28 April 2005


IPI concerned over draft Latvian Law on Public Service Broadcasting Organisations

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 27 April 2005 IPI letter to President Vaira Vike-Freiberga:

H.E. Vaira Vike-Freiberga
President of Latvia
Pils laukums 3
Riga, LV-1050

Fax: +371-709 21 57

Vienna, 27 April 2005

Your Excellency,

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, leading journalists and media executives in over 120 countries, is writing to express its concern about the draft Latvian Law on Public Service Broadcasting Organisations ("the draft law").

Based on IPI's recent review of the draft law there are provisions that, if retained in the final version of the law, will have a prejudicial impact upon Latvian public service broadcasting.

Given that, elsewhere, the draft law meets both international and European standards, IPI believes that if the government were to undertake a thorough review of the draft law with interested parties there is a strong chance that the revised law would have a transforming effect on public service broadcasting in the country.

With this in mind, IPI proposes to highlight a crucial area that the government should consider revising immediately if this goal is to be met.

Perhaps most importantly, IPI is worried by the proposed funding arrangements for the Public Service Broadcast Organisations ("PSBO"). According to Article 13 (1), funding will come directly from the "State budget," "independent entrepreneurial activities" and "donations, gifts and sponsorship." State funding will be decided through an agreement between the cabinet and the PSBO and last for five years.

Bearing in mind the important principle that public service broadcasters should be independent and held at arm's length from the institutions of government, IPI has grave doubts that such an arrangement is in the best interests of either the PSBO or the Latvian people. The decision to have direct negotiations between Cabinet and PSBO jeopardises this principle and leaves the PSBO open to political influence and persuasion.

According to IPI's view, if the PSBO was financed by licensing and advertising then the double layer of management - board and Council - is workable; however, in a state budget-financed organisation, this double layer of management is subservient to the will of the government because there is no barrier between the negotiating parties.

To avoid this situation and the weakening of the safeguards that should act to protect public service broadcasters, IPI would suggest that the best approach is to allow funding to come from a mixture of licensing and advertising. Such a scheme is not only one that is followed - in one form or another - by most European countries, it is also a funding system that removes the temptation of governments to apply pressure on public service broadcasters during the actual funding negotiations.

Moreover, IPI would suggest that by following this path the government would not be ceding its right to an oversight role regarding the work of the PSBO. This is already envisaged within the framework of the draft law and it is contained in the interrelationships between the board, the council and the director general. In addition, there is nothing to prevent the government from initiating a review of the PSBO's work, perhaps every ten years (instead of the draft law's proposal of carrying out a budget review every five years).

If carried out by an independent commission and without the pressure of financial negotiations, the review could be of great benefit to the PSBO allowing government, civil society and all other interested parties to join together in an on-going dialogue about the PSBO's future in Latvian society.

Finally, IPI believes that public service broadcasting succeeds and fails on the willingness of governments to relinquish the levers of control over their broadcasters. It should also be remembered that the retention of any form of control or influence diminishes the credibility of both the government and the PSBO.

We thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Johann P. Fritz

Also sent to:

Prime Minister Aigars Kalvītis
State Chancellery
36 Brivibas Boulevard
Riga, LV 1520
Fax: + 371 728 046 9

Cabinet of Ministers
36 Brivibas Boulevard
Riga, LV 1520
Fax: + 371 728 04 69


International Press Institute
Spiegelgasse 2
1010 Vienna
ipi (@) freemedia.at
Fax:+43 1 5129014
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