Latvia proposes ‘alternative’ to Russian TV propaganda

Viktors Makarovs [Georgi Gotev]

Latvia, which took over the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU on 1 January, intends to launch independent quality media in Russian language which could include a Russian-language TV channel to counter Kremlin propaganda, a high ranking government official told journalists in Riga.

Viktors Marakrovs, adviser to the Latvian foreign affairs minister Edgars Rink?vi?s, said that the Latvian government is strongly in favour of a European effort to support initiatives aimed at establishment of independent quality media in the Russian language.

The official said his country hoped that specific ideas and initiatives would be developed as a result of independent expert deliberations organized under a project of the European Endowment for Democracy, a Brussels-based NGO, that is due to come up with results in May.

They should then be followed up upon by policy-makers. Whether creation of a “European Russian TV channel” will be among the options proposed by experts remains to be seen.

Some 40% of Latvians are native Russian speakers and regularly watch several Russian TV channels, including RBK Ren TV, RTR Planeta, NTV Mir.

For some time now, Latvia has complained about increased Russian propaganda targeting its population. Ilze Juhansone, Latvian Permanent Representative to the EU, recently said it was a “state responsibility” to provide alternative views on events.

>> Read: Upcoming Latvian EU presidency slammed for anti-Russian bias

“If you compare it to Soviet-era propaganda, the difference is that these channels resonate with peoples’ feelings and emotions”, Makarovs said, admitting that Moscow’s messages today were more successful than during Soviet times. He added that the kind of content disseminated by the Russian channels conveyed the message that people in his country couldn’t live together.

Makarovs regretted that the majority of Russian channels broadcasting for Latvia were registered in the UK and in Sweden, and questioned whether it was normal that a third country channel would target one EU country’s market and could be registered and regulated in another. He expressed doubts that such practice could ensure proper regulation in accordance with the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD). Makarovs clearly advocated that the procedure should be that if a media is targeted toward a specific country, it should be registered in that particular country.

To counter Russian propaganda, the Latvian official said an option was to create “an alternative comparable in technical terms”, that is, a generalist TV channel providing high quality TV shows. In that sense, the channel would greatly differ from the Russian-language version of Euronews, which is only a news channel, he explained.

Makarovs also insisted that Russian propaganda should not be countered with “Brussels propaganda”, and that the planned TV channel would be editorially free.

Although Latvia would like the planned channel to be an EU project, more realistically, it could be a project partially financed by the EU Commission, co-financed and branded by “countries concerned” and countries that would volunteer to be part of it, the official said. Among the countries who could volunteer he mentioned Sweden and Denmark.

As next steps, Makarovs said that he expected that independent experts should be tasked with putting together proposals by April, and that a political follow-up based on this idea could be decided in May.

Regarding the possibility of using other media than television to counter Russian propaganda, Makarovs said that radio could be an option. But he saw no need to include online media, as most news websites in his country had Russian language editions.

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