One year ago the Saeima amended the Electronic Mass Media Law, which regulates the work of radio stations in Latvia. It was done after Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and an increase of propaganda in neighbouring countries.
It was the National Security Committee, led by Valdiz Zatlers, which instituted amendments to help better protect Latvia from propaganda and increase the role of Latvian language in radio stations. This meant that radio stations that are allowed to air programmes 50% in Latvian and 50% in Russian would have to air programmes only in Latvian starting with 2016. The previous Saeima had supported this proposal.
Zatlers’ committee especially emphasized that no other proportion would do. If mandatory Latvian language for all radio stations is implemented at 51% (not 50%) nearly half of Latvian radio stations would not be able to air their programmes in foreign languages, because most licences have a very specific 50/50 proportion stated, as reported by Nekā personīga programme.
The 12th Saeima has reopened this law anew this year in order to correct a few proposals of the Latvian Culture Minister. When corrections were all but complete, however, the head of the Union of Greens and Farmers Armands Krauze unexpectedly submitted a correction Valdis Zatlers had warned about one year ago. The leader of UGF wants to make sure the mandatory transition to Latvian language applies only to radio stations in which the language proportion is at least 51%.
«No matter how you look at it, these amendments are not positive in any shape or form. On the one hand it reduces the role of Latvian language in local media and on the other hand – amendments like these could very much increase the influence of media loyal to Russia. What I’m trying to say is that these amendments are not welcome at all,» – comments Culture Minister Dace Melnbarde.
Krauze’s proposal would make life easier for multiple radio stations, which are currently preparing to start airing only in Latvian starting January 2016. Among them are Russian Hits Radio, which is owned by the same people who own European Hits Radio and Super FM – Ugis Pols and Ricards Zakss. Coincidentally, Zakss has donated a total of EUR 22,000 to UGF over the past two years.
The Saeima planned to hold a vote in regards to Krauze’s proposal this week. Prior to the vote, there was a lot of shouting heard behind closed doors in the parliament. Multiple radio stations even launched advertisement campaigns – Ugis Pols’ radio station even defended Krauze’s proposal. SWH, on the other hand, recommended KNAB to look in UGF’s general direction.
Krauze denies planning to help one of his most generous supporters. He adds that this proposal is not meant to benefit Russian speakers. He said the proposal is meant to provide radio listeners with choice.
Latvia-registered Russian Hits Radio broadcasts programmes and music provided by Russian Radio. It is owned by Russian Media Group – one of the largest media holdings in Russia. Ugis Polis claims all ‘malicious’ content coming from Russia is cut from programmes in Latvia.
In order to reinforce the patriotism of Russian listeners, a new media holding is being developed in Russia. It will be based on the Russian Federation’s Goskoncert, which was founded in 1956. It organized performances of Russian artists abroad during the Soviet Era. In Russia, Goskoncert continues organizing festivities, including the 9 May parade and large-scale concerts.
Harmony deputies, UGF and even multiple deputies from the National Alliance voted in favour of Krauze’s proposals. Although there were 82 deputies in the room, 20 abstained from the vote. Even prior to the Saeima meeting some deputies were confused. Some rushed to consult with their colleagues mere minutes before the vote. Others were so angered by SWH’s advertisement that they voted in favour of Krauze’s proposal not to change the media environment, but just to spite everyone else.
Ugis Pols’ radio has turned to the Constitutional Court of Latvia with a complaint against Zatlers’ amendments, saying that they limit the freedom of speech and prohibit the radio station from airing Russian Radio content. The court has accepted the case and has promised to view it at the end of the year or at the beginning of next year.