Lithuania: online media also struggling

Lithuania’s print media sector has seen a wave of cutbacks in recent years: none of the national newspapers are published daily anymore and several magazines have had to shut down entirely. After the onset of the coronavirus crisis, online platforms are also struggling to survive. Yet the circumstances were not always this dire for Lithuanian media.

Kiosk in Lithuania (Flickr, Andreas Lehner (CC BY 2.0))
Kiosk in Lithuania (Flickr, Andreas Lehner (CC BY 2.0))
Censorship was abolished in Lithuania even before the country's declaration of independence in 1990, meaning that the media played a major role in the struggle for state sovereignty. The Lithuanian people were eager to have a free press, and during the 1990s the media were highly influential. Circulations of 100,000 copies were not uncommon. But over the last 15 years many papers have seen their circulation drop by up to two-thirds.

Daily papers are a thing of the past

The global economic crisis of 2008 and the tough political decisions that accompanied it (e.g. a VAT hike for print publications from 5 to 21 percent) had already dealt heavy blows to the industry. Some media outlets disappeared immediately while others struggled on for a while. In 2019 Lithuania’s oldest daily newspaper, Lietuvos žinios, was shut down after more than a century. However, the country hadn’t had a proper national daily in years anyway as they had already all given up their Monday editions. As of this year (2020), Lietuvos rytas, once Lithuania’s largest and most influential daily, is also published only three times a week. The coronavirus has also marked a turning point for the country’s only business daily, Verslo žinios, which has had to turn itself into a weekly paper. The leading regional papers are Kauno diena, based in the country’s second-largest city Kaunas, together with Klaipėda and Vakarų ekspresas from the port city of Klaipėda.

Foreign players abound

The global economic crisis wreaked havoc in the print media sector. Now the Covid-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on online media too. While news websites are registering record visitor numbers their advertising revenues have fallen drastically, forcing these media - including the three biggest web portals, Delfi, 15min and Lrytas - to ask for state aid.

The economic crisis in 2008 led to a number of changes of ownership in the media industry. The Norwegian group Schibsted withdrew from the Lithuanian market and sold the website 15min to the Estonian conglomerate Postimees Group (formerly Eesti Media). 2017 also brought a change of ownership at the television channel TV3, which also runs the popular TV3 website. The Swedish Modern Times Group sold its media assets in the Baltic states to the US firm Providence Equity. Other dominant foreign companies include the Swedish Bonnier Business Press AB (Verslo žinios) and the Estonian Ekspress Grupp (Delfi).

Among the Lithuanian media groups Lietuvos rytas and Respublikos leidiniai are the most powerful. The media of these groups are frequently accused of catering to the business and political interests of their owners. Local media outlets, whose owners are often active in politics or have close ties to political groups, are the most vulnerable.

There have been repeated attempts by the government to exert greater control over the media in general, and the public service broadcaster in particular. A special parliamentary committee was set up in parliament to investigate the public broadcaster. This investigation was later declared unconstitutional by Estonia’s constitutional court.

World Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Rank 28 (2020)

Last updated: April 2020
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