Lithuania: online media as beneficiaries of the crisis

Censorship was abolished in Lithuania even before the country's declaration of independence in 1990, giving the media a major role in the struggle for state sovereignty. During the 1990s the media were highly influential, as citizens strove for a free press. Circulations of 100,000 copies were not uncommon, a figure that media organisations in Lithuania can only dream of today.

Kiosk in Lithuania (Flickr, Andreas Lehner (CC BY 2.0))
Kiosk in Lithuania (Flickr, Andreas Lehner (CC BY 2.0))
Following the economic crisis only four national dailies with their headquarters in Vilnius have survived on the shrinking print media market: Lietuvos rytas, Lietuvos žinios, Vakaro žinios and Verslo žinios. The leading regional newspapers are Kauno Diena from Lithuania's second-largest city Kaunas, and Klaipėda and Vakarų ekspresas from the port city of Klaipėda. The newspapers Vakaro žinios and Klaipėda also have Russian-language editions.

Both the media crisis and political decisions have sent shock waves through the Lithuanian press. The biggest blow for the print media was the hike in VAT from 5 to 21 percent in 2009. In 2013, it was reduced to 9 percent again, but this came too late for many newspapers. Since 2014 all national newspapers have ceased publishing a Monday edition in order to save money. The circulations of many newspapers have fallen by up to a third over the past decade.

The online media have, however, benefited from the crisis in the print sector. The largest portal Delfi, which also has a Russian version, has become the country's most successful online media outlet. The web portals 15min and Lrytas are also frequently accessed. The traditional media are trying to jump on the bandwagon by expanding their own online editions, but paid-content models and a blog culture have so far had difficulties gaining acceptance.

The economic crisis has led to a number of changes of ownership. The Norwegian concern Schibsted withdrew from the Lithuanian market and sold the portal 15min to the Estonian concern Eesti Media. The Lithuanian concern Achema sold the television broadcaster BTV to another Lithuanian concern MG Baltic, which has interests in several sectors.

Other dominant foreign companies are the Swedish Modern Times Group (TV3 television programmes and the TV3 portal), the Swedish Bonnier Business Press AB (Verslo žinios) and the Estonian Ekspress Group (Delfi). The strongest Lithuanian media companies are the media groups Lietuvos rytas and Respublikos leidiniai. The Lithuanian-owned media are often accused of being under the influence of business and politics.

The government has made repeated attempts to exert tighter control over the media, for example by tightening up the youth protection law. In 2013 the public prosecutor's office tapped the telephones of seventeen journalists of the BNS news agency. A court later ruled that this was illegal.

Press Freedom Rating:

Reporters Without Borders: 36th place (2017)
Freedom House: 33rd place – status: free (2015)

Updated: May 2017
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