Latvian media organizations ask for dismissal of regulatory body

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Seven NGOs associated with media work have submitted a no-confidence motion in the National Electronic Mass Media Council (NEPLP) to the Chairman of the Saeima and the Chair of the Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee, according to a joint statement on June 15.

The motion states that the media regulatory body composition systematically infringes its mandate and limits independent media work in Latvia, and asks that the standing council be withdrawn from office.

Organizations that support Latvian independent media and their employees say in their submission that the current practice of the NEPLP composition is contrary to the interests of society, including the media.

The NEPLP unduly interferes with the content created by the media, creates disproportionate restrictions on the functioning of the media, undermining the independence of the media, said the statement of the organizations.

Recently, the decision of the NEPLP on the €8,500 penalty for the TVnet group raised confusion among media organizations. According to the NEPLP, the word “deportation” was incorrectly used, even though it is a valid legal term in Latvian legislation. 

"It must be acknowledged that the current composition of NEPLP consistently acts outside the limits of its competence and powers, targeting the media and journalists, seeking to limit their right to freedom of expression, and seeking to limit the right of the media to do their job. The Council, in breach of its powers, aims to regulate the entire information room. The case with the administrative sanction applied by the Council to the TVnet group for allegedly inappropriate use of the word “deportation” is the final straw in order to mobilize all leading and active media organizations to protect freedom of expression in Latvia, eliminating any signs of censorship in the Latvian media environment. We haven't been listened to for a long time, but this case has been the final straw in our leniency.

"The foundation of a democratic society is the independence of the media, which, due to the composition of the NEPLP Council, is dangerously twisted. Therefore, immediate action is needed – immediate decisions and changes,"

said Gunta Sloga, executive director of the Baltic Center for Media Excellence, on behalf of the initiative.

The letter was signed by the Sustainability Fund (Ilgtspējas fonds), the Baltic Center for Media Excellence, the Latvian Association of Journalists, the Latvian Journalists Union, the Latvian Advertising Association, the organization For Legal Content (Par legālu saturu), and the Latvian Regional Media Association.

Shortly afterwards the NEPLP issued its response statement, saying that the call by several organizations to dissolve NEPLP is “full of false and absurd statements and reproaches.”

"First of all, it is claimed that NEPLP is to blame for the reduction in the number of channels to be distributed in Latvia. Yes, the number of channels in Latvia decreased last year, but only because NEPLP banned the distribution of more than 100 Russian-related channels in Latvia. [..]

"The NEPLP had no other chance, and the information room of Latvia became more secure after the removal of Russian propaganda programs. At the moment, no one can say how we would live in Latvia if these decisions, which reduced the number of programs, were not taken," said NEPLP's statement.

NEPLP disagrees with the statement that the council has acted outside the limits of its competence and powers.

“The call also states that NEPLP has misappropriated the right to regulate the entire information room. Something more absurd than such a statement is difficult to come up with, and it is not even possible to comment on this or to judge it in any way,” said the Council.

NEPLP stressed that it is an independent media regulator and calls for the Saeima to weaken and reduce its functions in the context of an active information war, taking into account the geopolitical situation and the security of the information area as a national priority, are contrary to the circumstances and situation in which Latvia is. Moreover, the independence of the regulator has been strengthened at the European Union level and any effort to weaken it is unacceptable, the NEPLP statement says.

The statement of the NEPLP has been signed by all the members of the Board – Ivars Āboliņš, Aurēlija Ieva Druviete, Ieva Kalderauska, Andis Plakans and Ilva Milzarāja.

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