Latviski English По-русски
Saturday 14.12.2019 | Name days: Gaisma, Auseklis

Lithuania’s ruling majority swings at media freedom, experts warn

(+2 rating, 2 votes)

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

Ramūnas Karbauskis, leader of Lithuania’s ruling Framers and Greens’ Union

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

All media, the so-called fourth authority of power, has been facing some international challenges, with the European Parliament set to vote next Monday on final text of Article 13, the proposed EU directive on copyright, which, if implemented, could censor internet users and internet platform hosts through artificial intelligence-employing filters.

Under the blanket of international  developments in the media landscape and citing dangers stemming from hostile Russia’s actions, Lithuanian legislators are following in their Hungarian and Polish counterparts’ footsteps and proceed with legislation that, if implemented, will infringe media freedom and the constitutional right of freedom of speech in the country.

Just a few weeks into the new year, the ruling Peasants and Greens (LFGU)are muddling through controversial amendments to the law on Lithuania’s public broadcaster, LRT, which envision establishing of a new governance body, a board. Such a board would be in charge of the LRT’s management, structure planning, economic activity and would approve deals over 29 000 euros in value.

If implemented, shorter terms of LRT Council members will be set and changes in its formation procedure will take place.

The new version of the law was logged in by the LFGU leader, Ramūnas Karbauskis, and members of a special commission which was tasked with scrutinizing the LRT’s activity. The bill matches the commission’s conclusions which were voted down by the parliament in late December.

Despite the setback, the parliamentary majority instead of shelving the bill or going back to the drawing table and redrafting it, a standard procedure after a legislative failure on the parliamentary floor, snubbed the commission’s findings and moved illegitimately forward with the enactment of the amendments.

Notably, the ruling MPs did so without a ruling on the issue from the Constitutional Court to which the Lithuanian Parliament opposition, Conservative Homeland Union- Lithuanian Christian Democrats (HU-LCD) applied.

«The fact that the ruling party is escalating the adoption of the draft law prior to the ruling of the Constitutional Court on the legitimacy of the ad hoc commission is a sound proof of hastiness to exert political influence on the Public Broadcaster,» Monika Garbačiauskaitė- Budrienė, LRT director general, told said. «Over the last year, LRT has been experiencing significant pressure from the ruling party which aims to make substantial changes in the law on Public Broadcaster,» she emphasised.

The LRT Council was asking lawmakers throughout not to hasten with the adoption of the new law version and to listen first not only to the Constitutional Court but to domestic and international media law experts as well. The LRT management fears that the changes pose threat to the public broadcaster’s independence.

However, the defiant political majority on January 11 moved forward with the amendments with 50 MPs voting for them, 36 – against and 2 abstained, which was enough to clear the first legislative obstacle.

«Now the draft will be submitted to parliamentary committees and the Government for further deliberations. The Seimas plans to revisit the draft bill in its spring session,» Rimas Rudaitis, chief specialist of the Information and Communication Department in Lithuanian Parliament, said.

The opposition HU-LCD have registered their own version of the LRT law before the parliamentary sitting, one drafted on the British national broadcaster BBC’s model, but the bill to their dismay was not included into the Seimas (Lithuanian Parliament) agenda.

Approached by BNN Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, a MP and elder of the Lithuanian Parliament‘s Liberals Fraction, said:«The methods the Peasants and Farmers are applying are not new. They are a classy example of the behavioural model (towards media) that Russia has notoriously employed. It is evident that the ruling party exerts to harness media and have it hobbling…With freedom of press in danger, it is the public that has to stand up against the attempts to limit it.»

«What we see is the remnants of Sovietism and the reflection of the new trends budding in Eastern Europe. We have the examples (of constraints of media freedom) in Hungary, Poland and, lately, in Romania. Now Lithuania starts playing the loudest chord in the choir,» Eugenijus Gentvilas, also a liberal MP, said.

In another blow to media freedom, the Radio and Television Commissionof Lithuania ((RTCL), and the parliamentary Committee on Culture, led by the LFGU leader Karbauskis, tabled contentious amendments to the Law on the Provision of Information to the Public, stipulating that media outlets would be banned from publishing information which, among other things, «is aimed at distorting the historic memory of the Republic of Lithuania, encouraging distrust and dissatisfaction with the State of Lithuania, promoting ethnic and cultural divides, weakening national identity and citizenship, undermining citizens’ determination to defend their country, or is used in other ways to influence the country’s democracy, election processes and the party system, to the detriment of Lithuania’s national security interests.»

Specifically, the RTCL would be entitled to halt a TV program for up to 72 hours without a court ruling to prevent them from what it deems is dissemination of ostensibly harmful information.

RTCL chairman Mantas Martišius says that the amendments are meant for swift response to national security threats and its formulations were taken from the strategy approved by the parliament.

«This is an instrument giving us the possibility to protect ourselves, the possibility to respond to threats arising during elections from the people and media outlets influenced by countries hostile towards us,» Karbauskis, the leader of the ruling party,has echoed.

He however argued that the committee under his leadership did not add a single word to the amendment bill, adding that the amendments are related to the implementation of the EU directive.

Martišius, of the RTCL, also pinpointed to the EU directive stipulating that member states can impose sanctions on media outlets posing threat to public security, including ensuring national security and defence.

However, media experts lambastthe proposals, claiming that they infringe media freedom and the constitutional right offreedom of speech in the Baltic country.

Having noted that the whole amendment bill is related to the updated EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive, Deimantas Jastramskis, a lecturer at Vilnius University’s Institute of Journalism, voiced his concerns: «They include such things like «distrust in the state and its institutions» and «promoting ethnic and cultural divides». Who’s going to identify that? These are subjective things, interpretations that should not be included into legislation. This is legal intrusion into people’s opinions and way of thinking, and it’s unacceptable in a democratic state… It’s a sad but not a new thing that it’s being done under the cover of the EU directive,» Jastramskis said.

Aistė Žilinskienė, head of the Online Media Association, believes that the proposed expansion of prohibited information would protect state institutions from any criticism.

Although Lithuanian media is ringing alarm bells, Dainius Radzevičius tends to calm down everybody, insisting that «common sense» and «democracy» will prevail at the end of the day.

«Both the LRT law changes and the implementation of the updated EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive are still in the tentative stage and will likely be reworded significantly as they, if enacted, would run counter our own Constitution and the EU norms,» he told BNN.«I am sure all understand it,» he underlined.

Leave a reply

Aivars Lembergs leaves his post in Latvian Olympic Committee

On Friday, 13 December, individual member of Latvian Olympic Committee and member of its Executive Committee Aivars Lembergs announced to LOK board his decision to leave the organization, BNN was told by LOK press-secretary Mārtiņš Mālmeisters.

Ralfs Kļaviņš and Edvīns Bērziņš leave the board of Latvian Transit Business Association

Chairman of Riga Commercial Port Ralfs Kļaviņš and ex-chairman of Latvian Railway Edvīns Bērziņš have left the board of Latvian Transit Business Association, according to information from

US sanctions will not affect companies in which Lembergs no longer has any influence

The sanctions introduced by USA against Lembergs will not affect the companies over which he no longer has control thanks to a ruling of the court.

Liquidation of discount fares on multiple RMS routes would help save money for Rīgas satiksme

By liquidating multiple discounts for passenger fares on multiple LLC Rīgas mikroautobusu satiksme routes, LLC Rīgas satiksme public transport company hopes to save approximately EUR 1.75 million a year.

Tallinn region GDP portion decreases in Estonian economy

In 2018, 65% of the Estonian gross value added was created in Harju county, while the rest of the country is inching closed with Harju county, the official statistics of the Baltic country showed.

EU prolongs targeted sanctions against Russia over Ukraine

The European Union has extended for another six months its sanctions against Russia’s energy, finance and military sectors. The continued restrictive measures are said to remain in full until Minsk peace deal is implemented.

Local government representatives will no longer work at Riga and Ventspils freeport

Following the coming into force of amendments to the Law on Ports, representatives of Riga City Council and Ventspils City Council will lose their respective posts in the board of Riga Freeport and Ventspils Freeport, the law states.

Total tax debts in Latvia at December’s beginning – EUR 869.4 million

At the beginning of December, total tax debts in Latvia, including outstanding, halted and extended debts, were equal to EUR 869.367 million, which is 1.9% less than a month prior, according to data from the State Revenue Service.

In UK’s Brexit election, Conservatives win comfortable majority

In the British snap parliamentary election aimed at breaking the Brexit impasse, the ruling Conservative Party has won gaining a comfortable majority, according to close to complete results.

Riga City Council’s interim administration may be entrusted to VARAM state secretary Balševics

If the Saeima votes in favour of dismissing Riga City Council, the interim municipal administration may be entrusted to Environment Protection and Regional Ministry’s state secretary Edvīns Balševics, according to the ministry’s Riga City Council dismissal legislative draft to be decided on by the government on 17 December.

EU member states commit to 2050 carbon neutrality, Poland opts out

European Union’s 26 members, including the Baltic states, have supported the planned political course to considerably reduce the greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. Coal-powered Poland said it could not reach the goal and opted out.

Latvia’s prime minister forms a work group to ensure Ventspils Freeport’s operations

On Thursday, 12 December, Latvia’s Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš has issued an order on formation of a work group under Transport Minister Tālis Linkaits in order to ensure undisrupted operations at Ventspils Freeport, as reported by the prime minister’s press-secretary Sandris Sabajevs.

Ministry: to prevent damaging Latvian sports sector’s reputation, Lembergs should leave LOK

To avoid letting US sanctions negatively affect Latvian Olympic Committee and spread to the reputation of the country’s sports sector, the ministry can only ask Aivars Lembergs step down as member of LOK Executive Committee, BNN was told by Education and Science Ministry.

Budget Committee declines residents’ request to postpone increasing funding for parties

Saeima’s Budget and Finance Committee has rejected a public initiative signed by more than 11 000 residents. This initiative requested postponing the planned increase of funding for political parties.

Lower election threshold in Lithuania – more democracy or chaos?

The Lithuanian legislature, Seimas, has lowered this week the parliamentary election threshold to 3 per cent for political parties and 5 per cent for coalitions.

Russia expels German diplomats, retaliating to German step over Berlin murder

Russia has asked two diplomats of the German Embassy to leave the country. This is a tit-for-tat measure after Germany declared two Russian diplomats personae non grata as Berlin investigates an international murder in the German capital, TASS reported.

Riga Freeport and Liepaja Special Economic Zone to leave LTAB

Riga Freeport and Liepaja Special Economic Zone will leave Latvian Transit Business Association managed by Aivars Lembergs, as both are subjected to US sanctions.

Lembergs’ influence over Ventspils Freeport needs to end, bank supervisors say

The goal of the US sanctions is reducing Aivars Lembergs’ economic and political influence over Ventspils Freeport and other companies under his control. Sanctions are not meant to paralyse companies, rather seeing how they are used to process deals influenced by the person under sanctions – Aivars Lembergs, said Finance and Capital Market Commission head Santa Purgaile during a press-conference on Thursday, 12 December.

USD 25 million offered in Weinstein sage to 30 alleged sexual abuse victims

In the U.S. movie industry scandal surrounding sexual abuse claims against film producer Harvey Weinstein his lawyers have offered a USD 25-million settlement to more than 30 women, The Guardian reports.

Legal Affairs Committee supports lifting judge immunity for administrative violation cases

Saeima’s Legal Affairs Committee supported prior to the second reading legislative drafts to the Law on Judicial Power and Law on Judges Disciplinary Liability intended to lift the immunity of judges in administrative violation cases, as confirmed by Justice Ministry.

Estonian-Finnish gas interconnection unveiled

Estonia and Finland have held ceremonies to unveil the gas pipeline Balticconnector, built to connect the gas transmission networks of both countries separated by the Baltic Sea.

Mārtiņš Kazāks officially becomes governor of the Bank of Latvia

On Thursday, 12 December, Latvia’s Saeima officially approved Mārtiņš Kazāks as the new governor of the Bank of Latvia, as BNN was told by Saeima’s press-service.

What is Ventspils Development Agency and what will its members do now?

Among the organizations against which US Department of Treasury Office for Foreign Asset Control has adopted sanctions is also Ventspils Development Agency. In accordance with OFAC issued Global Magnitsky General Licence Nr.1, global partners have 30 days to cease all cooperation with this organization.

Israel on way to third parliamentary election in year

Israeli legislators have been unable to overcome a prolonged political crisis. The Knesset has given its initial approval to the third parliamentary election in the Middle Eastern country in a year’s time after legislators proved unable to form a majority coalition.

Social Integration Fund torn over NGO support priorities

Although sides of the Social Integration Fund have argued over priorities of the Non-Government Organizations Fund, the contest to start using funding allocated to NGOs may yet be announced this year, allows Social Integration Fund council member and Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš’s representative Imants Parādnieks.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!