Saeima dismisses head of broadcast regulator

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In an extraordinary session held on Wednesday, Saeima decided to dismiss Ainārs Dimants, head of the National Electronic Mass Media Council. The other members of the board of the NEMMC remain in their posts. Dimants later told Latvian Radio that he'll turn to the Constitutional court to overturn the decision.

As well as acting as broadcast watchdog with the power to take action if illegal or inappropriate material is broadcast, the NEMMC is also in overall charge of the funding of public broadcasting in Latvia, including the LSM news portals in Latvian, Russian and English.

50 MPs voted for dismissing Dimants, 8 voted against but 3 abstained.

Artuss Kaimiņš, one of the politicians who voted for the dismissal of Dimants, stressed the State Audit report that showed violations in the activities of the NEMMC. He said that "[..] The time when officials could hustle without any consequences is over."

MP Kārlis Šadurskis mentioned the same report and said that he doesn't want to influence the freedom of the press and an independent broadcast regulator. "I am only against illegal spending of taxpayer money," said Šadurskis.

MP Lolita Čigāne (Unity), on the other hand, said that most of the Saeima had not duly considered this matter. "[..] It is all based on a 10-minute discussion [at the Saeima Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee]," she said, adding that the NEMMC is being politically persecuted. 

Unity's Ilze Viņķele was equally critical of today's decision. She said that by sacking NEMMC the force of law was used for fulfilling personal ambitions - either for settling personal scores or in the interests of their lobby. "I am ashamed to partake in today's farce," she said.

Earlier today, President of Latvia Raimonds Vējonis told Latvian Radio that the decision to sack Dimants was "wrong", and said that it endangers the democratic values of Latvia.

Commenting the politicians' criticism of the NEMMC for budget violations, president Vējonis said that "Of course these are violations. But not so grave that a head of an institution should be dismissed."

The proceedings for firing the NEMMC started on June 17th when leaders of four Saeima factions, including the leading Unity party, the Regional Alliance Party and the Greens and Farmers Alliance filed a submission for the dismissal of the NEMMC, criticizing it for inefficient spending, increasing Russian programming on the radio, and 'losing face'. 

The situation has attracted some international attention as well, as Dunja Mijatović, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, called for respecting the media regulator's independence

Dimants and a a couple of media experts have publicly stated that the decision to turn against the council is politically motivated.

After Saeima made the decision, Dimants told Latvian Radio that the regulator is an independent institution, so the decision cannot be political. "It is absolutely against the written law and its very spirit," said Dimants, saying that he'll turn to the Constitutional court and will consider any other ways to solve the problem, including turning to the president who had expressed his support of Dimants earlier in the day.

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