Latvia revokes license of independent Russian TV channel

Dec 5, 2022, 12:31 PM | Updated: Dec 6, 2022, 6:06 am

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Latvia has revoked the license of an independent Russian TV channel exiled in the Baltic country for, among other things, voicing support for the Russian military and including Crimea in its map of Russia, media authorities said on Tuesday.

The decision by the Latvian National Electronic Mass Media Council was based on number of recent violations by TV Rain and the license was revoked on the grounds of a threat to national security and public order.

The region’s main news agency, Baltic News Service, said the decision will take effect on Thursday when not only TV Rain’s broadcasts but also its programs on YouTube will be blocked in Latvia.

TV Rain was earlier fined by the Latvian media watchdog for failing to ensure proper translation of its broadcasts into Latvian, the Baltic country’s only official language.

On Friday, Latvia’s state security service started a probe into statements made by TV Rain on suspicion that it was supporting Russia and its military currently waging a war in Ukraine.

Latvia’s decision was triggered by a TV Rain program in which the anchor invited Russian soldiers and their families watching it to share their stories with the channel and promised to offer help. The host offered an apology, saying he wasn’t promising material assistance to Russian troops on the front line in Ukraine, but the channel quickly fired him and apologized.

The incident came on top of earlier tensions with the Latvian authorities, who issued a reprimand over the channel depicting the Moscow-annexed Crimea as part of Russia on maps and referring to the Russian military as “our army.”

TV Rain owner Natalya Sindeyeva said in an interview that she hasn’t decided on the next steps yet. “I wasn’t prepared for that, I was sure they wouldn’t do that,” Sindeyeva told Meduza, an independent Russian news outlet also based in Latvia.

Since its creation in 2010, TV Rain has been the most visible independent TV station in Russia, criticizing the Kremlin’s policies, offering airtime to government critics and extensively covering opposition protests.

It has faced continuous official intimidation and pressure from the Russian authorities in the past. In August 2021, it was branded a “foreign agent,” a label that implied closer government scrutiny and carried a strong pejorative connotation that could discourage potential viewers.

TV Rain suspended operations in Russia earlier this year after authorities blocked its broadcasts allegedly due to the channel’s critical coverage of Russia’s war in Ukraine. The channel restarted broadcasting in the summer from Latvia’s capital, Riga, where several other independent Russian media outlets are based.

The Latvian media watchdog’s ruling can be appealed. Its chairman, Ivars Abolins, said that all media outlets working in Latvia should follow and respect Latvia’s legislation but TV Rain — known in Russia as “Dozhd” — has refused to do it.

“I believe that this decision demonstrates that Latvia is open also for the Russian media because all Russian media who respect the law are welcome and may work in Latvia,” said Abolins as quoted by the Baltic News Service. “Those who are not ready to follow the rules, cross the red lines, may not work here. The rules are fair.”

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Latvia revokes license of independent Russian TV channel