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Lithuania’s election watchdog slams ruling LFGU over popular TV series

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Political messages can be channeled in various ways and the ruling now Lithuanian party, LFGU (Lithuania’s Farmers and Greens Union) has chosen a very delicate way of the communications – through a TV series featuring the beauty and the ambiance of Naisiai, a picturesque settlement in Siauliai district.

A village where there are no drunkards, scumbags and crooks –just a picture of a perfect Lithuania, an example of how things have to be run in the country. In some of the episodes of the series, which, by the way, were funded by Agrokoncernas, Lithuania’s largest agro-holding, note, owned by Ramūnas Karbauskis, the leader of the LFGU, the party-chairman-turned-actor exhorts all to visit Naisiai. Some of the episodes feature the LFGU’s party newspaper and a calendar with the party logo.

The debates in the commission whether the series was part of the party’s political advertising were as much heated as the scorching weather in Vilnius this week. However, Lithuania’s election watchdog, the Central Election Commission (CEC), ruled that certain episodes of the popular TV series, as those afore-mentioned above, breached law and have to be deemed as political advertising.

Notably, three CEC members issued their separate opinion, demanding that the entire series be deemed hidden political advertising of the LFGU and view the film a gross violation of the legislation on funding political campaigns.

In the voting, three members of the commission voted for the latter, other three voted against the formulation, claiming that the series did not violate law and two abstained from the voting.

According to Laura Matijošaityte, chairman of the Central Election Commission, the CEC will vote for the entirety of the conclusions in the next sitting, due next week.

«Since a few of the commission members proposed an alternative formulation (i.e. rule that the entire series, not the separate episodes breached law), we have now to draw up concrete proposals considering their opinions…There have to be clear arguments to decide about the TV series,» the CEC chairwoman argued.

Speaking to Lithuanian media, she admitted that she has asked the Political campaigns financing department, part of the CEC to provide estimate how much the film is worth if the political advertising rates were applied.

A member of the commission remarked that, with the TV advertising rate being 50 euro for 1 second, the LFGU ought to be held financially liable for airing 2000 seconds of political content.

Others, meanwhile, casted doubts on the colleagues’ estimate.

Prior to the voting, the CEC members spent hours discussing what should be considered as political advertising and what not.

The commission has agreed that two criteria have to be applied when assessing it. First, all the episodes featuring the LFGU symbols (the logo, the flag, the party’s newspaper, etc) must fall under the category, according the CEC, and, second, the series that were broadcasted with less than 18 months until the 2016 parliamentary election also should be seen as part of political advertising as voters have tendency to remember events those events best that took place in the last year.

Some of the commission members noted that some characters of the series, like Pijus, a hard-working teetotaler, resembles Karbauskis, the LFGU leader, both physically and mentally.

However, the others bristled against the remark, arguing that physical resemblance or embodiment of certain traits cannot be a prove considered by the commission.

Ironically, even the use of the image of storks (the bird is in the LFGU logo) in the series triggered a heated exchange with some arguing that the excessive repetitions of the episodes with storks nestling on treetops is a gross violation.

The TV series were shown during 2014 -2016 and gained popularity among many Lithuanian television viewers.

The CEC members, representing the garden-variety of Lithuania’s political spectrum, traded barbs and sowed suspicions over other details too.

For example, Vilius Semeška, delegated to the CEC by the opposition Conservatives, TS-LKD, questioned whether Matijošaityte had right to participate in the voting, considering that she met with Karbauskis, the LFGU chairman, prior to the voting.

The CEC chairwoman was excusing herself she had to meet him as he had to sign protocol of administrative infringements.

In fact, the most radical commission members insisted that Matijošaitytė does not vote at all, while the others were okay with it.

Meanwhile, Liutautas Ulevičius, the representative of the LFGU in the CEC, rebuked the commission for not allowing the party render its version of the film interpretations and et cetera.

He attempted to persuade the commission members that Karbauskis invited all to visit Naisiai not as the LFGU leader but as activist who promulgates old Baltic traditions and the heritage.

The LFGU representative argued that the Farmers and Greens‘ resolve to tackle alcoholism and other maladies in Lithuania resonate well with the other political parties too.

If the commission however opts for the harsher formulation of the conclusions, the Farmers and Greens might lose state’s financial support.

It was revealed during the discussions that Agrokoncernas, whose owner is Karbauskis, transferred almost 332,000 euros to Videometra, a production company, for filming Naisių Vasara but Videometra refused to disclose its other sponsors.

Some members of the CEC insisted it was a gross violation of law and demanded that the Farmers and Greens pay for the entire series according the political advertising rates.

However, others, again, argued that no one can say how the series has changed, and how much changes, voters’ political views. The members are incline to relate the LFGU’s success in the 2016 Seimas election to other factors, not to the TV series.

Nearly half way in its tenure as Lithuania’s ruling party, the LFGU retains high support among the voters. With 15,4 per cent of support in the latest survey conducted by pollster Spinter tyrimai last week, the party is firmly second. On top sits the opposition Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) with 17.1 per cent.

The Order and Justice party, which seeks to join the ruling coalition, came in third with 8.2 per cent, up from 7.4 per cent a month ago.

Gintautas Paluckas’ Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP), in fourth place, saw its approval rating rising to 7.8 per cent in June, from 5.4 percent in May.

Although the change is within the error margin, it shows the LSDP gaining a narrow lead over Gediminas Kirkilas’ Lithuanian Social Democratic Labour Party (LSDLP), in 7th place with 4.5 per cent, down from 4.9 per cent in June. The two political parties had the same voter support after their divorce.

The latest poll also showed the Labour Party’s popularity rising to 6.7 percent in June, from 4.9 percent in May.

Some 14.2 per cent of respondents said they would not vote and another 10 per cent were undecided.

Spinter Tyrimai polled 1,003 people aged between 18 and 75 years across Lithuania on June 19-27.


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