The coronavirus has also taken hold in Latvia's advertising and media industry: editorial staff have switched to working from home and advertising clients are cancelling or postponing their campaigns. No one can or wants to quantify the damage at this stage, but the first cracks are already visible.
But even before the pandemic, Latvian media were suffering from a long list of ailments. The media system still hasn’t recovered from the economic crisis of 2009. At that time, advertising revenues dropped by almost 50 percent within a year. The relatively small size of the media market and a public divided into two language groups (Latvian and Russian) influence the quality of Latvian journalism. On top of that, the media ownership structure in the country testifies to close links between the media and politics:
The country’s second-largest daily, Diena, belongs to the group that operates the Port of Riga, which in turn belongs to Ainārs Šlesers (a former minister of transport and minister of the economy and former deputy mayor of Riga) and Andis Šķēle (two times prime minister of Latvia between 1995 and 2000).
From 1999 to 2016, the country’s third-largest daily newspaper Neatkarīgā was owned by the Latvian oligarch Aivars Lemberg, who has also been mayor of Venstpils since 1988. He was accused of using the paper to further his own business and political goals and has been on trial for years facing charges of corruption. In spring 2016 the publisher Mediju nams was sold to businessman Lauris Kāpostiņš, whose sister is the daughter-in-law of Aivars Lemberg.
News and opinion mixed together
There are three competing journalistic cultures in Latvia. The culture of the Russian-language media, which are particularly prone to mixing news and commentary. Then there is the instrumental and authoritarian (post-Soviet) journalistic culture, which is typical of media that are not independent from politics and business interests. And thirdly there is the culture of publications that maintain high journalistic standards.
One example of the third category is the investigative journalism in which Latvia, with its innovative projects, excels among Northern and Eastern European states. The flagship project is Re:Baltica, an organisation for investigative journalism which is financed by donations and international grants.
The public-service broadcasters are also expanding their activities in the area of investigative journalism. "De facto", a programme broadcast by public television channel LTV, provides weekly reports on corruption. Another LTV programme, "Aizliegtais paņēmiens" (Forbidden Methods), has maintained a unique format based on undercover investigations since 2013: disguised as dishwashers or young entrepreneurs, the programme’s journalists have revealed the dubious backgrounds to various political processes and exposed tax dodgers, people who facilitate corruption and Instagram influencers. The TV3 show "Nekā personīga" ("Nothing personal") also presents a weekly analysis of current political affairs.
Scoops on fake news and disinformation
Other media also expose scandals on a regular basis, for example the weekly paper Ir and web portal Delfi. Some of this content could not have been produced without the financing provided by a state fund created to support the media.
Investigative journalists have also uncovered numerous cases of disinformation. The most well-known are those published by Re:baltica: dubious websites spread fake news about the collapse of a supermarket roof in Riga in 2013. Re:Baltica's exposés garnered a lot of attention in Latvian society because more than 50 people died when the supermarket's roof came down. After this scandal a search began for legal means to curb disinformation. In 2019 the operators of the websites in question were arrested and criminal proceedings initiated against them.
World Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Rank 22 (2020)
Last updated: April 2020