Cablegate: Latvian Media: Two Separate Worlds


DE RUEHRA #0186/01 0681415
R 091415Z MAR 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) SUMMARY: Latvian media exists in two parallel spheres, based
on language, which media experts refer to as the "two information
spaces". This media segmentation tends to reinforce existing
ethnic-based differences in Latvian public opinion, and creates some
challenges for Latvia's leadership. The media division is based not
only on language but also on reporting styles and on content. The
Russian-language media in Latvia is largely influenced by broadcast
media received from Moscow. Latvian-language media more closely
approximates Western reporting standards and differs noticeably from
the Russian-language media that tend to be more reflective of old
Soviet journalism and with no clear line between news and opinion.
The press in Latvia tends to be passive and conducts little
investigative journalism, although this is slowly beginning to
change. Embassy press releases are often reprinted in full as the
complete story. Reaching the widest possible audience in Latvia
requires a media strategy that bridges the linguistic divide and
that connects with multiple media outlets. Reaching a particular
target audience, on the other hand, entails focus on media that
appeals to that segment of the Latvian population. END SUMMARY

Print media

2. (U) To reach decision makers at the national level, the preferred
sources would be mainstream quality newspapers like Latvian-language
Diena, Neatkariga Rita Avize and Russian-language Telegraf. To
reach the countryside audience Latvijas Avize and regional
newspapers are preferred. Seniors who speak Russian prefer the
"retro-communist" newspaper Vesti Sevodnya. To attract the largest
numbers with a human interest story, the women's weekly magazine
Ieva or the celebrity journal Privata Dzive (Private Life) are the
preferred venues.

2. (U) Diena, owned by Scandinavian media giant Bonnier, is the most
widely read and influential newspaper among the political and social
elite in Latvia, with a circulation of 70,000, but an actual
readership of an estimated 360,000. Some even refer to this
centrist newspaper as a political party in its own right because its
commentaries are written by the most seasoned columnists. Diena
tends to be pro-U.S. on major foreign policy issues including NATO
membership and Latvian involvement in Iraq, and progressive on
social issues.

3. (U) The closest competitors are the daily Latvijas Avize with a
circulation of 90,000 mostly in the countryside, and Neatkariga Rita
Avize in urban areas, circulation 40,000. Both papers are
politically and socially conservative and are owned by the oil
export company Ventspils Nafta in the western Latvian city of
Ventspils. Neatkariga Rita Avize tends to be staunchly
nationalistic, opposed to major US and NATO foreign policy
initiatives, and conservative on social issues. Latvijas Avize
reports on national and local news and rarely addresses
international news in any depth.

4. (U) Telegraf is the only Western-style Russian-language newspaper
in Latvia and is the sole Russian-language paper to adhere to
professional standards of journalism. Since Latvia joined the EU,
Telegraf has devoted more effort to explaining domestic affairs
instead of parroting Moscow's perspectives. Telegraf tends to
report facts and not repeat rumors as news. They are generally
balanced in their reporting of US foreign policy and progressive on
social issues.

5. (U) Glossy gossip magazines garner the highest readership and
sales. The most popular publications in Latvia are both Latvian and
Russian-language women's magazines or weekly human-interest type
newspapers or supplements. Ieva, Santa, Ljublju, and Subotta are
just a few examples. Privata Dzive magazine stays on top of the
news, approaching issues from the angle of "personality." If your
picture is not published in Privata Dzive, your star doesn't shine
in Latvia's social, political or economic life. The content divide
between Latvian and Russian publications in this market niche is the
smallest, though Russian glossy magazines tend to feature a lot of
articles about Russian and Moscow stars.

6. (U) Latvia's print media landscape is diverse and includes many
specialized monthly magazines aimed at various target
audiences-female and male readers, teenagers, artists, music fans,
architecture lovers, philosophers, television "addicts" and other
groups. The "quality" news magazines, unfortunately, have not found
their market niche yet.

Broadcast Media

7. (U) The two most popular nightly news shows are Latvian
Independent Television's news, which is broadcast at 8:00 p.m. and
Latvian National Television's news show "Panorama", which is
broadcast at 8:30 p.m. Both are broadcast in Latvian language but
are popular news sources among politically aware Russians as well.
Most of the general Russian population, however, spends quite a bit
of time watching channels from Moscow that are available via cable
for a relatively small monthly fee. The Russian channels tend to
broadcast Moscow news programs directly from Russia without any
focus on Latvian news perspectives, as well as Moscow-centric
programs, live entertainment shows, and old Russian films.

8. (U) Locally produced analytical TV programs are weak, with the
exception of Janis Domburs's political talk show "Kas notiek
Latvija?" (What is happening in Latvia?) on Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m.
It features contentious debates among politicians and government
officials on "hot" issues, akin to American Sunday talk shows.

9. (U) De Facto, a news program in the "60 Minutes" style
investigative journalism, is broadcasted on Sunday evenings. The
program generates positive discussion among those who are
predisposed to support the revelations uncovered by the reporters
but is dismissed as rumor mongering among the subjects of the
broadcast stories. De Facto was the subject of a recent dispute
between the journalists and the management of Latvian state
television allegedly over the station's choice of the reporter hired
to replace a journalist who is on maternity leave. The news team
considered moving the program to an independent television station.
For the time being at least, De Facto is still broadcast on state
television with only three journalists.

10. (U) Latvian National Radio remains the leading source of news
and information, but in Riga several private stations have managed
to attract a competitive audience. Some stations, like Radio SWH,
are making a real effort to develop their news departments with
serious content. Private stations nonetheless still lag behind
Latvian National Radio's morning news, generally listened to by
people driving to work.

11. (U) Radio has gone the farthest in bridging the language divide
that characterizes the Latvian media. In particular, Latvian
National Radio 4 programming has the unofficial nickname "the
integration program" because it tries systematically to inform
Russian-speakers about local news and to counter Moscow news in a
constructive way.


12. (U) The existence of the two parallel media spheres means that
public opinion develops in parallel spheres as well, creating
certain dilemmas for Latvia's leadership in communicating with the
populace and implementing policies which benefit from broad support
across the population. The Russian speaking, usually non-citizen
and somewhat older population looks to the east for their
information and forms their opinion based on what Moscow says. This
is particularly important in bilateral relations concerning the
treatment of ethnic Russians in Latvia. The Russian language press
regularly lambastes the government over this issue, even if not all
ethnic Russians consider the situation as stark as the media's
portrayal. The Latvian language press, on the other hand, tends to
take a more nationalistic approach and downplays claims that the
human rights of ethnic Russians in Latvia are infringed upon. In
general, both the Latvian and Russian press tend to reinforce the
existing opinions and prejudices of their readership, rather than
building bridges across what remains a substantial cultural divide.

© Scoop Media

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