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Cablegate: Are Politicians Trying to Control the Public Media In

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PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHRA #0561/01 2081520
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 271520Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY RIGA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4219
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

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SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM LG
SUBJECT: Are politicians trying to control the public media in
Latvia?

1. Summary: Recent developments in the news service of Latvian
National Television (LTV), in particular the downgrading of the
director of a weekly analytical and investigative news program "De
Facto" to a lower-responsibility position, raise concern about
seeming desire of some politicians to censor and control public
media that criticizes the ruling coalition. This latest move follows
other actions widely viewed as politicized attempts to control LTV
news products. These speculations of political interference were
further fueled by an interview with former-PM Andris Skele who said
that "public media should reflect public opinion" and public opinion
should mirror the outcome of the most recent elections -- in which
his People's Party (TP) did the best. It is too early to call this
an organized assault on the public media, but it is worrying and
something that post will monitor closely as it develops. End
summary.

2. In June, the deputy head of LTV issued a decision to downgrade
Arta Giga, director of the weekly analytical and inestigative news
program "De Facto," for broadcasting an uncensored word and
exceeding the show's time slot. Giga has not accepted the downgrade
and has appealed the administration's decision. The case will be
reviewed by a dispute committee in the fall.

3. Giga's downgrading raised concern of political experts and local,
as well as international media organizations. The Latvian
Association of Journalists published an open letter stating that
"[Giga's] downgrade is one of the attempts to weaken and finally
ruin the LTV news service made by the administration of the LTV over
the last two years...it raises concern about possible political
pressure on public mass media." "Reporters Without Borders" also
issued a statement saying, "We are very disturbed by this
transfer... it is a disproportionate response to minor offences, one
that seems to reflect an underlying desire to restrict investigative
journalists' access to popular programs." Latvian media and
political experts also expressed concern. Dita Araja, deputy
editor-in-chief of the public policy portal www.politika.lv believes
that "[these d]evelopments are [part of] a targeted campaign aimed
at ruining independence of the news service, carried out, most
likely, on behalf of the ruling political parties, as the news
service is more uncomfortable for politicians and not the LTV's
administration."

4. This is not the first time there has been concern about political
interference with LTV news service. In 2005, the National TV and
Radio Council (nominated and approved by parliament) reproached LTV
news service for producing "negative" news. At the time, the head
of the National TV and Radio Council Aivars Berkis (also member of a
coalition party the Union of the Greens and Farmers (ZZS)) stated
that "the nightly prime time news "Panorama" reports too many
negative news stories, and in addition, journalists make their
comments on these broadcasts." A number of leading coalition
figures, including influential Ainars Slesers, leader of Latvia's
First Party (LPP) and Aivars Lembergs, Ventspils Mayor, currently
under charges of corruption, have repeatedly voiced their deep
dissatisfaction with being criticized by LTV' nightly prime time
news "Panorama" and the weekly investigative/analytical "De Facto."


5. More criticism of potential interference came in 2006 when the
network administration replaced the head of the news service by a
candidate not supported by the news service staff, leading to
unhappiness among the staff. In February 2007, the deputy head of
LTV suggested reorganizing the news service, in particular
separating the weekly "De Facto" from the daily news (reporters
currently work on both) without providing any additional resources.
Although these plans were not approved, they were viewed as part of
continued assault on the independence of LTV's news staff.

6. A July 17 interview with former-PM Andris Skele in "Latvijas
Avize" newspaper included a few statements on the role of the public
media that prompted concerns about further attempts of the ruling
coalition to control and censor the public media. In the interview
Skele first states that public television has stepped beyond any
limits, implying that public television was overly critical of the
coalition's presidential candidate Valdis Zatlers . Further, he
revealed his vision on the role of public television: "if you
[public television] receive state funding, then you should broadcast
views according to their proportion in the society... the most
accurate mirror of proportions is the body of the recently elected
parliament, consequently such and such time should be given to
right-wing parties, such and such time to left-wing parties and such
and such time to nationalists." Although Skele does not have any
formal position in government or within People's Party (which
received the largest number of votes ni the last election), he is
among the key players in Latvian politics. (Comment: It is
important to note that his name has been mentioned in relation to a
number of high level bribery and corruption cases investigated and
reported by LTV's news service, particularly "De Facto.")

7. Latvian polls consistently show that the public ranks television
as the most trusted institution and source of information in the
country. By ratings, the most popular television news programs are

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LTV's "Panorama" and "De Facto." "De Facto" earned its reputation by
the disclosure and investigation of an alleged high-level
bribery/vote buying case in the Jurmala City Council, where the
names of influential politicians like Skele and Slesers were
mentioned. For its work on this case "De Facto" and its team have
received official recognition. It was named best program in Latvia
in 2006 and one of its journalists-anchors, Ilze Jaunalksne,
received the State Department's Women of Courage Award for her fight
against political corruption in Latvia.

8. Comment. Over the last two years the ruling coalition has been
criticizing the mass media, in particular LTV's news service, for
not being "objective" when reporting on work of the government and
parliament. That has been followed by several actions which balance
on a thin line between state's authority to control its institutions
and political interference. While politicians everywhere complain
about unfair press coverage, the pattern of activity over the past
two years, the recent downgrading of the head of "De Facto" and the
press interview by Skele suggest that it is possible that the
balance is tipping toward political interference. Most likely that
the situation will not change until the fall as summer holidays have
slowed political and public life. However, new developments are
expected in the fall when politicians and television return to their
usual routine and Giga's case will be reviewed by the dispute
committee. Post will continue to keep a close eye on developments in
this area.

BAILEY

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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