Policy and legislation
The new Electronic Mass Media Law was adopted in 2010. The previous Law on Radio and Television (1995) was outdated and not in accordance with the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive. This law has been heavily debated both in society and in the Parliament. Only its revised version was enforced by the President. The law has been criticised because it does not ensure political and economic independence of public media, and transparency in administering public media. In 2018, new amendments went into force. The main aim of the amendments was to defend national information space from disinformation. Moreover, public media will be withdrawn from the advertising market from 2021 onwards.
In addition, the law stipulates the requirements for the use of the official language (Latvian) and distribution of European audio-visual works in media: the national and regional electronic mass media shall ensure that in the programmes produced by them, at least 65% of all broadcasts are in the official language (except for the commercials). Moreover, the national and regional electronic mass media shall ensure that in the television programmes produced by them, at least 40% of the transmission time of European audiovisual works is reserved for audiovisual works in the official language (except for news, sports events, games, and commercials).
Anti-trust measures to prevent media concentration are stipulated by the Competition Law (in force since 2002) and the Electronic Mass Media Law (2010). The Electronic Mass Media Law stipulates that abuse of a dominant position of an electronic mass medium is prohibited (exceeding 35% of the particular market share is considered dominant). The purpose of the Competition Law is to protect, maintain and develop free, fair and equal competition in the interests of the public in all economic sectors by restricting market concentration.
The Ministry of Culture is responsible for the development and coordination of the national media policy to promote freedom of expression in Latvia.
- diversity of media environment,
- quality and accountability of the media environment,
- education and training of media professionals,
- development of media literacy,
- resilience of the media environment.
TV and Radio
There is one public TV organisation (Latvian Television) and one public radio station (Latvian Radio) that are supervised by the National Electronic Mass Media Council (NEPLP). A number of commercial (private) TV companies and commercial radio companies operate in Latvia. Cable TV and transnational satellite TV companies function as well.
In 2013, a decision to develop public service broadcasting in Latvia (merging public broadcasters Latvian Television and Latvian Radio) has been taken by the National Electronic Mass Media Council. It is outlined as a strategic aim also in the National Development Strategy of the Electronic Mass Media 2018-2022. Since 2013, Latvia’s united news portal lsm.lv is operating; it is a unified news portal of Latvia’s public television and radio services in Latvian, English and Russian languages.
Latvian Television is the state capital company. About 60% of its financing comes from the national budget, while the rest must be earned by the television station itself through its activities and the sale of advertising. This is a regularly debated issue, as commercial TV companies argue it to be an unfair situation and they are even accusing public TV of price dumping in the advertisement market (public media will be withdrawn from the advertising market from 2021).
An annual contract between the public broadcasting companies and the National Electronic Mass Media Council stipulates the public remit. According to the annual report, cultural and religious programmes made 4% of total broadcasted hours in 2018.
Latvian Radio is the state capital company. It has 5 programmes and several artistic structural units (Latvian Radiotheatre, Latvian Radiochoir and children vocal ensemble).
Several factors have aggravated the situation of printed media during the last decade. Firstly, economic crisis 2008-2010 has left an impact on consumption patterns. Many long-time subscribers are giving up their newspaper and magazine subscriptions, as well as choosing not to buy press from a news-stand. In 2011, 72% of the Latvian population read newspapers at least once a week, compared to only 60% in 2013. Secondly, advertising revenues across all media have dropped with 46% in 2009 (if compared to 2008) reaching a drop of 57% in newspapers (see more detailed data of the Latvian Advertising Association; see also the website of TNS Latvia). Thirdly, internet usage has continued to grow. In 2008, 57% of individuals used the internet regularly (at least once a week) and in 2018, the number of internet users has grown to 81% (source: Central Statistical Bureau). Fourthly, the changes in VAT increased the costs of the printed media (see chapter 4.1.4).
The combination of a dramatic drop in revenues and aggravated changes in media consumption habits has led to deep transformations in the print media market, the most shattering event in 2009 being the departure of the Bonnier Group, a major foreign investor and the owner of the main daily Diena and its businesses (Dienas Mediji) – a printing house, several regional newspapers, a newspaper distribution company and a magazine division. In 2010, the largest Russian daily “Telegraf” changed ownership too.
The influence of oligarchs and consequent self-censorship of journalists have been widely discussed.
In addition, the situation with the printed cultural press has been complicated. In 2011, the only cultural weekly “Kultūras Forums” ceased to exist. However, at the end of 2011, the Ministry of Culture announced a competition and assigned a public subsidy for publishing cultural content in dailies. Because of a significant decrease of the budget of the State Culture Capital Foundation, many of the cultural magazines discontinued their publications in 2010 or 2011. Some of them are to be continued in electronic format.
The State Culture Capital Foundation has been the main supporter of cultural broadcasts and cultural publications in the printed media in Latvia. The State Regional Development Agency has a support programme for regional and local media. The Society Integration Foundation distributes grants to support different media projects in Latvian language.
See also the studies of The Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism Re:Baltica; Media Literacy of the Inhabitants of Latvia – A quantitative study, 2017; Research on the Media Literacy of Children and Adolescents Aged 9-16 in Latvia (2017).