Calls to ban Russian TV channels amidst Moscow’s “information war” against Lithuania

Participants in the discussion – chairman of the parliamentary National Security and Defence Committee Artūras Paulauskas, president’s senior adviser on culture Rūta Kačkutė, head of the Cable TV Association Vaiva Žukienė, and journalist Vidas Rachlevičius – agreed that the only effective measure would be limiting information from Russia or outright banning rebroadcasting of Russian TV channels.

“We must defend ourselves. For years, commercial TV channels have insisted that all they do is entertainment. But it can be a war weapon and a quite powerful one at that. Television is an unconventional weapon that requires unconventional response. This is not a cultural discussion that can go on for years. We need rapid and adequate response. We must discontinue Russian TV broadcasts without much discussion. Socially responsible enterprises would do it themselves,” Rachlevičius said.

“While war is being waged, it’s no time for legal disputes,” MP Paulauskas agreed.

He compared Russia’s information campaigns in Lithuania with similar developments in Ukraine, where Moscow justified its military involvement by accusing Kiev of violating the rights of Russian-speakers. Paulauskas says that all statements from Russia must be taken with utmost seriousness, as words can easily turn into actions.

Presidential adviser Kačkutė says Russia is waging a hybrid war where conventional military action is complemented with information campaigns, cyber attacks and energy supply disruptions. According to her, Moscow spends 217 million euros on propaganda – spreading the message of Russia’s military might and multiethnic society.

President Dalia Grybauskaitė has recently drafted amendments to the Law on Information, with new provisions authorising Lithuanian Radio and Television Commission (LRTK) to punish broadcasters that spread information deemed unacceptable and slamming them with fines of up to 100,000 litas (EUR 30,000). Another provision orders that 90 percent of foreign TV production broadcast in Lithuania must be Western.

Rachlevičius, however, wants to go even further. He says that restrictions and fines are not efficient enough and that the right measures would be to outright block broadcasting of Russian TV channels and force private media companies “behave in a responsible and civic way”.

“What we’re talking about here is defending the state. It’s not just the president’s business – it’s the business of every citizen and corporation. My impression is that some businesses are waiting until we’re done with discussions and meanwhile continue to broadcast production that poisons our citizens’ minds and destabilizes the situation. One cannot excuse oneself by saying: it’s others who make drugs, we’re just selling,” Rachlevičius says.

Meanwhile Žukienė, head of the Cable TV Association, says that things are not as simple as that.

“As of today, we don’t even have a definition for propaganda. Operators cannot switch off broadcasts that have been airing in Lithuania for 20 years. Everyone must play by the same rules in a market. The least painful option would be for everyone – cable and satellite – to give up Russian TV channels,” Žukienė says.

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