2012, a Year of Media Instability in Latvia

January 25, 2013 • Ethics and Quality • by

Latvian media outlets experienced a tumultuous 2012, filled with financial instability, changes in ownership, and trends of concentration. Yet in the middle of the acrobatic marketplace – brave achievements in journalism and ambitious media projects were unveiled.  The following are a few of the pitfalls and milestones which characterized Latvian media in 2012.

Progress of the Year – Public Media:
In the beginning of 2012, the National Electronic Mass Media Council authored a detailed elaboration of the public media concept, which justified further public media development for the next five years. The project is a historic milestone for independent Latvia, however the program’s success depends on the will of politicians and the determination of public media professionals.

Purchase of the Year – MTG Purchased LNT:
When MTG purchased LNT in June, positive results and profits were already beginning to appear by autumn. The Saeima, parliament of Latvia, supported amendments to the Electronic Mass Media Law, which authorized payment requests for rebroadcasting LNT and TV3 from cable TV operators beginning in March 2013. According to data provided by TNS Latvia, MTG channels (TV3, LNT, TV3+, TV6, Channel2) were highly watched in the month of December, with aggregate totals exceeding 37 percent – data which confirms serious levels of concentration in the Latvian television market.

Loss of the Year – Newspapers:
As a result of a recurrent change of owners, the three largest Russian language newspapers, Vesti Sevodnja, Cas and Telegraf were moved to one central office before ultimately being told that by year’s end there would be just one, Vesti Sevodnja. Many speculated that Russian senator and billionaire Andrejs Molcanovs was among the owners of the newspaper, but the information available in the Lursoft database pointed to an offshore company called Lanchrome Limited, which is registered in Cyprus and represented by Board Members Sergejs Baranovskis, Tatjana Belousenko and lastly the Chairman of the Board and citizen of the Russian Federation, Andrejs Caregorodcevs. Ultimately, reducing  the publishing houses of three newspapers to one is not only a serious step in the direction of concentration of the Latvian Russian writing press, but it also increases the number of Latvian media outlets associated with Russian owners.

Change of Audience – Educational and Analytical Content:
While the ripple of change was first felt in 2011, the year 2012 clearly represented a shift, with media consumption no longer being defined merely as a source of entertainment. A rapid increase in subscribers was experienced by the analytical weekly magazine Ir (approximately 7,000 subscribers by the end of 2012) and Sestdiena (nearly 22,000 subscribers), which offered some research and analytical materials, along with entertainment-based content. In addition, the educational magazine market experienced growth, starting from Ilustreta Junioriem up to Forbes.

Breakthrough of the Year – Projects of Investigative Journalism:
Owing to the investigative journalism center Re-Baltica, several works of investigative journalism brought positive change to Latvian media content. The most striking and practical piece was dedicated to the analysis of reasons for inequality in the population income and the changes needed within the Latvian taxation system.

Lions of the Year – New Owners of Media:
Although established at the end of 2011, the regional television channel and portal Re:TV, developed by regional Vidzeme television representative Ingemars Vekteris, experienced a very substantial development. The channel is doing its best to overcome the challenges presented in the wake of the development of digital TV, as regional channel’s struggle to reach their dwindling audiences. Re:TV is joined by 15 other regional TV channels, some of them owned by participating local governments. At the end of the year, a new radio station Riga Radio was also established.

Struggle of the Year – Draugiem.lv against Facebook:
Facebook takes pride in one billion users who visit their social network at least once a month, but its global success is obscured by the popularity of Draugiem.lv in Latvia. According to data provided by the Latvian Internet Association, there are 1.2 million users, or 58.4 percent of the entire Latvian population (83.5 percent of all Latvian Internet users) registered on Draugiem.lv. Facebook is used by approximately 400,000 users or 19.3 percent of the population (27.6 percent of all Latvian Internet users). It is very likely that 2013 will again bring discussions concerning Draugiem.lv’s survival, however no debate concerning the most popular site in Latvia will be necessary.

Obsession of the Year – Smart Phone Applications:
Along with the increase in popularity of smart phones and tablet computers, the number of applications made in Latvia also increased. National daily, Diena (the Day) has developed a magazine for iPad users under the title 5Diena (the Friday), in addition to several printed magazines which are also now available in a digitized edition. Among the new mobile applications launched in 2012, Vardenite  created by linguist Janina Kursite is among the most interesting, in addition to Mushrooms, the mushroom hunters’ application, the application for the cinema lovers Kino Diena, and the practical application from the Riga Department of Public Transportation, Traffic.

Puzzle of the Year – Attack on Journalist Leonids Jakobsons:
In the beginning of 2012, the editor of the portal Kompromat.lv Leonids Jakobsons, suffered a deep facial cut as a result of an attack by two assailants. The journalist assumed that the attack was related to his professional activity and that the assault was rooted in a desire to take revenge on him for the exposing various publications. Kompromat.lv, which has exposed public officers in the past, dedicates most of their content to the analysis of the police and judicial system, including attempts to expose informal relationships between influential Latvians. The credibility of Kompromat.lv decreases due to their editor’s refusal to provide information on his sources of income, including those of Kompromat.lv.

Horror of the Year – Impact of Ask.fm:
This year, representatives from the Latvian government were introduced to the social network Ask.fm, a Latvian site popular among teenagers from various countries around the world. After two Irish teenagers committed suicide after being mocked on Ask.fm, Latvian public officials were contacted by Ireland’s Minister of Children and Youth Affairs, asking to investigate and improve safety on their website. Ask.fm is used by approximately 21 million people throughout the world, and was originally developed by Oskars Liepins, Marks Terebins, Ilja Terebins, Valerijs Vesnakovs, and Klavs Sinka.

Stress of the Year – Ignorance of the Population in Latgale:
After conducting a thorough examination of the television watching habits of the Latvian population, it appeared that even with the digitization of TV, no Latvian media outlets are able to successfully reach the inhabitants of the Latvian Easter boarder. Part of the population views content broadcasted from Russia and Belarus, resulting in very little knowledge of what is going on in Latvia. For example, according to Zigrida Some, the chief editor of the Daugavpils newspaper Latgales Laiks – journalists from the newspaper, who had visited the parishes touched by an epidemic, were shocked by the fact that the inhabitants had heard nothing of the dangerous disease.

Article translated from the original Latvian “2012 – ieilgušas mediju nestabilitātes gads” by Ivita Ozola

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