Lithuania: online media as beneficiaries of the crisis

In Lithuania, the editorial departments of the daily newspapers are currently debating whether to make massive cuts: in the future they will only be able to afford to publish one print edition a week at most, and will produce only pay-to-read content for their websites. Yet the situation wasn’t always this grim for Lithuania’s 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, 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.

But after 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.

But political decisions have also 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 website 15min to the Estonian concern Eesti Media. And in 2013 the Lithuanian group Achema sold the television broadcaster BTV to another Lithuanian multimedia group, MG Baltic, which also owns the TV station LNK, but which sold the website Alfa in 2017. 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 outlets of these Lithuanian groups are frequently accused of being influenced by business and political interests. Gedvydas Vainauskas, the editor-in-chief and owner of the newspaper Lietuvos rytas, is currently under investigation for corruption.

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 Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Rank 36 (2018)

Last updated: May 2018
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