Broadcast regulator: politicians want to destroy us

Members of Latvia's broadcast regulator, the National Electronic Mass Media Council (NEPLP) have issued a startling open letter claiming there is a politically-motivated plot afoot to destroy them - with the implication it is political parties themselves who want to regulate the broadcast media.

As well as acting as broadcast watchdog with the power to take action if illegal or inappropriate material is broadcast, NEPLP is also in overall charge of the funding of public broadcasting in Latvia, including the LSM news portals in Latvian, Russian and English.

Recent weeks have seen NEPLP members hauled before parliament to answer questions from MPs which have included efforts to fire members of NEPLP's governing council.

Now it seems NEPLP has decided to launch a counter-offensive, releasing the text of a  strongly-worded letter on June 19 which amounts to a warning of the politicisation of broadcast media in Latvia.  

"In the opinion of these politicians, the Council must be sacked without any obvious reason," the letter says.

"We believe that there are three main reasons why these politicians have decided to do so. First of all, the NEPLP’s categorical position with regard to the editorial independence issue of public media – Latvian TV and Latvian Radio. It is noteworthy that dissatisfaction with the NEPLP's performance was like a snowball effect that kept growing as LTV and LR were becoming stronger," the letter says.

The letter also claims that the recent scandal over the use of strong language during a rap music show on public youth radio channel Pieci.lv was just "a loud pretext" for scoring more points against NEPLP.

"Secondly, the NEPLP's position with regard to distribution of tax payers' money in favor of commercial media at the expense of public media. Commercial media lobbies have expressed open indignation about it, and the recent "scandal" surrounding LR5 – Pieci.lv was the consequence of this."

"Thirdly, for years the NEPLP has fought for separating the functions of the NEPLP, as media market czar, from the functions NEPLP performs as LTV and LR's shareholder. Politicians have known this problem for a long time, and the NEPLP has offered solutions; however, no action has ever taken place. Furthermore, this is Saeima's fault that this situation has not seen any solutions. It seems that politicians favor a model where the NEPLP is involved in a conflict of interest."

"The NEPLP is part of a democratic and just independent state media, especially public media... However, the Council is not the main target for politicians. The next ones in line will be LTV and LR as independent public media," the letter warns.

It is signed by Chairman of NEPLP Ainārs Dimants along with the other current members Aija Dulevska, Dainis Mjartāns and Ivars Zviedris but not freshly-elected member Dace Ķezbere.

On June 21, politicians Solvita Aboltina of the Unity political party and Augusts Brigmanis of the Greens and Farmers' Union both said the NEPLP board should be dismissed.

Aboltina - confirmed as the most unpopular politician in the country by ballot papers at the last parliamentary elections - accused Dimants of "distributing false information" and said she did not like his working style.

Brigmanis said any talk of a threat to media freedom was overblown. A parliamentary application to dismiss the NEPLP board was also supported by the Regional Alliance political party.

The application referenced a recent State Audit Office report suggesting NEPLP had wasted around a million euros through inefficient spending and administration.

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