European broadcasters want answers about sacking of Latvian broadcast chief

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), an influential alliance of national-level broadcasters from across the continent, has expressed its "surprise" and "concern" about the recent sacking of Latvian Television (LTV) chairman Ivars Belte and LTV board member Sergejs Nesterovs.

A letter from the EBU, signed by its chairman Noel Curran, and sent to Dagmara Beitnere-Le  Gall, Deputy Speaker of the Saeima and Vita Anda Terauda, Chairperson of the Saeima's sub-committee on media policy, demands a better explanation of why the sudden and unexpected dismissals took place.

As previously reported by LSM, Belte and a fellow board member were suddenly sacked by the national broadcast regulator, the National Electronic Media Council (NEPLP).  

"The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has been closely following developments in Latvia concerning its Member television broadcaster, LTV, and was surprised to learn at the very end of  2018 of the decision by the National Electronic Media Council (NEPLP) to abruptly suspend the  duties of Ivars Belte and Sergejs Nesterovs as Chairman and Member of LTV’s Management Board," the EBU said.

"LTV, under the leadership of Ivars Belte, is a valuable Member of the EBU and has actively participated in multiple professional meetings, exchanges and specialized groups... Abrupt and opaque changes in management risk having a negative impact on the fulfilment of a  broadcaster’s plans, reforms and programming output.

"We would appreciate more understanding on the reasons for the accelerated decision concerning  Ivars Belte and Sergejs Nesterovs and the grounds on which it was taken. We are also concerned  about the fact that LTV Board members have not been granted the legal right to appeal the decision  by the NEPLP, thereby denying them the right to a fair trial. The fact that the decision seems to have be taken in haste (the last business of the day of the year) and without prior public discussion,  compounded by the timing, at a moment when LTV has gained strong audience share in the local  market, is a source of concern and merits a detailed explanation," the EBU said.

The EBU then offers to "provide legal expertise for possible amendments and improvements of the law. We are particularly concerned by the need to ensure sufficient safeguards on institutional and financial independence and distribution of supervisory duties and powers, in line with European standards as stipulated in Council of Europe Recommendations on independence 96 (10) and governance of public service broadcasting 2012 (1) and ensuring possibilities to revoke the decision of the Council. Any new draft legislation on public service media should also be the object of a detailed impact assessment, examining financial impacts and impacts on fundamental rights, in particular media freedom and pluralism. The EBU would gladly provide a professional legal opinion on these matters."

"We trust that the relevant authorities will launch a broad, inclusive public consultation involving all  stakeholders, including civil society, and would be available to pursue a discussion with you at your  earliest convenience," the EBU concludes.

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