Rīga city PR spending hiked a year before municipal elections

Four social media experts, a new design for the City Council website, and more info for online channels - that's how the City Council of Rīga justifies spending a lavish €700,000 for bettering communication next year, reported Latvian Radio Thursday.

At the moment nine PR specialists are working at the central administration of the Rīga City Council. One or more are working in every structure dependent on it. Tens of websites have been created, through which the municipality communicates with the inhabitants of Rīga.

So chaotic are the numbers of PR specialists and the spending figures that Uģis Vidauskis Deputy head of the council's PR department cannot name how much cash or how many people are involved in the whole operation.

"Of course, each department has its own, different expenses. [..] I haven't sat down and calculated [the council's PR budget]," he said.

While the figures in the Rīga municipality budget - which totals at €800m - seem to be more precise. About €2.5m is to be spent next year for making Rīga more recognizable, and council members have put forth demands for a further €6m.

The municipality plans on spending €677,700 in communication with Rigans. The new website will cost €200,000, while €400,000 more will be spent on the weekly informative page and the website. And four new social media specialists, hired to communicate with locals on Facebook, Twitter and the likes, will cost the municipality €80,000.

"More than 60% of Rigans frequent social networks. They are communicating with the council very actively and ask numerous questions. [..] To continue the mutual communication we need new work resources," said Vidauskis.

While the opposition councilor Sarmīte Ēlerte (Unity) says that the spending hike is for funding propaganda. "Of course the municipality has to communicate what it's doing. But if we see four new posts for communication on social networks... [..] We have reason to think that companies are possibly funneling money into this propaganda campaign, [..]" said Ēlerte.

An extra million will be spent ostensibly for promoting tourism, but the budget for this noble task includes organizing a beer festival and a card game championship - and €40,000 are allocated for an international TV journalist festival.

Olga Kazaka, a lecturer at Latvian University who has researched the use of social media, sees a growth perspective in the city's communication with the society. About 2,000 people follow the council on Facebook, and 5,500 do so on Twitter. It's a very small number, especially since Rīga is bragging that 63% of some 700,000 locals are using social networks. 

"It's clear that they are trying to show - we have an event such as this and this. But if we want to know specifically what people care about and what hurts them, social media is the environment in which you can learn about people's needs and inefficiencies in the work of an organization. [..] I hope it will not become a propaganda channel where people are told how everything's really well and how everyone's content [..]," said Kazaka.

As of now, the nine PR specialists are managing the social networks. The council recently told LETA, in response to a comment about the sneers that 'Trolls of mayor Nils Ušakovs' will start working next year, that these opinions are 'total nonsense' as every employee will have a particular duty description.

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