On 3 April 2014 the National Electronic Mass Media Council of Latvia decided to restrict the rebroadcasting of television channel Rossiya RTR on the territory of Latvia for a period of three months after the decision date. The decision was made in the context of official announcements made by the Latvian Parliament, the Saeima, in March 2014 strongly condemning the action of Russia in the Ukraine.
In its Decision NO. 95, the Council explains and justifies the reason of banning Rossiya RTR. After examining recordings of Rossiya RTR programmes rebroadcast from 2 to 17 March the Council stated that “the information presented on news and other broadcasts clearly and fundamentally violates Articles 26.3 and 26.4 of the Latvian Law on the Electronic Mass Media (LEMM)”. According to these provisions, programmes and broadcasts may not include any call for fomenting of hatred or discrimination against one or more individuals on the basis of gender, race, ethnic origin, nationality, religious belonging or belief, handicap, age or other factors; any call for war or military conflict. The decision is based on Article 19.5.1 of the LEMM stating that the Council ensures the freedom of broadcast reception, as well as the unrestricted rebroadcasting in Latvia of the programmes of the electronic mass media from other countries, except in such cases when the audio or audiovisual broadcasts of another country seriously and fundamentally violate the terms of Articles 24.9, 24.10 and 26 of the law.
The Council also refers to the letter (No. 21/869-IP, 1 April 2014) from the Security Police claiming that “Rossiya RTR, along with other television channels controlled by the Russian Federation, is disseminating tendentious information that has a negative influence on Latvia’s national security interests.”
Based on an analysis of the Law on the Electronic Mass Media, the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as well as similar recent cases in Lithuania, the Decision comes to the conclusion that the temporary banning of the retransmission of Rossiya RTR is legally justified; as the ban is notably deemed necessary to achieve a legitimate aim, proportionate and appropriate when comparing the interference with the rights of the private individual to public interest benefits.
It is interesting to add that prior to issuing this decision, the Latvian National Electronic Media Council organised a discussion panel “Can soft power be defeated by force?” on the restriction of Russian propaganda in Latvia inviting journalists, sociologists and foreign policy experts to express their point of view in this matter on 21 March 2014. Most of invited participants expressed their caution about banning of Russian TV channels. The Chairman of the Council, Mr Ainārs Dimants took an opposing view: “In times of war, state media are like instruments of war and not media in the classical understanding of the word.” All participants agreed that the content of news programmes made in Latvia had to be strengthened in both the Latvian and Russian languages.
The Council is also currently exploring legal options for limiting retransmission by cable or satellite of certain Russian-speaking television channels, such as NTV-Mir or PBK Latvia.