Opinions over LRT responses split in Seimas

The head of the ruling “Farmers“, Ramūnas Karbauskis says that he is not satisfied with the answers presented by the Lithuanian Radio and Television (LRT) to MP’s questions and promises to take further steps to obtain information, LRT.lt writes.

Seimas vice speaker, member of the Audit Committee, Arvydas Nekrošius of the “Farmers” states that he would also want to receive more detailed answers.

Meanwhile Vytautas Juozapaitis of the opposition Conservatives stands by a different position. According to him, the answers are transparent and politicians have no basis to request access to confidential information. Vytautas Kernagis, a colleague in the same Seimas group, holds a similar opinion: “The responses appear sufficiently detailed to me.”

R. Karbauskis: many questions are still raised

According to R. Karbauskis, there will be discussions next week whether to present further questions or whether to form a commission of parliamentarians who have access to classified information.

According to the “Farmer” leader, who is also in charge of the Seimas Committee of Culture, members of Seimas demanding answers from LRT wish to find out whether the funding provided to LRT is used effectively and have no intention of meddling with content.

“We are performing parliamentary control as a committee, the Seimas has the right and duty to know as the distributor of assignations, how effectively the funds are being used. I understand that in its answer the LRT council attempted to state that there must be no interference. But the issue is completely different – there is not a single question about content. Finance is the sphere that is under government control, we are performing parliamentary control and the answers presented in this area are unsatisfactory. Simply put they do not exist, they create a number of further questions because the funding for the LRT is massive and increasing every year. There has to be clarity whether it is used effectively,” R. Karbauskis told BNS on Thursday.

According to him, questions about public procurements, competitions, contracts with companies did not receive answers with concrete information.

“Answers were not presented over state property, that is to say the use of LRT property in relation to production companies. Claims continue to be made that there is EU regulation requiring 10% of the procurements to be from production companies, but in Lithuania, in the case of LRT, this reaches around 50%. They can put together the Lithuanian radio programme themselves, but Lithuanian television somehow cannot and wages and all else. The answers appear to have been put together by the administration so that it would not be possible to comprehend anything further from them, so that deeper investigation is not possible,” the “Farmer” leader said.

According to him, the information presented by LRT is massive in quantity, thus MPs will review it up to next week.

“We will have to decide because there is much talk of information confidentiality, a decision will be made, how to present further questions or whether to form a commission which has permits to work with classified information, not to talk of non-confidential. We will review everything in depth, read it and then there will be a decision, whether these will be the only questions or how to ensure that all information is presented,” R. Karbauskis stated.

A. Nekrošius finds details lacking

One of the MPs behind the information request to the LRT council, Seimas vice speaker, “Farmer” member of the Audit Committee A. Nekrošius told BNS that he is still reviewing the answers, however he has formed the opinion that the information presented is not detailed.

“After looking through the answers, my initial opinion is that even more questions are raised, I would like more detailed responses,” he stated.

He also confirmed that MPs have received further, classified material from LRT, beyond just the publically released responses.

V. Juozapaitis: it is inappropriate to demand breaches of law

Opposition Conservatives representative, member of the Culture Committee Vytautas Juozapaitis, who did not support the request states that a part of the questions by MPs, such as those on interest declaration were unnecessary because the information is easily accessible online. Some of the questions, he notes, were already answered in an earlier report from LRT.

According to V. Juozapaitis, the principles of question formation and their quantity shows that his colleagues have themselves not understood LRT work well enough.

“On the other hand it is laudable when MPs request state financed institutions and it is its duty to respond, which the LRT council did. As far as I noticed from the responses, they halted at the questions where they are bound by confidentiality agreements. To request a breach of law, where they would reveal confidential agreements would also be inappropriate. From what LRT presented, I received the impression that the answers were as transparent as possible,” V. Juozapaitis told BNS.

V. Kernagis: answers are sufficiently detailed

Conservative MP V. Kernagis is of a similar opinion. “Just as all other members of Seimas, I received the answers to those questions. I believe they are sufficiently detailed and when we reach the limit where confidentiality prohibits revealing third party data, I don’t know… If we live in a state with the rule of law, perhaps we should act based on legislation? I am unsure whether the national broadcaster must reveal third party data just because the nation demands it. I believe we should adhere to legislation and the answers look fairly detailed to me,” the MP said.

He also stated he was unsure as to the purpose of creating a special commission: “We already had one Seimas which lived only on the basis of workgroups. If there is such a desire, by all means, R. Karbauskis has such a right.”

According to V. Kernagis, he sees no reason for the formation of such a group in Seimas. This is simply because State Control has performed a detailed audit. “They have seen all the third party agreements. Most likely everything can be read in the conclusions of that audit. Unless the members of Seimas have nothing to do – alcohol was banned, now it’s time to form workgroups. The institution performed its work, so why must we do the same twice?” the politician questioned.

Interest in wages, public procurement, contracts and production companies

The LRT council was requested to present information whether LRT general director Audrius Siaurusevičius, LRT council chairman Ž. Pečiulis and council members declare property, public and private interests as per legislation, it was also inquired what legislative acts grant the LRT council the right to hold closed meetings and why broadcasting of the LRT council meetings was ended.

The answers given to the members of Seimas outline that the LRT general director, LRT council chairman and other council members declare property, as well as public and private interests as per legislative norms.

As for why direct meeting broadcasts were ended, this was due to small audiences. It was decided that there are other means to inform the public of the LRT council’s work – meeting protocols, decisions and press releases are made available to the public.

“We also ask how public procurements are held. A competition is held for a television show – how is it done, who makes the selections, who is in the selection committees and such – this information is not present in the report,” MP A. Nekrošius questioned.

The LRT council responded that the LRT television and radio programme creation and preparation for broadcast services are purchased in adherence to cabinet rulings, rather than the public procurements law.

MPs also inquired whether contracts were made from 2013 to 2017 with production companies which have not participated in LRT public competitions. Also whether there have been cases where procurements were won by companies, but contracts were not signed. The LRT council was also requested to specify which production companies are preparing the new 2017 LRT autumn season projects and how they were selected.

The LRT council responded to the question that during the aforementioned period LRT has signed agreements with production companies which did not participate in programme competitions, however contracts have been signed based on the aforementioned cabinet rulings.

The response to the MPs contains sums dedicated to the content of separate LRT radio and television channel content. Also it is specified how much funding was dedicated to purchasing content from independent production companies.

The LRT council answered that 1 million 4 thousand euro was spent to obtain programme content for its three radio stations (LRT Radio, LRT Klasika and LRT Opus) in 2016 and not a single programme (show) was purchased from production companies. Content for its three TV channels (LRT HD, LRT HD Culture, LRT Lituanica) for 2016 cost a total of 12 million 489 thousand euro. 6 million 788 thousand euro of this (including VAT) was for obtaining content from independent production companies.

The council emphasised that European Union legislation encourages broadcasters to dedicate no less than 10% of their budgets for obtaining content from independent producers.

The council responses outline that all LRT radio programmes are made in house, no production companies or producers are employed.

The LRT council outlines in its response to MPs that in 2016 LRT made 22 different programmes (shows) in house and this made up 54.1% of all the original broadcasting production per week. LRT prepared and broadcasted another 17 programmes (shows) in cooperation with independent producers, which made up 30.4% of broadcasting. Programmes made by exclusively independent producers made up 15.5% of LRT television broadcasting (15 programmes (shows)).

The responses outline regulation for preparing cost estimates and various other related documents.

LRT is a news media group financed by the government in Lithuania which is made up of 3 television channels, 3 radio channels and an internet portal. LRT has a total of 555 employees.

The LRT council is the highest institution of LRT management which represents the public interest. It is composed for six years out of 12 individuals – public, academic and culture figures. Four members are appointed for six years by the president, four members for four years by the Seimas and another four members by the Lithuanian Science Council, Lithuanian Education Council, Lithuanian Art Creators Association and Lithuanian Bishops’ Conference.

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