Why Lithuania banned Russian TV channel

One of the examples of the content that, according to regulators, incite hatred between Russian and Ukrainian nations, make calls for violence and violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, is a broadcast that aired on 18 January, Sunday Night with Vladimir Solovyov.

“Can’t our commanders shred foreign uniforms with Russian sabres? […] The only way to get them down at the negotiations table is to point a gun at their heads – sit down and sign the treaty,” Vice Chairman of the State Duma Vladimir Zhirinovsky said on the programme.

“We must threaten Brussels, Warsaw, Vilnius, so they start digging trenches,” he continued.

Other guests at the show were no less bellicose, suggesting to use ideological offensive campaigns they said were much more effective than conventional warfare.

“There are no more illusions left. It’s time to take up ideological attacks,” said Semyon Bagdasarov, another Duma member and expert on Central Asian and Middle Eastern affairs.

“Special propaganda means flyers. We will drop flyers in all cities of Ukraine, saying that our army is entering your city tomorrow night. […] To arouse fear in all people of Ukraine, make them flee,” Zhirinovsky continued.

Another RTR Planeta programme, which caught the attention of the Lithuanian media watchdog, was aired on 12 March. It made allegations that Germany was seeking to get back its Third Reich glory and making preparations to attack Russia and, on the way, other European nations, much like Nazi Germany did during World War Two.

“They will move to the East again, to Ukraine, to the Baltic states. They will make claim on Klaipėda [Lithuanian port city on the Baltic coast, one of the territories annexed by Hitler in 1938]. Not Klaipėda, but Kaliningrad [formerly part of German East Prussia, ceded to the Soviet Union in 1945]. Germany has interests along all our western borders, including the Baltic states,” Duma Vice Chairman Zhirinovsky said on the programme.

Mantas Martišius, member of the Lithuanian Radio and Television Commission, says such statements amount to intimidation. “First, they seek to threaten those who watch [the programme]. In the end, they say: listen, you will have to cede Klaipėda to Germany, there will be another war where Russia will be forced to strike preventive attacks against the West,” Martišius says.

Guests at the RTR Planeta show argued that it was not Russia that was being aggressive but rather NATO and the European Union. They also said that some European countries had revisionist ambitions.

“Right now, they are dividing up the world. […] The Germans, as well as the French, want to take part in single-handedly dividing up the world,” Bagdasarov said on the show.

“Germans, many German politicians supported creating a European army. Which means they are trying to pit Germany against Russia,” said Russian political scientist Pavel Svyatenkov.

“I agree with the statement that Germany is thinking about the Fourth Reich,” claimed Viacheslav Nikonov, chairman of the Education Committee at Russia’s State Duma.

The decision to take RTR Planeta off the air in Lithuania comes into effect on 13 April. The European Commission has been notified about the move in response to violations of the Law on Provision of Information to the Public.

Lithuania’s decision has angered Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it was looking forward to response from the EU and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The decision to ban RTR Planeta has also attracted criticism due to intimations that the Lithuanian army was involved. The Lithuanian Radio and Television Commission says, however, that these allegations are baseless. Edmundas Vaitekūnas, chairman of the Commission, says that they did seek advise from the Strategic Communications Department of the Lithuanian military, but only because expert opinion is necessary in any bid to suspend TV broadcasts.

“We first approached the Journalist Ethics Inspector Office, but they said the issue was too complicated and well beyond their expertise. The most qualified institution in this area is, doubtlessly, the army’s Strategic Communications Department, so we turned to them,” Vaitekūnas explains.

Karolis Zikaras, spokesman for the Lithuanian army, says that if civilian state institutions approach the army for assistance, it is require by law to help.

“We provided expert assistance, but it is not the army that makes the decisions. Authorized public institutions do,” Zikaras says.

Proposed amendments to the law, which are yet to be adopted, would allow the Lithuanian Radio and Television Commission to make in-house analysis of media content, without the need to seek out expert opinion elsewhere.

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