Gintautas Bartkus. Karbauskis, Jakilaitis, the public broadcaster and the Constitution of Lithuania

DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

A number of MPs appealed to the LRT council asking to present information regarding the budget funding LRT receives. It was requested that very detailed information be presented such as the copies, estimates and such for all contracts made during a certain period.

MP Ramūnas Karbauskis stated how much funding companies apparently linked to LRT show host Edmundas Jakilaitis received and how much was paid in taxes and noted that he would need to know how much of that income originated specifically from the LRT. Also UAB TymDrym was mentioned, which potentially created a show (programme) for LRT, however has experienced losses in 2016.

This whole public relations campaign supposedly allows us to understand that both Edmundas Jakilaitis and the LRT are performing some sort of murky, if not illegal actions and the members of Seimas are fighting for transparency and the effective use of budget funding.

This situation could be viewed through a legal lens and we should firstly remember the December 21, 2006 ruling by the Lithuanian Constitutional Court over the financing and broadcasting of LRT programmes.

This analysis by the Constitutional Court may allow us to find out whether the Seimas or its members may inquire for detailed information linked with the activities of the public broadcaster and specific companies, producers or journalists and whether the LRT is bound by law to present such information.

Let us imagine that such detailed information is presented and say the company linked to Edmundas Jakilaitis received 20 thousand euro income for programmes prepared for LRT. How should this information be received – is it good or bad they received this amount? If it is bad, how much should have been paid for it to be good? Or should nothing have been paid?

Since the Seimas is a political institution, could the Seimas answer these questions? In other terms, does it have the relevant competences to evaluate the agreements between two independently acting subjects? Can it be evaluated at all? Is there enough data on the market and its circumstances, the needs and goals of its subjects, which finally decide what and for how much is purchased?

If a member of Seimas does have the required competences and could answer these questions, then would he not become the head of the public broadcaster? In company law this is called de facto leadership when the stock holder begins interfering (directing) above his authority in what decisions the management or director should take, how much purchases and sales should be for, who contracts should be made with and who not with and such.

If the requested information cannot be evaluated, the question arises, why is it being requested? And by requesting detailed information, does the Seimas not breach the principle of separation of powers and the independence of the public broadcaster and does the MP not exert illegal pressure linked to the journalist’s activity when he inquires how much the journalist earned?

On December 21, 2006 the Constitutional Court emphasised that “in seeking to ensure the independence of the LRT from government institutions’ (their officials’) interference with LRT activities, LRT broadcast impartiality, a model of LRT management was established where a crucial role is set upon the LRT council, the functions and authority of the LRT director general, who leads the LRT administration and the LRT administrative commission, which is formed to deliberate on LRT business and financial questions, were established.”

The LRT council is the chief organ whose members cannot be neither MPs, nor political confidence state servants and it presides over the chief questions of the public broadcaster’s activities. The LRT council is formed by the administrative commission whose goal is to present conclusions to the council and director general over the financial and business activities of the public broadcaster, over the justification of programme project financing and such. Both the council and the administrative commission have the right, within the limits of their competences, to review and receive any information, even the most detailed. The goal of these two organs is to evaluate contracts being made with other parties, the conditions of the contracts, the payments within and such.

Thus the answer presents itself: everyone must do what they are authorised to do. The Seimas – to pass rules of general conduct, ensuring public participation in the governance of the public broadcaster, the LRT council, by employing the administrative commission – to monitor and oversee the public broadcaster’s financial and business transfers and remain as accountable in detail as possible to the public and journalists – to inform the public and not explain themselves to politicians over received incomes or paid taxes.

The demand for detailed information from the public broadcaster cannot be justified through the principles of publicity and transparency or the desire to control the usage of budget funding because it leads to political discussions on specific programmes and finally breaches the principles of separation of powers, independence of the public broadcaster and journalistic freedom.

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