman Aija Dulevska as the Acting Chairwoman until a fifth Council member is selected. The Council agreed on the responsibilities the existing Council members will have until the fifth Council member is elected. Member Ivars Zviedris is set with monitoring the commercial local and regional audio-visual electronic mass media industry and keeping tabs on cable television and electronic mass media services by demand industry. Dainis Mjartāns monitors state-owned limited liability company "Latvijas Radio" and commercial audio electronic mass media industry. Dulevska keeps track of the commercial national and foreign audio-visual electronic mass media industry, and is responsible for developing draft amendments to the Electronic Mass Media Law, according to the 2012-2017 National Development Strategy of the Electronic Mass Media Industry. For her part, Dace Ķezbere has been assigned to monitor state-owned limited liability company "Latvijas Televīzija".

Developments in the electronic mass media industry

TV tender on the diaspora topic

The Council verified the results of the tender "Creation of Television Shows and Programs with Topic: Latvian Diaspora” in 2015, and the winner was the Irish-Latvian company
IMLO Lat-Ireland Ltd., whose idea was to produce seven shows on Latvian developments in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The total funding for the tender is EUR 23 000. Its aim is to support electronic mass media and producers in Latvian diaspora countries, and to support preparation of shows and programs on diaspora produced in Latvian diaspora countries with the aim to increase their availability to diaspora and to the Latvian community at home.

The National Electronic Mass Media Council stresses the necessity to strengthen the use of the Latgalian language in electronic mass media

The National Electronic Mass Media Council approved amendments to the 2012-2017 National Development Strategy of the Electronic Mass Media Industry, focusing on the necessity to ensure public procurement shows in the Latgalian language, as well as to implement a mass media program for Latgale Region. An important prerequisite for the said goal is a joint regional multimedia studio of the state-owned limited liability companies "Latvijas Radio" and "Latvijas Televīzija", and its operations in Latgale. The joint Latgale studio will serve as a pivot for creating and spreading regional content on both radio and TV, as well as online. Furthermore, special attention will be paid to audiences that are within Russia's informative space. The Council has submitted a Saeima request to allocated funds from the 2016 budget.

Decision made to yank  OTV from free digital broadcasting

The Council decided to scratch "Ogres Televīzija" limited liability company (OTV television channel) from the list of digital television programs for end users, taking into account information from state-owned joint-stock company "Latvia State Radio and Television Centre” (LVRTC) on termination of agreement with "Ogres Televīzija" ahead of schedule. The decision was taken due to the significant debt OTV has accumulated for the broadcasting services it received. Agreeing with OTV on a deadline for debt repayment that would satisfy both parties was unsuccessful. Thus, as of July 2 this year, there are four free digital television channels in Latvia.

Tender for a fifth free TV program

The Council announced a tender on handing over the public procurement share to a commercial electronic mass media that produces television programs. The objective is for Latvian residents to watch another free digital TV channel. According to the endorsed tender rules, the new TV programs must focus on promoting an active lifestyle. The average daily broadcasting time of the candidate's program cannot be below 18 hours, while 20 percent of the weekly broadcasting time must consist of shows in the official state language. The tender is open from January 1 until December 31 this year, with an option to extend the agreement for another two years. The expected funding for 2016 is EUR 348,603.  A similar funding is planned also for the next two years; however, it can be reduced according to the total budget allocated for the execution of public procurement.

Amendments to the law

The Council proposes to exempt online radio from taxes

Taking into account the online radio does not use the limited state resource – radio frequencies – the National Electronic Mass Media Council believes it should be exempt from state tax payments. The Council prepared amendments to Cabinet regulations, stipulating that Internet radio stations are exempt from state taxes. At the moment, when registering an online radio station in Latvia, the fee is EUR 3000, which in a majority of the cases is not consistent with the business model and revenue of such stations. The purpose of this is to make sure that Internet radios register their business. At the moment, many Internet radio stations are working practically illegally, the reason being the steep state fee. Before turning against non-registered Internet radio service providers, they should be first offered an opportunity to register their business in a sensible way.

The Council draws up amendments to the law on electronic media owners

The National Electronic Mass Media Council has prepared amendments to the Electronic Mass Media Law, stipulating the Council's authority in a case of registration of a mass media or change of owners. The amendments were prepared with the objective: ensuring media freedom and diversity, at the same time stipulating the Council's rights when deciding on the issuing of broadcasting and rebroadcasting permits or registration of electronic mass media, to evaluate compliance of the permission issuing or registration process with the Electronic Mass Media Law, 2012-2017 National Development Strategy of the Electronic Mass Media Industry, and ensuring a variety of mass media, as well as to evaluate the compliance of an owner of an electronic mass media (including the actual beneficiary) with the Electronic Mass Media Law (at the moment, the Law does not stipulate such rights). Amendments to the Electronic Mass Media Law stipulate that a person who wishes to acquire or increase a significant influence in a mass media, at first provides the National Electronic Mass Media Council with an application on acquisition or increase of influence. In order to ensure an efficient execution of duties of disclosure of owners (to the level of a physical person, actual beneficiary) on the mass media's part, the law stipulates that the National Electronic Mass Media Council is responsible for declining registration of an electronic mass media, issuing of a broadcasting or rebroadcasting permit, as well as acquisition or increase of significant influence, in case information about the owner (to the level of a physical person, actual beneficiary) is not submitted to the Council, or is false.