Anti-Corruption agency lodges gripe against public media coverage

The Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau’s (KNAB) deputy chair Ilze Jurča lodged a formal complaint with the National Electronic Media Council (NEPLP) against the bloc of public media – including Latvian Television (LTV), Latvian Radio (LR) and their joint Latvian Public Media (LSM) news portal, it was announced Friday.

KNAB holds the public media companies responsible for propagating a myth in tendentious manner that there are internal conflicts within the state anti-corruption agency. The state anti-corruption agency asks the NEPLP to consider taking administrative measures against the public broadcasters and its leadership has now come under criticism for a clumsy attempt to abuse its administrative powers and limit the free expression of ideas.

KNAB has compiled all of the news deemed relevant to the issue to demonstrate how biased LSM, LTV and LR have been in their coverage of the troubled agency since the spring of 2013.

In its letter to the NEPLP, General Prosecutor’s Office and the Ombudsman, KNAB argues that “state officials have cited KNAB’s deteriorating reputation, that the media regularly report negative news about its leadership.”

The list of episodes includes more than 180 items, 50 of which are analyzed in detail. The most frequent complaint involves the accusation of cultivating the myth of conflict inside the agency, the use of subjective quotes of KNAB staff and failure to obtain official comments from KNAB. Not once did KNAB exercise its legal right to contest a false claim and ask for its revocation and apology.

KNAB Deputy head Ilze Jurča claims the bureau cannot spare a staff member to do this work, but finally the pressure became too great. “These are absolutely our subjective rights. If we believe these activities are in violation, we need to turn to the proper authorities to ask them to check it out. We don’t need to account to anybody for this or that. For two years now we’ve dealt with this situation and we cannot handle it on our own. Remember, we’re a state agency, we represent the power of the state,” she told LR.

“So if there’s constant false news coming out about a state agency, creating wrong public opinions and influencing its consciousness, we have the right to respond,” she argued.

LTV news director Iveta Elksne expressed incomprehension at the KNAB letter. “This cannot be otherwise seen as an intervention into the work of the media and an attempt to influence press freedom. KNAB wants to prevent the public from hearing the truth, hearing all sides. But KNAB seems to be pleasantly awaiting the state to impose censorship,” the public television news director said.

“Given that KNAB regularly rejects our overtures to interview its officers, we believe the agency’s communication with the public and journalists is just beneath contempt.”

Journalists’ Association head Anda Rožukalne also called KNAB’s move “a clear demonstration of power” on the part of state authorities.

The NEPLP has asked the public media to respond to the complaint by March 20. NEPLP chief Ainars Dimants claims not to have read the letter himself, having delegated the task to the council’s media curating board members.

Dimants did express bewilderment at the KNAB request. “We’ll assess first and comment later. But I don’t think this is a normal way to resolve an issue like this. The public media are public and you can go for direct communication with them first and then write your complaint. That this first phase was passed up surprised me,” he said.

The Ombudsman’s Office has also been asked by KNAB to look into whether or not “editorial politics or journalistic pressure was applied against a person or group of persons, thus limiting freedom of expression”. The Ombudsman has passed the complaint on to the NEPLP without considering whether or not the leadership at KNAB hasn’t attempted to undermine Article 100 (ensuring free speech) of the Satversme.

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