European Broadcasting Union concerned over Seimas scrutiny of Lithuania public broadcaster

Radka Betcheva, the head of member relations for Eastern Europe at the EBU, says that the Seimas commission may put political pressure on LRT, adding that a specialized body should ensure the public broadcaster’s accountability.

“We raised our concern that this commission could exercise political pressure on public service media, because we think, that yes, public service media should be transparent, should be accountable. That’s why there is a specialized body, which should ensure that this accountability is in place,” Betcheva told reporters at the parliament’s building in Vilnius on Wednesday.

“Our concern always is that public service media should have its operational, institutional independence and editorial independence. This is our major concern, one of our core six values,” she said.

According to EBU officials, this is the first such parliamentary scrutiny in an EBU member state since its establishment in 1950.

According to the EBU, states normally control their public broadcasters through delegated councils and by commissioning independent audits. Also, public broadcasters report to the parliament on an annual basis.

Ramūnas Karbauskis, the leader of the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LFGU) who initiated the LRT probe, told reporters that he had not heard much criticism from the EBU officials.

“(Their) only fear is that the independence of the television (company) may be reduced. But that fear is shaped by those who provide very strange information alleging that it is possible to influence the election of the new head of LRT and it is possible to influence the election of the council,” Karbauskis, who is chairman of the parliament’s Committee on Culture, said.

“This is explicitly regulated by the law. Nobody can do this without amending the laws and nobody is planning to amend them,” he added.

The Seimas set up the special commission for LRT parliamentary scrutiny in early January. The LFGU’s lawmakers say that the commission will look at whether the public broadcaster rationally spends budget money.

The panel is tasked with looking at whether the prices that LRT pays to producers for their services are in line with market conditions, as well as scrutinizing the public broadcaster’s public procurement contracts and its management structure.

Critics describe the establishment of the commission as an effort to put pressure on the media and take revenge on journalists for putting uncomfortable questions to the ruling party.

The Seimas has set June 1 as a deadline for completing the probe.

A group of parliamentarians has asked the Constitutional Court to look at whether the establishment of the commission in line with the constitutional right to freely express one’s convictions and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas.

The EBU has 73 members in 56 countries.

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