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Friday 24.05.2019 | Name days: Marlēna, Ilvija, Ziedone

Diena reporting false information is nothing new – a bad habit of sorts

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RURecently Finance and Economic Crimes Enforcement Prosecutor’s Office has decided to commence a criminal process against Diena newspaper for possibly intentional defamation of Dr. Rudolf Meroni. This, however, is not the first time when Diena is accused of breaching journalistic principles – publishing information without confirming it.

Diena has confirmed in its withdrawal statement that the journalist responsible for the article had made a mistake and had published untrue information, specifically regarding Rudolf Meroni being made a suspect in a criminal process launched last July.

Apology and subsequent withdrawal of the article by Diena came nearly half a year later, instead of seven days (as required in accordance with Section 21 of the Law on the Press and Other Mass Media). The law also makes it clear that the withdrawal announcement needs to be published in the same font as the one used for reporting false information.

Although authorities had not made Meroni a suspect, Diena said otherwise and thereby misled Latvia’s society.

Media cultivation theory mentions «unification» concept, which, according to communication specialist George Gerbner, describes a process when the diversity of opinions is replaced with some dominant opinion. Unification takes place when the recipient of information accepts reconstructed reality as facts. This means if a media reports misleading information, it distorts society’s understanding of reality.

Some part of Latvia’s population who have read Diena’s misleading article may have got the impression that Meroni is involved in some criminal process and that he will receive a penalty, especially because Diena’s withdrawal cam nearly half a year later and because the withdrawal announcement’s size was insignificant – even Tirgus Diena’s advertisement was two times larger in comparison.

BNN had made multiple attempts to determine Diena’s opinion on all this. But when the author of the misleading article – Guntars Gūte – «recommended» to ask Diena’s chief editor Gatis Madžiņš for answers, no answers were received to any of the requests BNN had sent him.

On top of that, the article that claims Meroni is a suspect still has not been taken off portal. It makes sense that there is no way to pull information from printed newspapers once they have been released, but taking an article off an internet portal is easy. Shouldn’t Diena at least pull information they have admitted being false from the portal? Aside from that, Diena’s Journalist’s Code of Ethics states: «It is the duty of Diena newspaper journalists to quickly and fully correct their mistakes».

It is worth mentioning that the criminal process against Diena was launched in accordance with Section 157 of the Criminal Law for defamation in mass media, which is punishable with temporary deprivation of liberty or community service, or a fine.

Although the Criminal Law is nothing new in Latvia, it had not prevented Diena from reporting misleading information in the past. In 2010, LNT sued Diena for reporting false information about LNT and its management.

Looking at the more distant past it is revealed that in 2005 Diena’s name appears in relation to court processes. reported on it at the time: «Chairperson of Latvia’s Sworn Bailiffs Council Inga Čepjolkina submitted a plea to Riga Zemgale Suburb Court against Diena, lawyer Diāna Krūmiņa-Vaidava, businessman Gatis Saknītis and Raivo Sārts. The plea detailed the request to withdraw false and defamatory information and pay compensation.»

Čepjolkina said at the time that statements published in the article are «made-up facts». Additionally, the article had also ruined her reputation.

The court then ordered Diena and its journalist to withdraw four published articles. The court also enforced compensation of LVL 5,000 (EUR 7,114) from Sārts for defaming Čepjolkina.

Two cases should’ve been enough to understand that spreading false information could (and often does) lead to criminal prosecution.

As previously reported, Finance and Economic Crimes Enforcement Prosecutor’s Office has decided to commence a criminal process against Diena newspaper for possibly intentional defamation of Dr. Rudolf Meroni.

The criminal case was launched in relation to reporting defamatory information in Diena newspaper, as well as social networks Facebook and Twitter.

If Diena is found guilty, the media will face temporary deprivation of freedom, community service or fine.

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