Public information trumps fighting propaganda during pandemic

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Culture Minister Nauris Puntulis (National Alliance) stated that the need for public safety and information during a crisis situation outweighs the risks associated with supporting Russian propaganda channels by allowing commercial media to use public media content, according to a Latvian Radio broadcast on March 26.

“I would never consider such a step if it weren't a crisis. You have to weigh the situation, what's more important. And the safety of society during a crisis is in first place,” said Puntulis.

Latvian Television had already expressed doubts, stating that if their content was shown by Russian language TV channel Perviy Baltijskij Kanal (PBK), then in effect Latvian taxpayer money spent on supporting quality journalism would go towards supporting propaganda content produced in Russia.

PBK owner Baltic Media Alliance announced on that it would stop broadcasting locally produced content from March 20 after UK communications regulator Ofcom fined them 20,000 pounds (23,000 euros) after receiving a complaint from the Latvian National Electronic Mass Media Council (NEPLP) regarding violations on the NTV Mir Baltic television channel broadcast by the company.

When asked whether there should be more Russian-Language media in Latvia, Puntulis emphasized that the crisis situation must be overcome, however for everyday situations his opinion differs. He doesn't feel that 30 years after achieving independence Latvia should be supporting powerful media in other languages.

“We live in a country where the national language is Latvian, already 30 years. And I don't see any reason why we need local media in a non-state language. In a crisis situation we can of course turn to people in their language. And a crisis situation differs from the everyday situation,” said the minister.

According to The Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism Re:Baltica on March 26, PBK is one of the most popular TV channels and an important news source for Russian-speakers in Estonia and Latvia. They spoke anonymously to a former PBK employee.

“The [Latvian] state doesn’t care where Russian speakers will get info. For them it’s important that there is one official channel of information. We don’t have a democracy or freedom of speech,” said the former PBK employee.

As previously reported, Defense Minister Artis Pabriks (Development/For) urged people to carefully evaluate information regarding the coronavirus pandemic. State Police representative Simona Grāvīte confirmed that authorities are monitoring the situation to minimize the spread of fake news. Each situation is individually evaluated, but those spreading false claims could be charged with hooliganism or disturbance of public order. If you notice such harmful fake news write to [email protected].

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