Officials worried over potential sale of MTG's TV channels

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Rumors over the sale of Modern Times Group (MTG) TV channels are worrying as such a deal could allow non-friendly forces make headway in the Latvian media space. Furthermore, a deal like that might influence the availability of quality content, say industry officials and experts.

Experts told Latvian Television Friday that the deal is worrying as it's being carried out in a clandestine way and there's no information over a Western media corporation wanting to take over the media group that controls several of the largest TV channels in Latvia.

Ritvars Jansons, head of the parliamentary Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee, says that the deal could mean there's less quality content in the Latvian media space.

"It would be, without a doubt, a loss to Latvia's information space, as MTG channels in the Baltics have shown themselves to be classic informational space channels that report events in Latvia, provide information about various processes, and are grounded in the statehood of Latvia.

If the buyer is unknown, there's worry about whether these channels will be such as to promote the strength of the Latvian informative space," said Jansons.

While Aija Cālīte-Dulevska, a board member at Latvia's media watchdog, voiced concern over the fact that, due to lack of regulation, Latvian institutions have no way of influencing who would, as a result of this deal, control a substantial part of the country's media space.

"I see a risk in that we don't know who buys MTG. As MTG has a large influence in the Latvian society and it's a media of a very high quality, we must know who's the buyer," she said.

She says that it's premature to discuss whether, for example, Russia would want to take advantage of such a deal, however the Baltics should be aware of the possibility.

"We have to take into account that Russia will use any chance to secure their influence in the Baltics. If MTG give [them] such an opportunity, it will most likely be used," said Cālīte-Dulevska.

While Jansons said that it'd be unpromising if MTG owners would decide to sell their channels without reviewing Latvia's offers about state support for creating television content.

LETA reports that MTG, the Swedish owner of Viasat, is searching for a new owner for its Baltic businesses, the price of which might be around €100 million, according to unofficial reports.

According to unofficial information MTG wants to sell its media channels in the three Baltic countries as one package and SEB has been authorized to look for a buyer. Potential buyers are sought for outside the Baltic countries.

Meanwhile market experts interviewed by Lithuanian media have mentioned several Swedish, Estonian, US and Polish companies - like the Swedish Bonnier and Estonian Ekspress Grupp - as potential buyers of the channels.

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