Latvia | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Latvia

Latvia

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Free

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

22

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

8

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

8

Latvia’s constitution protects freedoms of speech and of the press, and the government generally upholds these rights in practice. Libel remains a criminal offense, though no journalist has been imprisoned or fined during the past two years. The Freedom of Information Law guarantees and provides detailed rules on access to public information. In a high-profile case, a Riga court ruled in February 2007 that the country’s financial police had invaded the privacy of LTV journalist Ilze Jaunalksne and awarded her 100,000 lats (US$47,000) in damages; a government appeal of the verdict was pending at year’s end. Jaunalksne, who broke a story on government corruption the previous year, had her private mobile telephone tapped by the financial police, who then leaked the transcripts of her conversations to the newspaper Neatkariga Rita Avize. At the end of 2007, the Office of the Prosecutor General was reviewing whether criminal conduct had occurred. Neatkariga Rita Avize is widely believed to be controlled by the powerful mayor of Ventspils, Aivars Lembergs, who has faced investigations for corruption.

In June, LTV management dismissed Arta Giga, director of the influential weekly news program De Facto, which has run stories that were critical of the government. The dismissal, which was allegedly over relatively minor offenses, occurred shortly before a referendum on two controversial national security amendments and raised concerns among press freedom and corruption watchdog groups over the politicization of public television. The move followed a restructuring of LTV begun in 2006 that was viewed as compromising journalistic and editorial independence. In December, the general director of LTV resigned after a documentary that was critical of Russian president Vladimir Putin was abruptly pulled from the station’s lineup. Originally scheduled to air the day before Russia’s parliamentary elections, the program was ultimately broadcast a few days later; the official reason provided for the delay was “technical difficulties,” but there were widespread allegations that the government had exerted pressure following complaints from the Russian embassy.

Latvian media are diverse and competitive, offering a wide range of political viewpoints. Four national terrestrial television channels dominate the airwaves: two public channels, LTV 1 and LTV 7, and two private stations, LNT and TV3. A number of privately owned radio and television outlets operate on a regional basis. Primary broadcast media are required to use Latvian, while secondary broadcasters may reserve up to 20 percent of their airtime for non-Latvian-language (Russian) programming; these requirements apply to terrestrial services only. The print media, which include a large number of both Latvian- and Russian-language papers, are independent and privately owned. Foreign companies, including several Swedish firms, own or control a considerable portion of Latvia’s print and broadcast media as well as media distribution and printing facilities; in May 2007, LNT was purchased by News Corporation, the U.S.-based media conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch. Transparency of media ownership is not adequately protected by law, and information on owners of media companies, some of whom are believed to be affiliated with political or economic interests, is not easily accessible in practice. According to the market research company TNS Latvia, Latvia’s media advertising market volume in 2007 increased by 24 percent from 2006; television accounted for 35 percent of Latvia’s total advertising market share, followed by newspapers with 22 percent. The government does not restrict access to the internet, which was used by an estimated 47 percent of the population during the year.