Latvia: scandals and state-subsidised research

The Latvian media landscape appears to be deeply contradictory. On the one hand ex-politicians and oligarchs control the leading daily newspapers; on the other, the state subsidises investigative research with taxpayers' money.

The Lavtian oligarch Aivars Lembergs.
The Lavtian oligarch Aivars Lembergs.
2017 was the year the Latvian public heard about the relationship between the oligarchs, politicians, journalists and the media. IR magazine leaked a conversation between Aivars Lembergs, long-time mayor of the port city Ventspils, businessman and former transport minister Ainārs Šlesers, and former two-times prime minister Andris Škēle in a luxury hotel in Riga. In the conversation they discussed how they could get rid of the editor-in-chief of the largest Latvian daily Diena and certain awkward columnists. Although it is unclear how IR came into possession of the audio recordings, they stemmed from the anti-corruption investigations against the three men that took place between 2009 and 2011. The scandal shocked the Latvian nation.

But politics is also helping Latvian journalism: in 2017 for the first time the media received money from the State Cultural Capital Fund that comes from taxes on alcohol, cigarettes and gambling. More than one million euros went to 72 media projects, including investigative research on the shadow economy in the construction industry and Delfi website’s exhaustive research in the run-up to local elections.

But these projects that have nothing to do with the established daily newspapers, which continue to lose readers’ trust. According to a recent survey, most Latvians still consume news through television, but social networks now occupy second place, ahead of the papers. The papers are seen as providing coverage that primarily serves the interests of their owners - in the case of the daily Neatkarīgā, the aforementioned Aivars Lembergs. As a result, subscriptions to the daily newspapers have continued to decline, after already plummeting in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis.

Weekly and monthly magazines are, however, growing in popularity, with magazines focussing on business, history and celebrity news registering higher sales than the daily newspapers.

A third of Latvia’s population are Russian native speakers, and Russian-language media therefore widely read. These, however, tend to reflect the position of the Kremlin on domestic and foreign policy. MK Latvija is Latvia's most popular Russian-language weekly.

Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Rank 24 (2018)

Last updated: May 2018
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