Country report – Latvia May 2012

30.09.2014 12:37
Print:

On 2 February 2012 all the existing members of the National Electronic Media Council (NEMC) were replaced by five new members elected by the Saeima (parliament):

Chair – Mr Ainārs Dimants (Professor and Head of Communication Sciences Department at the Turiba University) Vice-chair – Ms Aija Dulevska (journalist), Mr Gints Grūbe (head of film and broadcasting studio), Mr Ivars Zviedris (film cameraman, producer & director) and Mr Dainis Mjartāns (marketing & PR specialist).

Developments

The NEMC is currently working on a 5 year strategy for the electronic media. This will be a legal instrument binding on the industry.

  • Public service media

The NEMC is carrying on the work begun by its predecessor on creating a new Latvian public service media. The initial concept has been expanded and revised. The council has analysed not only the current state of the public service media in Latvia but also how the national information and culture space as a whole might develop in the future. The concept proposed three possibilities:

1)      Partial convergence of Latvian Television (LTV) and Latvian Radio (LR) whereby they retain their institutional independence but engage in joint projects;

2)      Full convergence with a new public service media with a single board and management;

3)      A new single, minimal media with most of the content purchased from independent producers. The new structure itself would only produce news and current affairs programmes.

The NEMC has opted for the second proposal and has submitted it to the cabinet for approval and further, detailed development of the model that envisages a gradual transition to a completely converged PSM operating on the three main platforms beginning with a single Internet portal and combined administrative and support functions. The LR and LTV brands will be preserved and the autonomous status of their programmes will be secured both in terms of editorial independence and financing. The editorial boards will be integrated only in so far as editorial pluralism is not limited and creativity promoted. There will be an integrated support infrastructure including premises. The legal status of the new PSM will change from being a company to a derived public person, which means it will no longer be a player in the advertising market.

The council’s action plan envisages a detailed financial analysis, study of the situation, elaboration of the technical economic justification and the assembly of portfolio of projects in 2012-2013 that will set out the necessary financing and agenda for each stage of the action plan.

The concept is planned to be examined by the cabinet on 12 June.

  • Commercial media

From February 2012, one of the main issues in the media field has been the proposed merger of the two largest free to air television broadcasters. Sweden’s Modern Times Group’s company MTG Broadcasting AB (already operating channels TV3, 3+ and TV6) plans to take over Latvian channels LNT and TV5.

The proposed takeover was submitted to the Competition Council for approval. The NEMC pointed out the possible risks and proposed certain binding conditions to prevent of lessen the risks were the transaction to be approved. These included LNT and TV3 remaining free to air terrestrial channels, preservation of their independent newsrooms and a guarantee of access to original content. Taking into account the NEMC’s opinion, the Competition Council approved the transaction with strict conditions intended to protect the advertising market and other stakeholders (advertisers, content providers and viewers). Both channels have to be free to air at least till 31.12.2013, their newsrooms are to remain autonomous and independent and the quantity of news and current affairs content has to remain at the existing level. On both channels 21% of broadcast time has to be original content produced in Latvia. In order to prevent serious harm to the market and consumers’ interests, the Competition Council reserves the right to enforce divestment measures on the transaction parties until the end of 2017. The merged enterprise would enjoy a dominant position with almost 80% of the advertising market. MTG has yet to decide on whether it agrees with the proposed conditions.

Changes in legislation

  • Work continues on a new Pre-election agitation law. One of the proposals envisages a ban on political television advertising from 30 days before election day. Parties will have 20 minutes of free airtime for agitation, which they may divide into 5 minute slots. Politicians have yet to decide on a compensation mechanism for the free airtime.
  • 2014 should see a change in terrestrial broadcasting that will lower transmission costs for free to air TV channels. This is very important because, given the financial crisis that reduced the advertising market by 40%, the national commercial channels (LNT and TV3) can longer afford the annual fee of 650 000 LVL (930 600 EUR). From 1 January 2014 the Latvian State Radio and Television Centre will be transmitting DTV and the annual fee could be lowered to 200 000 LVL (286 000 EUR). Free to air DTV is watched by some 10 - 12% of the population, around 200 000 people. The NEMC envisages that in future, pay DTV transmission will be ensured by several operators via a tendering process instead of just the one as at present.
  • The NEMC plans to initiate amendments to the Electronic Media Law (EML) in connection with broadcast subtitling, dubbing and voiceover. All three are currently permitted for films but the NEMC proposes keeping dubbing and subtitling only. The council’s final decision will be based on a socio-linguistic survey of audience use of media habits and wishes. The benefits of these amendments include the possibility for viewers to become familiar with the rich diversity of European languages, the possibility to learn new languages as well as support for industry because subtitling is financially advantageous for TV broadcasters.
  • On 9 May the parliamentary commission on human rights and public affairs decided to rush through a bill amending the EML to change the must-carry rules and regulate the composition of cable operators’ basic programme package. In future cable operators would have to retransmit public service TV for no charge (must carry) and the national commercial channels that are available free to air on DTV. The NEMC supports the idea that Latvian commercial channels that produce original content should have the possibility of receiving payment from the cable operators. The NEMC proposes that cable operators should be obliged to compile their basic programme package according to certain principles i.e. including the two public service channels, national commercial channels, regional and local TV channels as well as EU public service channels.
  • The parliamentary commission is examining a bill that would oblige cable operators to carry the programmes produced the regional and local media in their retransmission area if they so wish.