Saeima committee pulls plug on Latgale public radio presence

The National Electronic Mass Media Council (NEPLP) has written a sharply-worded letter of protest against Thursday’s unexpected ruling by the parliamentary Budget and Finance committee not to allocate €87,000 towards establishing a branch studio of Latvian Public Radio (LR) in Latgale, despite previous vows by MPs to support the creation of such a facility to promote a unified national public sphere in the peripheries of the country.

In addition, the Saeima committee denied the procurement request by the NEPLP to bolster its secretariat’s capacity to the tune of €106,000.

Other parliamentary committees had unanimously supported these two initiatives at previous hearings on December 11, including the Human Rights and Social Affairs committee, recalled the NEPLP in its letter signed by the council member in charge of the commercial and public radio sectors Dainis Mjartāns.

“These corrections to the NEPLP budget requests, striking these acutely necessary procurements from the public interest, points to a complete lack of comprehension and common national strategy in media policy,” wrote Mjartāns.

In light of Latgale’s significance in the Latvian national interest and security, the NEPLP has focused especially on strengthening the national media’s information space. The creation of the Latgale LR studio would have been a logical next step in this direction, with mutual benefits for the people of Latgale and the rest of Latvia.

“The Saeima committee’s vote against the public media – in this case Latvian Radio – developing locally in the east of the country, is a vote against national security,” Mjartāns pointed out. He had previously in the letter referred to Latgale as “the most vulnerable” of Latvia’s regions, where “we can’t just go out there and turn everybody’s antennae in the other direction.”

The proposed €87,000 earmark would have covered salaries for two full-time Latvian program managers, renovations of premises, rental costs and the necessary array of technical equipment. However the Saeima committee’s ruling apparently considers Latgale’s need for an upgraded public media presence unnecessary after all.

As for the NEPLP’s secretariat, its capacity-raising hopes have been dashed while current monitoring staff are already working at 4200 hours annually, which cannot possibly sift through the more than 600,000 hours of content being broadcast across Latvia’s mass media landscape. This means the independent public supervisory council with no enforcement powers cannot begin its fight against illegal cable television operators rebroadcasting content from other nations not currently disposed with a friendly nature towards our nation.

Its current capacity allows the NEPLP to monitor about 1% of the content currently generated and requiring monitoring and stenography.

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