Lithuania creates precedent in EU by banning Russian TV station

TV Tower
DELFI / Valdas Kopūstas

Its Radio and Television Commission took the decision on Wednesday (8 April), with the three-month ban to enter into force on 13 April.

“In the light of events in Ukraine, the channel transmitted propagation of violence and instigation of war”, Mantas Martišius, a member of the Lithuanian regulator and a scholar at Vilnius University, told EUobserver.

The commission said RTR Planeta is portraying Ukrainian people as enemies of Russia and showing contempt for Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

It referred to a show including remarks by Vladimir Zhirinovski, a Russian nationalist MP and Duma vice chairman, who, the commission says, called on people to “deal with Ukraine”.

The Lithuanian military’s strategic communications bureau, which consults the Radio and Television Commission, pushed for the ban and defended it on Lithuanian public radio.

“When we deal with open lies, the state has to react and to show people that it cares about core values”, the bureau’s Karolis Zikaras said.

He described Russian propaganda as “information nihilism”.

He also said Lithuania should promote Lithuanian and Western media products because some Russian media benefit from Russian state subsidies while most Western broadcasters have to compete on the open market.

RTR Planeta is a cable and satellite TV channel owned by Russian state firm VGTRK.

It is licensed in Sweden and broadcasts in the Baltic states but all its content is made in Russia and aired in Russian.

The blanket ban on all of RTR Planeta’s shows in Lithuania is a first in the EU, the Lithuanian media regulator noted.

It comes after initial warnings and mini-bans, last March, on some RTR Planeta content, as well as bans on some shows by Ren TV, another Russian state firm.

The RTR Planeta decision has stirred some debate in Lithuania.

There is criticism of the involvement of the military in the procedure.

There is also discussion on the merits of a new Law on Public Information.

The bill, proposed by President Dalia Grybauskaitė, is to impose penalties on broadcasters and re-broadcasters that spread war propaganda, try to instigate changes to the constitutional order in Lithuania, or which are deemed to harm Lithuanian sovereignty.

For his part, Vilnius University’s Martišius said there should be better EU-level regulation on propaganda.

Referring to the EU’s audiovisual media market and TV without frontiers directive, he said hostile states are using EU freedoms to harm EU interests.

He said some Russian broadcasters, which are licensed in, say, Sweden or the UK, violate both national and EU-level hate speech laws, but procedures are too slow and too complicated to take them off the air.

“The idea was to create an open liberal media market but we have to understand that regulations are being exploited,” Martišius said.


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