Latvia: Media regulator urged not to revoke Dozhd license pending court review
Decision revoking broadcast license is clear violation of media freedom.
The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today express serious concern over the decision by Latvia’s National Electronic Mass Media Council (NEPLP) to revoke the broadcast license of exiled independent Russian TV station Dozhd, which is based in Riga. Given the clear implications for media freedom, our organisations urge the regulator to refrain from enforcing the revocation until a court has reviewed the decision.
On 6 December, the NEPLP’s chairperson said that Dozhd’s license had been withdrawn “in connection with the threat to national security and the public order” and citing three serious violations of the country’s broadcast law since it began broadcasting last summer. Dozhd’s broadcasting ban enters into force on December 8, but it has the right to appeal. The NEPLP also announced its intent to block Dozhd’s YouTube channel within the country.
Our organisations acknowledge and welcome the steps taken by Latvian authorities since the war began to provide visas for more than 470 Russian journalists and their families, including those from Dozhd, who were forced to flee the country. This allowed Dozhd and others to re-establish operations and continue working. Latvia has provided a welcome example for Europe to follow and deserves praise for its overall support for free and independent media.
While our organisations recognise the sensitivity of this issue in Latvia, our shared view is that the decision to revoke their broadcast license is disproportionate and ultimately counterproductive.
In our assessment, appropriate steps were taken by Dozhd to address the three violations of Latvia’s broadcast law cited by the regulator. The presenter who misspoke about ‘support’ to Russian troops has apologised and been dismissed; the use of a map downloaded from the internet showing Crimea as part of Russia’s territory was a clear mistake for which the editor has since apologised; and the single reference to Russia’s military as “our army” was dealt with and the media outlet was fined. While Dozhd must respect Latvian law, in our view these three editorial errors were mistakes and do not meet the threshold for the outright revocation of a media outlet’s broadcast licence.
Arguments raised about Dozhd’s journalists posing a potential national security or intelligence threat are very serious accusations that need to be addressed by independent courts rather than a broadcast regulator. There is clear guidance on restricting freedom of expression on the basis of national security that needs to be followed by the authorities.
The wider implications of this decision for the Russian anti-war movement are significant. As the most influential exiled Russian broadcast media outlet, Dozhd’s resolutely anti-war coverage of issues such as mobilisation, Russian atrocities and the realities from the front lines have provided a crucial alternative to government propaganda.
Moving forward, we urge the NEPLP to refrain from enforcing the decision on revocation of Dozhd’s licence. We also urge the Administrative Court to reverse the NEPLP decision until a court has reviewed the decision on appeal. The Court must is should consider both the violations committed and the alleged national security or intelligence allegations, as well as the broader implications the decision will have for Dozhd, its editors and journalists, and other exiled Russian media.
Until then, our message is clear: independent Russian journalism should be provided a safe refuge in Europe. Dozhd’s mission of providing independent news to Russian-speaking audiences is a crucial one and we hope this matter can be resolved.