Latvia | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Latvia

Latvia

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Free

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

19

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

7

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

6

The constitution protects freedom of speech and of the press, and the government respects these rights in practice. In 2004, criminal liability for the defamation of government officials effectively ended. Libel, however, remains a criminal offense. In March 2005, the government brought a criminal legal action against Chas, an influential Russian-language paper and strong supporter of Russian minority rights, for allegedly inciting ethnic hatred by publishing articles of Waffen-SS crimes and calling for a halt to the annual SS veteran marches. Several sources have hinted that this proceeding might be part of a government harassment campaign against Chas, as the paper and its publishing house, Petits, have also undergone 20 questionable tax and financial inspections in a 10-month period. Alexander Kirshteins, a member of parliament who has made a number of comments perceived to be anti-Russian, has tried to start several criminal cases against the newspaper for inciting ethnic hatred; the newspaper believes this is because it has published articles critical of him.

Latvian media are diverse and competitive and offer a wide range of political viewpoints. The print media are independent and privately owned. However, media concentration is high, with six companies owning 60 percent of printed media. The main broadcasting regulator, the National Radio and Television Council, has allegedly been subject to the influence of political parties and various private interests. One report claims that the council has purposely delayed licensing a second commercial broadcaster for several years. There are two state-run television channels, of which one broadcasts exclusively in Latvian and another that reserves 20 percent of airtime for Russian-language programming. Because of the limited options, the Russian population (about 30 percent of Latvia's citizens) often turns to cable television, which offers a wide array of Russian broadcasts. The government does not restrict access to the internet's 800,000 domestic users.