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Head of powerful Seimas committee: certain media outlets can be stripped of licenses

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Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

In a new twist of the prolonged scandal over the influence of the powerful business holding MG Baltic on Lithuania‘s politics for years through its own television channels LNK, BTV, TV1, Info TV and Liuks!, Vytautas Bakas, chairman of the powerful parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defence (NGSK) in a TV interview poured gasoline on the fire, proposing that certain media organisations acting against the state’s interests must have their licenses revoked.

«If the media threatens the constitutional foundation of state and weakens democracy, then the media outlet ought not to have license,» Bakas emphasised.

The month-long MG Baltic scandal dates back to late April, when then embattled, corruption and influence peddling charges fighting Eligijus Masiulis (he is former chairman of Lithuania‘s Liberal Movement) made public some of his private correspondence with Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė.

A barrage of emails reveals that MG Baltic has exuberantly meddled in the appointing of key state figures, like a former prosecutor general, for example.

Some, however, notice that the head-of-state has also been too engaged in the Seimas politics. Grybauskaitė, for instance, has asked Masiulis in one of her emails to «give regards» to MG Baltic and called Tomas Dapkus, a journalist in one of the MG Baltic-owned TV channels, «a hound» that needs to be kept at bay with the new prosecutor general appointment procedures underway.

In what many believe was an attempt to shift the bad spotlight on the president, VSD, Lithuania‘s State Security Department (VSD) aired extensive excerpts of the conversations of top MG Baltic heads and especially those of Dapkus, the journalist.

In a report to the Seimas, the State Security Department says that MG Baltic, in pursuit of its interests, had developed a long-term strategy that can be regarded as destructive activity posting a threat to national security.

Some, however, chastise the intelligence chief body for having executing the investigations against MG Baltic for years. It turned out that VSD had eavesdropped Dapkus for nearly a dozen years.

Bakas’ controversial proposal has not been left unnoticed by Dainius Radzevičius, the chairman of Lithuania’s Union of Journalists, LŽS.

«The initiative, if realised legislatively, can have far-reaching reverberations to Lithuania internationally,» Radzevičius underscored.

Speaking to BNN, Radzevičius said that no VSD report cannot entail «legal consequences» to Lithuanian media and, specifically, the TV channels owned by the holding as only courts serve justice in Lithuania.

«Damage (to media) has been done, however. The VSD report highlighted anew the too intricate entanglement of Lithuanian politics, business and media,» Radzevičius emphasised.

According to him, ideally, the politicians and the businessmen ought to stop using media as a means to publicise their views and serve their business interests, however doubted whether it is doable.

«The entire business environment has to become a lot more transparent to severe the ties with the media of the kind. Secondly, media’s self-regulation mechanism in Lithuania ought to become a lot more stronger,» Radzevičius underlined.

In his words, the new registry of Lithuania’s media outlets including all information on media company owners and advertisers will make Lithuanian media more transparent.

It will also contain information on the breaches of journalism ethics by Lithuanian media organisations.

«When in operation, registry will give a whole lot better picture of our media,» Radzevičius is convinced.

Vytis Jurkonis, head of NGO «Freedom House», however, suggested that he shares the NSGK chairman’s concerns which, he says, is «absolutely» understandable to him.

«The influence of business and the problems of transparency in the Lithuanian media map have been mentioned in several international reports and in many international conferences…Index of independent media in Lithuania is not as dramatic as in Poland, however it is not as stable as in Estonia,» the NGO head noted.

Amid a parliamentary investigation into business groups’ possible influence on political processes, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said that he sees no grounds for taking drastic measures against media organizations controlled by large businesses and calls for relying on the media’s self-regulation bodies.

«Let’s not rush until we have the committee’s findings. If some problem areas are revealed, as far as the media are concerned, decisions that will have to be taken or could be taken should not be tough or drastic,» Skvernelis told reporters on Monday, May 14.

«I believe, however, that the media will be able to do a lot through self-regulation, self-government. I don’t think that today we should speak about radical or tough measures,» he added.

Meanwhile, Edmundas Vaitekūnas, chairman of the Lithuanian Radio and Television Commission (LRTK), says that there is no clear legal mechanism for revoking an issued broadcasting license if there are signs of activities running counter to national security.

However, the media watchdog would consider suspending a license if a special commission provided such information, he added.

Amid the scandal, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė has said this week that MG Baltic is an example of oligarchic activity, but there is no legal basis, at least for now, for stripping LNK, a TV channel owned by the business group, of its license.

«A classical definition of oligarchs is when a business merges with politics and runs its own media to pursue its interests, which are not always compatible with the public interest. Thus, we can see a classical example of this in MG Baltic’s activities,» she said in an interview aired by Žinių Radijas on Tuesday, May 15.

«However, I’d like to say it very clearly that Lithuania is a state ruled by law and we have laws that lay down the basis for when a license may be revoked or suspended,» the president said.

«Therefore, I can answer very responsibly that, in the current situation, the law does not provide for such a basis for suspending the license, at least with regard to LNK,» she added.

Earlier this month, with Masiulis‘ emails out, Grybauskaitė regretted that «unfortunately, there are journalists who are becoming a tool for or a representative of interests groups, lobbyists etc».

Former MG Baltic Vice President Raimondas Kurlianskis is suspected of bribery and influence peddling, and Dapkus has been questioned as a witness in this political corruption case.

The Committee on National Security and Defence’s probe into unlawful influence on political processes in Lithuania involves five to six interest groups, according to Bakas, the Committee chairman.

«(The available material) shows interest groups aiming to establishing themselves or influencing the strategic sectors of the state. These centres of power have always been in place, only their names have changed,» Bakas accentuated.


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