Latvia: little trust in the press

The Latvian media landscape is small but nonetheless lacks transparency, particularly with regard to media company ownership. Only since 2011 does this information have to be made public.

Latvian newspapers (© picture-alliance/dpa)
Latvian newspapers (© picture-alliance/dpa)
The economic crisis and the new media have made life very difficult for Latvia's media industry. Most media have yet to see sales return to their pre-2008 levels. The print media were hardest hit: subscriptions to the daily Diena, for example, fell by 75 percent. Advertising revenues dropped dramatically, partly because of the rising influence of online media. Only the country's second most popular daily, Latvijas Avize, has managed to stay in the black.

Public trust in the media is steadily waning. Media ownership often lacks transparency, so readers can only guess who might be behind a newspaper or television channel. People's faith in independent reporting has been shaken by the frequent changes of ownership and the fact that some owners use their media as a mouthpiece for their own interests.

According to the international NGO Freedom House, too many media are in the hands of a single owner, partly as a result of the media crisis. This concentration of ownership is most evident in the television segment. One third of the fifteen most popular TV channels belong to Baltijas mediju alianse (Baltic media alliance), while another third belongs to the Swedish group MTG. Nevertheless, the editors of most Latvian-language media enjoy journalistic independence vis-à-vis the publisher or owner.

The situation at the Russian-language media outlets is different. These outlets tend to represent Russia's official position on both Latvian affairs and foreign affairs. They had close personal ties with the Harmony Centre alliance and represented its interests until 2014, when the alliance was dissolved. The most influential Russian paper is Vesti (news). Since one third of the Latvian population is Russian-speaking, the Russian papers are widely read. The MK Latvija is Latvia’s most popular Russian-language weekly.

The Latvian judiciary organisation came under fire from Reporters Without Borders for deciding that the 2014 trial of the investigative journalist Leonid Jakobson should be conducted in camera.
At the end of January 2015, during a demonstration against the war in Ukraine police officers in Riga arrested a cameraman working for state television. He was accused of breaching regulations and kept in custody for three hours by security forces.

In 2012 the bureau for investigative journalism re:baltica was founded in Riga to promote independent reporting in the Baltic states. Its journalists now provide reports to all the leading Latvian newspapers and websites.

The circulations of the weekly newspapers and magazines have remained stable, while sales of daily papers dropped by up to 60 percent up to the year 2014. According to Latvian communications specialist Anda Rožukalne, the Latvian daily press plays only a marginal role nowadays, as web portals meet all readers' information requirements.

Press Freedom Rating:

Reporters Without Borders: 28th place (2017)
Freedom House: 84th place – status: partly free (2016)

Updated: May 2017
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