Conflicts & War

War in Ukraine puts media freedom in Baltics at risk, expert warns

Riga, Apr 30 (EFE).- Media in the Baltic states have accused governments in the region of attempting to control information about the war in Ukraine, which journalists have denounced as an attack on their freedom.

Latvia has been at the heart of the controversy after the defense minister questioned the government’s funding of a state-backed television broadcaster over the airing of a contentious interview.

At the beginning of the war, the Latvian parliament empowered the media regulator to block websites considered a “danger to national security.” The move resulted in the shuttering of over 70 information websites and the blockade of nearly all Russian television channels.

Nellija Locmele, editor-in-chief of the independent IR weekly magazine, criticized the ban and said Latvia should not imitate Russia with restrictions on freedom of the press and by limiting citizens’ access to information.

She was promptly slammed on social media and labeled a “tool of the Kremlin”, while her late husband, a former director of LTV, Latvia’s state-owned broadcaster, was accused of having been a KGB informant during Soviet times.

The parliament has also passed a law allowing the government to revoke the Latvian citizenship of anyone who expresses support for alleged Russian war crimes and the invasion of Ukraine.

Since international law prevents nations from rendering a citizen stateless, the measure targets people with dual nationality and seems to be a direct threat to Russian oligarch Petr Aven, who has not distanced himself from the Kremlin since the war broke out.

In early April, Latvian defense minister Artis Pabriks, harshly criticized Latvian state television for hosting Russian journalist Leonid Ragozin, based in Latvia and who writes for various international media including Al-Jazeera.

Ragozin opposes the war in Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policies, but he also says Western countries made Moscow feel isolated and threatened.

Following the controversial airing, Pabriks called Ragozin “a Kremlin agent of influence” and questioned whether Latvian state television should receive an additional 17 million euros it had requested to improve its programming.

The attacks against public media are part of a campaign to undermine their independence and reputation, Anda Rozukalne, professor of communications at Riga Stradins University, tells Efe.

“The criticism directed at the public media and their journalists is so extensive, regular and professionally prepared that it seems that great resources have been invested in monitoring the content and in the use of digital communication tools and content,” she says.

According to Rozukalne, the defense minister’s remarks came in the context of October’s parliamentary elections and were a “populist communication technique” to undermine the media’s status. EFE


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