Ructions at Latvian Radio as news staff demand urgent action from board

Staff and management at Latvian Radio (LR) are now in a state of open conflict with frustrated staff releasing an open letter July 10 calling on the board of the organization to quit and describing the situation in the newsroom as critical due to the repeated departure of journalists to other jobs as a result of low pay and overwork.

According to the letter, numerous professional journalists have left the news department during the last year. Remaining staff have taken up as much slack as possible, with an internal report suggesting they are producing nearly 25% more material than they are contractually obliged to under the terms of their employment contract. Even so, news broadcasts have suffered with their duration cut and the dead airtime on the main LR1 national channel filled with repeats and light musical interludes.

The letter also contains stinging criticism of the board's efforts to communicate with staff and their attitude to senior figures within the newsroom.

Consequently staff are demanding that the problems are urgently addressed and that they receive significant pay rises to acknowledge their efforts and return pay levels to something approaching the pre-crisis era when pay was slashed by 30-50%.

In the first half of 2019, resignations were received from 11 journalists, most of them from the News Service, who left for better paid jobs in commercial media and Latvian Television. 56 journalists have left the last three years.

In response, the Latvian Radio Board announced the convening of a press conference in a week's time and said pay rises were out of the question due to budgetary constraints. The Chairman of the Board of Latvian Radio is Una Klapkalne, Member of the Board for Financial Management is Mārīte Tukša, while the Board Member for Development Issues is Sanita Dika-Bokmeldere.

''The inactivity and deliberate actions of the current Latvian Radio management show that it is not in its interests to have a strong and independent public radio as an integral part of democracy. Moreover, since the inception of the current Board of Directors, the management of Latvian Radio has not only made significant weakening of the News Service, but even deliberately acted harmfully, undermining the News Service," the letter stated, pointing to the fact that a large part of the public relies upon public media for reliable news and information and that this would become even more important in any emergency situation.

Latvian Radio Board Member Mārīte Tukša said in a afternoon interview that the critical situation applies not only ito the News Service, but in almost all Latvian Radio departments and the board advocates the provision of competitive remuneration to the entire Latvian Radio team.

Ivars Āboliņš, vice-chairman of the National Electronic Media Council (NEPLP), Latvia's media watchdog, said in an interview with Latvijas Radio that there was no reason to dismiss the radio board at the moment.

Āboliņš said that the NEPLP would appeal to the government to grant an additional nearly one million euros next year to increase the remuneration of Latvian Radio employees. He expressed confidence that politicians could support such a measure.

According to European Broadcasting Association data, public funding of media in Latvia is the lowest among EU Member States and 30-45% lower than in neighboring Lithuania and Estonia. In Latvia, the state budget subsidy for public media is 0.1% of GDP, while the European average is 0.17%.

Even while the situation within the broadcaster deteriorates to critical level, Latvian officials including the Foreign Minister were among those attending a large gathering in London at which the importance of a credible, independent and suitably-funded public media was repeatedly stressed.

Latvian Radio has broken some of the biggest public-interest stories of recent years with the Children of the System series exposing abuse of minors in institutional care a prime example.

Newly-installed Culture Minister Nauris Puntulis (National Alliance), said that the parties involved should return to the negotiating table.

Latvian Radio is part of the same LSM public media organization as LSM English.

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