Cablegate: Decision On Putin Documentary Raises Censorship Concerns

DE RUEHRA #0898 3411511
P 071511Z DEC 07




SUBJECT: Decision on Putin documentary raises censorship concerns

1. Summary. The decision by Latvian National Television (LTV) to
cancel the planned December 1 broadcast of a documentary "Putin's
System," which is critical of the Russian President, has produced
significant drama and raised questions of censorship. LTV first
claimed that the broadcast was cancelled due to technical problems.
Unofficial sources immediately reported that the cancellation had
been demanded by the Head of the National Radio and TV Council
(NRTC) Abrams Kleckins and the Latvian MFA under pressure from the
Russian Embassy to Latvia. Speculation about possible censorship at
LTV and Russia's role was fueled by contradicting statements by LTV
management a few days later claiming that the documentary was
actually cancelled because of concern about the political reaction.
Kleckins denies that he had asked to cancel the documentary and
announced that he will not respond to the calls of the liberal
media, media experts and a few members the NRTC to step down. Head
of LTV Janis Holsteins announced that he takes responsibility and
submitted a resignation on December 5. End summary

2. A broadcast of the documentary "Putin's System" was scheduled on
National Television channel LTV 7 on December 1, a day before the
parliamentary elections in Russia. According to unnamed press
sources, the Russian Embassy to Riga asked NRTC chair Abrams
Kleckins to cancel the broadcast. It was also reported, again based
on unnamed sources, that the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and
the Prime Minister's Office were involved in cancellation of the
broadcast on behalf of the Russian Embassy in Riga.

3. The Latvian Foreign Affairs Ministry denied that they had placed
any pressure on LTV. Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins stated that
"if the broadcast was cancelled for other than technical reasons, it
was a totally wrong decision. Press freedom is one of the
cornerstones of democracy." However, in a December 5 TV show, MFA
state secretary Penke admitted that he received a call from the
Russian Ambassador and was asked to comment on the content of the
documentary and why it was being shown. Since the Latvian MFA did
not have any information on the program, they called LTV to learn
more. Penke said he exerted no pressure on LTV. The Russian Embassy
to Riga denied that they had been involved in the matter at all.
4. Head of NRTC Abrams Kleckins admitted that he called LTV to "talk
about the documentary," but denied that he exerted any pressure on
LTV. Nevertheless, he voiced his personal stance "I was kind of
relieved when I learned that broadcast is cancelled since it would
have been an unfriendly gesture towards Russia and would have a
negative impact on our relations, in particular on the exchange of
the Border Treaty ratification instruments." According to Kleckins,
"it was good that the documentary was not aired a day before the
elections in Russia since it would have been brainwashing [of
Russian electorate in Latvia]." Liberal media and a number of
experts and politicians have criticized Kleckins' statements and
called for his resignation. However, Kleckins said he does not see
any grounds for stepping down.

5. LTV head Janis Holsteins announced his resignation on December 5.
Holsteins made the move ahead of a scheduled meeting with MPs from a
nationalist political party who sought explanations about why the
documentary was cancelled. Holsteins pointed out that he takes full
responsibility for what happened; adding that he did not foresee the
ensuing uproar.

6. President Zatlers commented on the issue by stating that the
Constitution forbids censorship and that he will always protect the
freedom of speech. Zatlers sent a letter to Kleckins seeking his
explanations on the cancellation.
7. The French documentary by directors Jean Michel Carre and Jill
Emery goes into the controversies surrounding the rise of Putin from
KGB officer to President. Over the past several months the film has
been shown in a number of countries. The documentary was rescheduled
and broadcast on LTV on December 4.
8. Comment. As previously reported, allegations about possible
political censorship in LTV appear regularly. As noted by political
expert Peteris Vinkelis the strong response to such attempts show
that there is democracy and the freedom of speech in Latvia after
all. In that regard, the public discussion of censorship that ensued
from this episode is positive. But the episode also demonstrates
the difficulties inherent in the Latvia-Russia relationship. Even
if the MFA did nothing more than ask about the film in response to
questions from the Russian Embassy, it is very easy to see in the
Latvian context how that would be viewed as political instructions
to pull it.


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