If the criticism levied at the government over desires to reduce the freedom of press was taken by politicians as advice, everyone would be better off, Lithuanian Journalists Union chairman Dainius Radzevičius told LRT Radio. According to him, even if the government is not seeking to limit the freedom of press, the planned changes could be exploited by others. Meanwhile, LRT Investigation Department head Indrė Makaraitytė muses that perhaps by not granting funding to commercial broadcasters for public relations projects, the Lithuanian media landscape could even improve, lrt.lt writes.
Nevertheless, she points out that with his statements and entries on Facebook, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis displays his and his team’s view of the media and its representatives. According to I. Makaraitytė, the prime minister’s proposal to rather distribute media funding to those in poverty is also a display of efforts to improve his standings and betrays a view of freedom of press: “This sentence is in one way or another very symptomatic and revealing of the prime minister and his team’s portrait. It is very bad that politicians think this way. […] We are talking about politicians constantly feeding the news media themselves with public relations projects, European Union funding was pumped in and continues to be pumped into news media.”
According to the journalist, commercial media outlets often participate in competitions to become distributors of European Union or, for example, state institutions’ project information. This, according to I. Makaraitytė could even have an influence on the unsupported content created by media outlets.
“Indeed in a sense, that public relations or advertising funding is vital in a certain sense. I have worked in commercial media outlets myself to now. Trust me, every time you touch a topic, people walk around thinking with horror – great, there’ll be another competition, a competitor will likely win because we were too harsh here,” I. Makaraitytė says.
According to her, such a situation is also exploited by public relations agencies, which distribute these competitions and can pressure media outlets: “If all the money goes to one, say television, can the competing television survive? No, it can’t. In other terms, they are all making certain conspiracies.”
According to the journalist, it is not fully clear, what funding and what news media the prime minister had in mind when saying that funds should go to the poor, however the only funding to reach commercial news media is namely that, which is intended for information distribution projects.
“This is how the state’s millions reach commercial news media. If the state pulls this funding, all of it, it would leave the news media to compete in a real competitive market, I believe the quality of our news media would definitely improve. Then, I think, it would be a little worse for S. Skvernelis,” I. Makaraitytė told LRT Radio.
If the prime minister had funds intended for the public broadcaster in mind after all, the journalist notes, one must recall that it was the government itself that blocked the LRT from obtaining income from commercial activities, advertising. This way, it was sought to make the public broadcaster more independent.
“I read on Facebook itself, there were people, who interpreted a threat in those few sentences, for example the LRT because the LRT is sustained by budget funding and this is exactly several tens of millions of euro. […] It was granted these powers, but lost commercial incomes so that it would have total independence even from commercial interests,” I. Makaraitytė notes.
She also adds – efforts to influence the LRT more were typical in earlier governments as well. This, according to the journalist, is a real cause for concern because it reveals politicians views: “There was always a desire, especially regarding the LRT, to have more influence and impact, silence more critical journalists or do so that it would not even be necessary to, place their own people. Do you recall at least one government, which would not have raised such ideas? Unfortunately not. […] It is just what our political culture is, unfortunately. Such is our society, supporting politicians and the monopoly of one truth, not critical discussions, which are inconvenient for many.”
Journalists Union chairman D. Radzevičius echoes the sentiment that the news media does not receive direct funding from the government and never has: “You know, if they wanted to say that they will take funds from journalists because they obtain information from the Centre of Registers and then will distribute it to, for example, pensioners, that journalists must support pensioners or hurt people, perhaps it was a sort of black humour. I would try to think that way because we would not say this with any common sense because journalists receive no money.”
According to the chairman, while prior experience is used as the justification for the limitations of Centre of Registers data access, this government is in position to improve, rather than worsen the situation.
“I believe that the prime minister has all the needed capacities to make use of this situation and resolve the mistakes of past governments, open a new page of some sort. But for this there is need for an internal desire and certain strength to perhaps weather criticism,” D. Radzevičius mused.
According to him, journalists only want three things in the current situation. Firstly, free access to Centre of Registers data, akin to other developed countries. Such access allows journalists to review information, present tested fact in their articles.
Also, D. Radzevičius asserts, journalists demand publication of S. Skvernelis’ statement on news media at a cabinet meeting: “We all want to understand what the real view of journalists and media is. We simply wish to know the truth.”
The third demand, according to the chairman, is linked to the government’s desire to implement greater control and change LRT management. According to him, such pursuits appear harmful to both government and the public, in the eyes of the Lithuanian Journalists Union.
“We are speaking up loudly about it. Even if state institutions or the prime minister, or someone else may not wish to control the media, the decisions could lead to this – if not they, someone else in the government will do it. It would be better to reflect with care and perhaps accept criticism more as advice, what to and not to do, rather than perceive it as some sort of war. It would be far more beneficial to everyone,” D. Radzevičius summarised.