Latvia | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Latvia

Latvia

Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 Scores

Press Status

Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

17

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

6

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

6

With constitutional guarantees of press freedom, the press and broadcast media operate freely and there are few legal restrictions on their work. In January, the Constitutional Court ruled that a provision on defamation of state officials in the criminal code was unconstitutional, and the parliament adopted amendments to remove the provision. Libel remains a criminal offense. In January, two men were sentenced for the brutal 2001 murder of investigative reporter Gundars Matiss. The prosecutor's office contends that Matiss was killed for his reports on illegal alcohol production. A commercial channel and two government-run public networks, Latvian-language LTV1 and LTV2, dominate the broadcast market. Until recently, foreign-language broadcasting, including Russian, could not exceed 25 percent of total airtime, which limited the operations of commercial TV and radio. In 2003, the Constitutional Court ruled the restriction a violation of free speech. However, in December 2004 the parliament ignored the president's opinion and passed a repeat of its decision to amend the Law on Radio and Television Broadcasting, restricting the use of Russian on the air. Cable television offers a rich assortment of Russian broadcasts. In October, the Latvian National Radio and Television Council fined the First Baltic Channel, a Russian-language station, for broadcasting a biased documentary. The First Baltic Channel is based in Latvia but broadcasts in all three Baltic republics.

Latvian media are diverse and competitive, with some 140 newspapers representing a wide range of political viewpoints. Journalists expressed concern after public officials openly criticized the media and complained of inadequate coverage on LTV; media experts view these criticisms as pressure on LTV. This year, two journalists were refused visas and denied entry into Latvia: the editor of a Russian Catholic newspaper and the Al-Jazeera Moscow bureau chief. According to the South East Europe Media Organization, neither journalist was given a reason for the denial. There were a few reported instances of physical attacks on journalists. The print media are independent and privately owned. However, media concentration is high, with six publishers owning 60 percent of printed media.