Index relies entirely on the support of donors and readers to do its work.
Help us keep amplifying censored voices today.
In the 28 years since Lithuania gained independence, the country’s media has generally enjoyed high levels of freedom. The country’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and those protections have been respected by successive governments. However, while initiatives by the country’s current ruling coalition haven’t seen the press attacked on the same levels as neighbouring Poland, for example, the government’s resolve is clear: the media must be reined in.
Index spoke with the chairman of the country’s Journalists Union, Dainius Radzevicius about the situation media workers now find themselves in.
Linas Jegelevicius: How would you rate the level of press freedom in Lithuania right now?
Dainius Radzevicius: The ruling Farmers and Greens Party (LVZS), in coalition with the Social Democratic Party of Lithuania, has risen to power as part of the wave of the anti-establishment parties sweeping the West. This coalition has declared the need for more regulation of the media. For example, it has attempted to push through legislation that, if enacted, would have required a 50/50 balance for negative and positive content in the media. It was proposed by the MP Dovile Sakaliene, but she withdrew it after a public outcry. Another MP from LVZS, Robertas Sarknickas, has sought tougher legislative action against the so-called “romanticising” of suicides (he believes that media shouldn’t specify how a person died). Initiatives by the ruling party aimed at regulating media are undoubtedly the biggest concern for journalists. It is likely that we will see more initiatives of this kind in Lithuania.
The second threat to media freedom in Lithuania stems from the determination of authorities, especially those at the municipal level, to control the information that reaches local readers, viewers and listeners.
I see journalists being increasingly barred from accessing certain events, such as those held in state institutions. Recently, journalists in the Gargzdai municipality were denied the right to attend a meeting with the municipality heads and the prime minister, Saulius Skvernelis. It is an abnormal situation when the mayors’ advisors are given exclusive access to information. The mayor’s advisors video-streamed the meeting and posted the news on Facebook. This is an increasing trend in Lithuania, where journalists are being bypassed in the preparing and disseminating of information.
Thirdly, I see the trend of journalists being too complacent with the position of the publishers and the structures behind them and tend to avoid criticising certain political and business entities and so on. In doing so, they feel safe job-wise. This self-censorship is especially prevalent among older, as well as young, inexperienced journalists.
Jegelevicius: Do you foresee more threats to media freedom in Lithuania in the future? Specifically, are there any controversial legislative initiatives on the agenda in the upcoming autumn session of parliament?
Radzevicius: Those initiatives tend to pop up out of the blue as a rule. From what I can see, after reviewing the autumn session draft agenda, there is a draft law on state support for the media, the intention of which is rather obscure so far. I am concerned that state authorities will be entrusted with the distribution of funds. Being aware of the processes, I just cannot rule that out. If this happens, it will deal another big blow to media freedom in Lithuania. I especially worry that freelancers and independent media content producers would be affected by it. The model of state support that existed until now was not ideal, but it was pretty fair, including to freelancers.
Jegelevicius: There have been several cases of closure of Russian TV news channels by Lithuanian authorities. What is your take on the issue? Does the removal of NTV Mir and RTR Planeta off the air for six months count as media violations?
Radzevicius: I want to emphasise that the measures were taken after multiple violations occurred. No state puts up with warmongering and instigating of enmity and disseminating of propaganda. The repetitive violations by the Russian TV channels were reviewed by different Lithuanian media supervision bodies, as well as by the European Commission, before the decision was made to shut them down. Note that suspension of the broadcasting is for a limited period (6 months), after which the channels can resume the license. A big portion of their content had very little to do with journalism – the local viewers were awash with propaganda ordered in Moscow. Many problems of the kind would be solved if all the states, including Russia, would pass laws and ratify international conventions that would allow journalists to work independently and bar states from using journalists as propaganda tools.
Jegelevicius: How does Lithuania compare with other European countries in terms of press freedom?
Radzevicius: We indeed have very few violations but I believe some go unreported. With 28 years as an independent state, the majority of the ruling coalitions have understood the importance of media freedom to democracy and to the checking of legislative, judicial and governmental powers in the country. The fact that the parties tend to change after serving their term in Lithuania has also been an important factor for media freedom.
Jegelevicius: Lithuania holds municipal council, presidential and European Parliament elections next year. There is a worry that unfriendly states such as Russia will meddle with them, including attempts to influence the media. Financially unstable media outlets are especially prone to such acts. Will the authorities step in and regulate the process during the sensitive election period?
Radzevicius: I have no doubt that our state authorities, including the State Security Department, are very well aware of what to expect. Indeed, we live in a small country with a pretty small media market, all of which makes it easier to monitor what is going on. From the point of view of journalism, transparency is the best remedy to guarantee that the elections are violation-proof.[/vc_column_text][vc_raw_html]JTNDaWZyYW1lJTIwd2lkdGglM0QlMjI3MDAlMjIlMjBoZWlnaHQlM0QlMjIzMTUlMjIlMjBzcmMlM0QlMjJodHRwcyUzQSUyRiUyRm1hcHBpbmdtZWRpYWZyZWVkb20udXNoYWhpZGkuaW8lMkZzYXZlZHNlYXJjaGVzJTJGOTAlMkZtYXAlMjIlMjBmcmFtZWJvcmRlciUzRCUyMjAlMjIlMjBhbGxvd2Z1bGxzY3JlZW4lM0UlM0MlMkZpZnJhbWUlM0U=[/vc_raw_html][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1532934432548-8a5b26e4-acf4-5″ taxonomies=”6564″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
RTR Planeta, a Russian language channel broadcasting in Lithuania, has repeatedly run into conflict with the country’s television regulator.
In December, the Lithuanian Radio and Television Commission ordered RTR Planeta to be moved to paid TV packages after it broadcast material that the agency said instigated racial hatred and warfare. The programme in question was the 29 November episode of Sunday Evening with Vladimir Solovyov, which discussed the downing of a Russian plane by the Turkish airforce.
Russian MP Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who was a guest on the programme, said Turkish people were “a nation of wild barbarians,” and said that Turkey should be “brought to its knees” through military attacks.
“We need an air raid on any part of Turkey (…), the Turkish army must be destroyed,” said Zhirinovsky.
This is the second time the programme has prompted the regulator to take action. In April 2015, RTR Planeta was blocked from broadcasting for three months for allegedly “inciting discord and warmongering” over the conflict in Ukraine.
The content in question included a tirade against the Baltic countries by ultra-nationalist Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky on the Sunday Evening With Vladimir Solovjev programme. Zhirinovsky said that Poland and the Baltic states would be “wiped out” should a war break out between Russia and NATO.
Although Lithuanian politicians and media experts agreed on the inflammatory nature of RTR Planeta content, especially the comments made by Zhirinovsky, some media pundits have expressed doubt over the decision to shut the channel down for three months. It resumed broadcasting on 13 July 2015.
In April, Audris Matonis, news service director at Lithuania’s national LRT broadcaster, rejected criticism that the ban was excessive and amounted to censorship. He insisted that “all should realise that what they’re advocating is non-compliance with Lithuanian law”.
But Gintautas Mazeikis, director of the Political Theory Department at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, took issue when speaking to Delfi.lt. “Do we want and seek diplomatic and other means to influence Russian channels, or are we only trying to co-operate with cable TV service providers so they change their packages and broadcast more Polish or Ukrainian TV?” he said. “Do we want to explain and encourage critical thinking among speakers of Ukrainian, Belarusian, Russian and Polish who live in Lithuania?”
Aidas Puklevičius, a journalist and author, insisted that the broadcast ban may not have been the best decision and reasoned that the situation should improve once the generation of people who speak only Russian as a foreign language gives way to one which is more fluent in English.
“Russia will then lose its only vehicle for exporting soft power, something it has very little of,” Puklevičius said to Delfi.it. “Russia did not invent Pepsi Cola, nor jeans, nor Hollywood. Russia’s only strength is its ability to play on Soviet nostalgia.”
Media professionals in Lithuania have increasingly found themselves taking sides in the Ukraine conflict.
“Unfortunately, Russia-Ukraine warfare has become part of journalism in Lithuania and not surprisingly, all the Lithuanian news, except for some reports on the State Lithuanian TV, are concerned with the same issue: how atrocious the Kremlin-backed Russian insurgents are and how courageous the Ukrainians are,” a Lithuanian journalist, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, told Index on Censorship. “Why is it happening? In any warfare, you’d expect analysis and different points of view, but none of it could be found on Lithuanian TV.”
The journalist said he had stopped watching Lithuanian TV news and has switched to German TV channels which air many different views on the conflict.
In January 2015, Dainius Radzevicius, the chairman of Lithuania’s Union of Journalists, wrote a commentary piece in which he said “polarisation of the media is something we all have to admit is happening, and it has been very palpable for the last couple of years not only in the Lithuanian media but elsewhere too”.
Radzevicius said the problem began as a result of economic conditions, but it is fueled by the geopolitical situation, including the conflict in Ukraine.
“Against this backdrop, we may now have less of a variety of opinions on the radio waves, the TV screens or the newspaper pages; but it is necessary to resist the powerful and obtrusive propaganda coming from the East, therefore, what I call our ‘white propaganda’ is necessary during the times,” he said in the piece.
Mapping Media Freedom
Lithuania has banned a Russian TV channel for “inciting discord, warmongering [and] spreading disinformation” according to the country’s media regulator.
RTR Planeta, the international broadcasting service for the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK), a powerful state run media empire that operates more than a dozen TV channels and radio stations, will be taken off the air after alleged “incitements to hatred” during the Sunday Evening With Vladimir Solovjev program.
“This program has repeatedly spread such information, therefore its broadcast was suspended for three months,” Birute Kersiene, a spokesperson for the Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania told AFP.
According to Euro News, which is part-owned by RTR Planeta’s parent company, VGTRK, one bone of contention was the continued presence of firebrand, ultra-nationalist Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky who is know for his inflammatory statements on Solovjev’s show.
Last year he was, according to Lithuanian media reports, quoted in an interview with Rossiya 24 as saying: “The Baltic States, Poland – they are doomed. They will be swept away. Nothing will remain there. They should sober up, the leaders of these dwarf nations … Eastern European countries are exposing themselves to, shall I say, the danger of complete annihilation.”
VGTRK is run by one Oleg Dobrodeev, a staunch Putin ally who was appointed chairman in 2000, the same year Putin came to power. “Dobrodeev was one of the founding members of the independent NTV Channel, but under Putin drastically changed his attitude to independent television in Russia,” wrote Oleg Panfilov, a dissident Russian journalist in his 2005 paper titled Putin and the Press: The Revival of Soviet-style Propaganda for London based think tank The Foreign Policy Centre. “Dobrodeev started to consolidate all state provincial television and radio companies, thus creating a massive and powerful propaganda network.”
The ban is the latest move in a rapidly cooling media environment in the Baltic States, where significant numbers of Russian speakers live and whom get most of their news from Russian sources. To counter what they see as pro-Russian propaganda, the three countries – with the help of the European Union – have vowed to set up supposedly impartial Russian language TV stations.
Whilst Russia has frequently been accused by international media watchdogs for its restrictions on the freedom of the press, governments from the Baltic states have responded by threatening suspensions of TV stations and banning prominent pro-Russian journalists, politicians and even singers from entering their borders.
On 9 March a coalition of press freedom groups including the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers and the World Press Freedom Committee decried the potential banning of Russian language TV stations in Lithuania. “While we do understand that the objection to their broadcasts is that in the current tense situation in Eastern Europe they are seen as propagandistic and polemical, we view their banning as the wrong approach to counteracting their messages,” they wrote in a letter to Lithuania’s president. “Not only is this in contradiction with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international free speech standards, but we also consider such bans to be counterproductive.”
If any ban was put into effect, the letter continued, they “would almost inevitably be seized upon by the Russian authorities to justify bans on broadcasts by independent news media from other countries”.
But the RTR Planeta ban was confirmed anyway, causing further complications as the station is registered in Sweden, an EU state. The EU has strict rules regulating broadcast freedoms.
When contacted by the Index on Censorship before the ban was announced, the Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania stated that they had contacted their Swedish counterparts about RTR Planeta and reaffirmed their belief that RTR Planeta had broken EU broadcasting rules.
While Article 3 of the EU’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive strictly prohibits the banning of retransmitted programmes, Lithuania’s regulator pointed to Article 6, which states that EU countries must ensure no programmes “contain any incitement to hatred based on race, sex, religion or nationality.”
“It is the first time in the history of the European Union that a regulatory body has taken the decision to take the whole channel completely off-air,” the chairman of Lithuania’s media regulator, Edmundas Vaitiekunas, told Euro News. “Maybe someone will argue over the subtleties of the case, but we think that we addressed all the legal criteria.”
The ban is due to come into effect on 13 April.
This article was posted on 9 April, 2015 at indexoncensorship.org
A coalition of international press freedom organisations has hit out at a move to force some Russian “government-controlled” TV stations off Lithuanian airwaves.
Lithuania’s Committee on Radio and Television is reportedly considering, at the request of the government, to ban two Russian television channels from broadcasting to the Baltic country.
The channels in question — RTR Planeta and NTV Mir Lithuania — have in the past been handed down temporary suspensions of specific programs, according to the commission head Edmundas Vaitiekunas.
“If a ban is imposed on the whole channel due to repeated violations, I believe it should be longer … I believe it should be up to one year,” Vaitiekunas added in comments to the Baltic News Service earlier this year.
Russian state-owned media such as RT (formerly Russia Today), has come under fire for alleged distortion of facts in the their coverage, especially in relation to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.
In a letter this week to the Lithuanian President, media freedom organisations including the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers and the World Press Freedom Committee, argued that while they understand the objection to certain Russian broadcasts in “the current tense situation”, they consider a ban to be counterproductive and in contradiction of international free speech standards.
“If put into effect, bans on broadcasts across frontiers would almost inevitably be seized upon by the Russian authorities to justify bans on broadcasts by independent news media from other countries,” the letter states.
“It is an established conviction in free societies that the best answer to bad speech is more speech. We can see from the reaction to recent events in Moscow that there is a large public that is open to arguments, news reports and information to counteract official propaganda. The risk should not be taken to cut off such audiences from the free flow of information from outside their borders,” the group added.
This article was posted on Wednesday March 11 2015 at indexoncensorship.org