Media Landscapes

Latvia

Written by Vita Zelče, Klinta Ločmele, Olga Procevska

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Latvia in the North-eastern part of Europe, on the shores of the Baltic Sea and the Bay of Riga. The land area of the country is 64,589 km2. The population is shrinking. In May 2010, it stood at 2,241,500 people, representing a drop of 6 per cent since 2000. The climate in Latvia is moderate and damp, with four distinct seasons of the year. The average air temperature in 2009 was +6.5°C. The wealth of the country rests in vast forests, a clean environment, and a wealth of fauna (some 13,000 species of animals have been identified in Latvia). The Latvian capital city of Riga is home to 710,000 people. The state language is Latvian.

 

Latviais a post-Soviet country and regained independent statehood in 1991. Since then, there have been fundamental changes of a political, economic and social nature. The result of these is that a former Soviet colony has turned into a democratic country with a market economy. The years of Soviet occupation, however, left behind serious consequences for the Latvian people and the country’s economy. Latvia’s intellectual, political and economic elite was lost because of Soviet repressions, as well as the fact that many such people fled at the end of World War II out of fear of the Red Army Latvia’s absorption into the USSR and its economic system destroyed traditional sectors of the economy. Soviet management and the Soviet lifestyle were imposed on everyone. People from Latvia were deported to Siberia during the Soviet occupation. There was a general ‘Russification’, and Russians were encouraged to move to Latvia. This changed the ethnic composition and social structure of the country. From 77 per cent in the late 1930s, the proportion of ethnic Latvians in the country dropped to 52 per cent in 1989. The proportion of Germans, Jews and Livs who had lived in the territory for centuries also plummeted. One consequence of the Soviet occupation is the large number of non-citizens who live in Latvia. In 2010, more than 15 per cent of the country’s residents were non-citizens. Despite enormous human and material losses, Latvia has undergone successful and fundamental transformations in all areas of life since 1991.

 

Since 2004, it has been a member of the EU and NATO. The most developed and promising sectors in the Latvian economy are forestry, the production of ecological foodstuffs, the provision of transport services, and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Latvia was struck by a serious economic crisis in 2008, which led to dramatic national budget cuts for education, health care and social needs. The income level of local residents dropped, unemployment increased, and many people became economic migrants and moved to Western Europe to find work. Latvia’s political system is dominated by centrist and rightist political parties, although pro-Russian parties have become more active in recent years. There are seven political parties in the Latvian parliament, the Saeima, at time of writing. A parliamentary election is set for autumn 2010.

The print media in Latvia have always been held in high regard. The first newspaper, Rigische Montags (Donnerstags) Ordinari Post-Zeitung (later Rigische Novellen) appeared in 1680, only to be closed down by the Great Northern War soon thereafter. The paper re-emerged only in the latter half of the 18th century. During the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, newspapers played an important role in shaping public opinion, in ensuring national and social emancipation, in promoting social and political changes, and in establishing the new Republic of Latvia. A particularly impressive phenomenon in the 20th century history of the Latvian media was the newspaper Jaunākās Ziņas (1911-1940), which was vastly popular and influential. In the late 1930s, it had a circulation of 250,000, or approximately one copy per eight residents of the country. After the occupation of Latvia, many persons working in journalism were killed or repressed. While Latvia was in the Soviet Union, the Soviet press system was fully imposed. The most important newspapers were those of the Communist Party and the Komsomol (Communist youth movement), published both in Latvian and in Russian. During the era of perestroika and the independence drive (Atmoda) which led to the restoration of independent statehood, newspapers and magazines had an enormous audience and enjoyed a great deal of trust. In the early 1990s, the press system was restructured, and there were changes in the audience. The media quickly had to learn how to exist under a democratic system and in a market economy.

 

In 2009, there were 244 newspapers in Latvia with a total print run of 153,232,000 copies. Most of these are small local media. There were 20 dailies, 12 in Latvian and eight in Russian. The most important Latvian language dailies are Diena (published by Dienas mediji), Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze (Mediju nams), and Latvijas Avīze (Lauku Avīze). In the Russian language, the most important papers are Vesti Segodniya (Fenster), Chas (Petits), and Telegraf (Telegraf).

 

The Latvian and Russian dailies offer a clearer look at different journalistic cultures than do other types of media. In the Latvian language newspapers, op-ed columns and commentary are kept separate from news materials, and the standpoint of each newspaper is illustrated by the selection of topics covered. In the Russian language newspapers, by contrast, commentary is found in news reports and their frameworks. Latvian language newspapers take a more global view, while Russian language newspapers are more parochial, focusing mostly on Latvia’s Russian-speaking community, Russia itself and its spheres of interest in the former USSR. Some Russian newspapers often illustrate open hostility toward the Latvian state. The Latvian language press critiques political processes and serves as a ‘watchdog’. It is also more likely than the Russian language press to write about the countryside and Latvia’s regions. The Russian language press is more centred on Riga.

The daily newspapers are not among the most widely read types of media. In the early months of 2010, one survey found that 31 per cent of respondents had read or skimmed a daily newspaper in the preceding week. Regional newspapers were read or skimmed more often – by 46 per cent of respondents in the survey. For approximately half a century, the regional press has been quite popular in Latvia. The daily press has lost subscribers since the turn of the century, but regional newspapers, in most cases, have not. At present the situation of regional newspapers is being changed by reforms of administrative boundaries which have replaced 482 parishes and 26 districts with 109 administrative districts (novads). Presumably this means that over the next few years, there will be a geographical transformation of the communities of readers of regional newspapers. The situation will also be influenced by the aging of the population and the fact of emigration, which is leading to population declines, particularly in rural territories.

A few years ago, a new and successful element of the media world appeared in Latvia – free newspapers. The leading one was established in 2005, and it is called 5min. The paper is published by Dienas mediji both in Latvian and Russian and is distributed on the street and on public transport. Other changes that have occurred in the newspaper world in recent years have included the fact that the two leading Latvian language dailies, Diena and Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze, changed format from the A2 to the A3 size late in 2007, as well as the fact that the Internet versions of the newspapers have become more important very rapidly. Among the most vivid events in the media world in 2009 was a change in the ownership of Diena. The former owner, Bonnier AB, left the Latvian market and sold the newspaper to a company called Nedela S.A. The editor and several journalists from the newspaper resigned.

Magazines have a greater readership than newspapers. During the period of economic growth between 2001 and 2007, the number of titles and overall circulation expanded very rapidly. Magazines became part of the consumer culture that flourished and was enjoyed in post-Soviet society. Since the economic crisis began, the number of magazine titles has dropped by 14 per cent, while circulation figures have fallen by 23 per cent. A survey conducted in the spring of 2010 found that 68 per cent of respondents had read or skimmed a weekly magazine, while 45 per cent had done so with a monthly magazine. In 2009, there were 370 different titles. Of these, 76 are magazines for women, men or families, while 59 are focused on tourism, sports, travel and leisure. Readers have distinctly favourable attitudes toward magazines which, particularly in terms of consumer magazines, are seen as friends, allies, supporters and advisors in all life situations, particularly problematic ones. The leading magazine publishers in Latvia are Santa, Rigas Viļņi, and Lilit. The most widely read magazines are weeklies. In first and third place are the magazines Ieva and Ievas Stāsti, while in second place is the gossip and celebrity magazine Privātā Dzīve.

Overall, print media consumption is at a high level in Latvia. The aforementioned study found that 95 per cent of the people of Latvia have read or skimmed at least one press publication. Still, the number of regular readers is lower. In 2009, 47 per cent of respondents read a newspaper every day or several times a week, while 31 per cent said the same about magazines. Readership is diminishing because of a loss of purchasing power, but also because of the increasingly important role of the Internet. 40 per cent of respondents say that they trust the press, which is a lower percentage than those who say the same about radio and television. Still, a 40 per cent level of trust is something that Latvian government institutions and political parties can only dream about.

The press is not currently a profitable business. Under tough economic conditions, advertising revenues have plummeted. Publishers have had to absorb losses and stop investments. The dependency of the press on other income and owners has been on the rise. The 2010 parliamentary election represents an important test concerning press freedom and the ability of the press to operate in line with democratic traditions. Each political party will be allowed to spend around EUR 800,000 for the campaign, which will end with an election on October 2. Parties in the past have evaded these limitations by establishing indirectly related organisations to promote them. Research has shown that the amount of hidden advertising has diminished from one election to the next since the restoration of Latvia’s independence in 1991, although in Russian language publications, hidden advertising remains a considerable problem.

Despite the fact that there are comparatively few Latvian-speakers in the world, there are strong book publishing traditions in the country. 65 per cent of survey respondents say that they read books, while 38 per cent consider themselves regular readers of books. In 2009, 2,244 books and brochures were published with a total print run of 3.5 million copies. Approximately one-third of the Latvian book production market consists of translated literature. Most other books (textbooks, original literature) are published in few copies, and even so the size of most print runs has been diminishing. In 2000, the average print run of a book was 2,800. In 2005 it was 2,000, and in 2009 it was down to 1,600 copies. The number of book publishers has also declined during the economic crisis, from 409 in 2008 to 342 (~ –16 per cent) in 2009. The culture of book publishing in Latvia has always emphasised artistic design – something that unquestionably makes books more expensive, but also makes them more treasured and higher-status commodities.

Experimental radio broadcasts began in Latvia in the early 1920s, but Radio Latvia was established only in 1925. It was the 19th radio station in Europe to start broadcasting, and initially it had 331 subscribers. During its first six months, Radio Latvia broadcast only for two hours a day, in the evening. Gradually it expanded the hours of on-air broadcasts, also expanding the range of genres. Original news reports appeared, and Radio Latvia also had an educational function. The content was cosmopolitan, because musical recordings were widely available and the radio station was seen as a window to the world – a station which did not have to popularise domestic culture. On May 1, 1940, the radio station had 156,568 subscribers. During the Nazi and Soviet occupations and annexation Radio Latvia became a propaganda tool.

The “golden era” for Radio Latvia, as far as many people are concerned, was the Latvian independence drive (Atmoda) in the late 1980s and early 1990s. During the days in January 1991 when people set up barricades to protect key government buildings, the radio played a seminal role in helping to organise and manage non-violent resistance. People were glued to their radio sets for several days in a row.

Once the independence of Latvia was restored, private radio channels began to emerge. Radio Sigulda was the first private music radio station, first broadcasting in May 1991. Larger audiences were found in 1993, when Radio SWH was established. By 2009, Latvia had 43 radio organisations – the largest number in the country’s history. The format chosen by radio stations is fairly homogeneous – mixed-type programming that is focused on entertainment, popular music, news reports and brief discussions. This is probably because of the need to attract as broad an audience as possible so as to increase revenue from advertising. The radio stations broadcast a total of 373,607 hours in 2009.

There are several enterprises which broadcast on more than one channel – Radio Latvia, which is public radio, has four, the SWH Group has three, Super FM has three, and MIX has four channels focused on the Russian speaking audience. The public radio station is made up of Radio Latvia 1, which broadcasts general content, Radio Latvia 2, which plays Latvian popular music on a 24/7 basis, Radio Latvia 3, which offers classical music, and Radio Latvia 4, which broadcasts in Russian. Thought was given in 2009 to turning Radio Latvia 2 over as a concession to a private enterprise, but it was decided in the end not to do so.

There were changes during the 1990s in terms of how people used the radio as a medium. In 1994, the average listener spent three hours with the radio, while in 2004, the duration was up to 4.5 hours. People began to use the radio for background music at work or in the car. For that reason, there are no longer distinct periods during the day when lots of people listen to the radio. Back in the mid-1990s, the largest audiences were attracted at noon and during the afternoon. In the winter of 2009/2010, according to surveys, the average amount of time spent listening to the radio by each individual was 4 hours and 36 minutes. 80 per cent of survey respondents said that they listen to the radio at least once a week. 62 per cent say that they listen to it at least once a day. People listen to the radio more on weekdays than on weekends, and 58 per cent of survey respondents say that they trust it.

The top three radio stations in the early months of 2010 were Radio Latvia 2 (24 per cent) and Radio Latvia 1 (12 per cent), both of which broadcast nationally, and Radio Skonto (7 per cent), which broadcasts in Riga and is rebroadcast in several parts of Latvia. Next on the list are Radio SWH, Radio Latvia 4, European Hit Radio, Russian Hits, Star FM, and others. There are popular radio stations in Latvia’s regions, including Radio Kurzeme, Radio Latgale (Latgolys Radeja), Radio 1, Radio 3, Ef-Ei, Alise+, and others. One other radio station that should be mentioned is Radio NABA, which is operated by the University of Latvia and plays alternative music. There are several Internet sites which list national, regional and Internet-based radio stations – Eradio.lv, Iradio.lv, and others. These services are widely used by Latvians who are living and working in Western Europe. In 2009, advertising revenue for stations dropped by 38 per cent in comparison to 2008, but in April 2010, radio and television advertising was slightly on the rise once again. Advertisers were producing fewer advertisements, but ads were, on average, longer.

There has been a convergence in media outlets in terms of radio and TV formats. Radio Latvia 1 offers a Webcam view of one of its broadcasting studios, while Radio SWH offers recorded videos of things that have happened in its studio or at different kinds of events. A radio station in the region of Latgale which broadcast in the Lettigalian language or dialect found itself in financial problems a few years ago. It introduced some religious programming into its format, and the fact is that it has been able to stay on air only because of the new shareholder which owns 99 per cent of its shares – the Rēzekne and Aglona diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. One of the most important events in the radio environment in 2010 was the opening of a new radio station, Open Radio 101, which was established by former employees of Radio SWH and also offers an Internet-based Webcam view of its studio. Both examples illustrate movement in the radio environment, with companies seeking ever new sources of financing and attempting to re-divide the audience of existing radio channels.

“This evening we are beginning an experimental broadcast on Riga Television. Today you will see the film ‘Homeward With Victory’.” Those were the words which launched the first television broadcast in Latvia on November 6, 1954. Latvia was the first of the three Soviet Baltic republics to have its own television station. Before that, television broadcasts in the USSR had been available only in Moscow, Leningrad and Kyiv. Colour broadcasting on Riga TV began in 1974.

The first private television stations appeared in Latvia shortly after the restoration of the country’s independence in 1991. In 2010, Latvia switched from analogue to digital TV broadcasting. Until 31 December 2013, digital broadcasting will be handled by Lattelecom, which was chosen by the Cabinet of Ministers for this task. Lattelecom will work together with the Latvian State Radio and Television Centre, which is the main radio and television broadcasting operator at national level in Latvia. Analogue broadcasting was switched off in all of Latvia on 1 June, and people needed a decoder or a TV set with an installed MPEG4 format decoder to see television stations. This did not, of course, affect those households which use cable, satellite or interactive television services.

Data from early June 2010 show that after analogue broadcasting was switched off, approximately 50,000 households with television sets could no longer receive national channels. Some 180,000 households in Latvia use normal antennae and decoders to watch terrestrial TV. Of them, some 120,000 receive only the four national channels that are available for free – LTV1, LTV7, LNT and TV3.

98 per cent of households in Latvia have at least one television set. Results from the first quarter of 2010 show that approximately 26 per cent of households use terrestrial TV services (either digital or analogue). 63 per cent of households receive TV signals via cable (analogue, digital, IPTV), and 16 per cent use satellite services. Among the leading cable television operators in Latvia are Izzi, Baltkom and Lattelecom, while Viasat is the leading provider of satellite services.

There were 25 television enterprises in Latvia at the end of 2009 – the largest number in recent years. There are both national and regional television companies in Latvia. In June 2010, 18 regional television stations still offered analogue signals, but most of them have re-registered their organisations as broadcasting in digital format. Three regional television companies – Vidzeme TV, Latgale Regional TV and Central Daugava Television – have already begun to offer digital transmissions.

Latvian Television, which is Latvia’s public broadcaster, offers two channels. LTV1 has the motto ‘National Values on a National Channel’, the emphasis being on informational broadcasts. LTV7, for its part, is more focused on sports, environmental issues, youth programming and entertainment. Latvian Television is a state-owned limited liability company. Approximately 60 per cent of its budget comes from the state. The company earns the rest of its income itself via advertising. There have been some debates about merging Latvian Television and Radio Latvia, but the relevant parliamentary commission has not yet dealt with that matter.

Television stations are owned by several groups of companies such as the international broadcasting concern MTG (TV3, TV6). LNT and TV5 were bought this year by the company Independent National Media, which manages LNT and bought the enterprises from the global media giant News Corporation. The new owners plan to establish a local media group by bringing together regional television stations, Internet portals and, perhaps, other media outlets, as well.

The television advertising market shrank by 40 per cent in 2009 compared to 2008, but television remained the market leader in terms of proportions of advertising. It controlled a 40 per cent share of that market. A substantial re-division of the television audience occurred in the early 1990s, when imported satellite dishes (bringing foreign television channels) first became available. Of particular note is the popularity of foreign channels which present programming in Russian among Latvia’s Russian speaking residents. There is no distinct leader among Latvian channels – the ratings of the most popular channels do not differ very much at all. In May 2010, TV 3 had the biggest audience (~15 per cent of all viewing time), followed by LNT (12 per cent), PBK (11 per cent), LTV1 (10 per cent). The second public broadcaster LTV7 has 2.5 per cent of the total television viewing time. The Latvian version of MTV was closed down in 2009.

On the list of the top 20 shows of any given month, there tend to be various singing and dancing shows that are presented on weekends, as well as media events such as the world ice hockey championship, the international Eurovision competition, and so on. The fact that different channels schedule entertainment programming at the same time in the evening is one of the most important reasons why many people tend to switch from one channel to another. Also among the most often watched programmes in Latvia is a locally produced soap opera called “Fire,” as well as news broadcasts.

In May 2010, the average television viewer spent 4 hours and 41 minutes in front of the screen each day – 15 minutes less than in April. Television is the medium which enjoys the greatest public trust – 59 per cent of survey respondents said that they trust it.

The history of cinema in Latvia began in the late 19th century, when films became a popular form of entertainment. The first documentary films were produced in the early 20th century, and the first feature film was produced in 1913. There were several major film projects in Latvia in the 1930s. Of the greatest importance was a film called “The Fisherman’s Son,” which was released six months before the Soviet occupation and found an extensive audience in neighbouring countries, as well. The Riga Film Studio was active throughout the Soviet period. In the 1970s and 1980s, it released an average of 15 feature films a year. Its detective films were particularly popular in the Soviet market.

Soviet policy toward mass culture included intensive production of state-financed films, as well as widespread access to the resulting films through a network of cinemas. In 1990, there were 90 movie theatres in Latvia, and the average citizen went to the movies 7.4 times a year. Since 1990, the number of cinemas has collapsed – by a rate of around 50 per cent a year during the first few years, particularly in small towns. The gap between the capital city and smaller towns is still substantial. Approximately 90 per cent of cinema visits occur in Riga.

According to the latest data, there are 15 regularly functioning cinemas in Latvia. Because of inflation and the development of television, the number of moviegoers began to increase at a sustained pace only in the mid-2000s. The economic crisis which occurred at the end of the decade caused many people to cut their entertainment spending very severely, and in 2009, the total number of people watching a movie in a cinema fell to 1.9 million. The revenue of cinemas dropped by around 20 per cent, in part because the VAT rate on tickets was increased from 5 per cent to 20 per cent. The number of films presented in cinemas has also declined – from 316 in 2007 to 204 in 2009. 65 per cent of the films that were shown came from the United States, while others came from France, Russia and the United Kingdom.

Latvia’s own cinematic industry underwent substantial transformation after the centralised state planning system disappeared. The industry had to find financing and state subsidies under free market conditions. Since 1995, the number of productions has ranged between 10 and 61 films a year. In 2009, 50 films, including 17 full-length features, were produced. Public financing in this area is managed by the National Film Centre and the State Cultural Capital Foundation. Public financing for films increased from EUR 102,000 in 1992 to EUR 6 million in 2008. State subsidies declined in 2009 because of budget cuts.  It is expected that the total subsidy in 2010 will be EUR 1.8 million.

Latvia’s telecommunications sector emerged along with the market economy in the wake of the collapse of the USSR, but liberalisation of the sector has been slow, and competition therein has grown very gradually. The number of mobile phone users, by contrast, has skyrocketed. In 1991, there were fewer than 100 people with mobile phones in Latvia. The next year there were 1,029, the year after that were 3,842, and now there are 2.28 million mobile phone connections. These are controlled by three mobile phone companies, and the number of connections actually exceeds the number of people who live in Latvia.

Until the mid-1990s, there was a monopoly in Latvia in the area of fixed and mobile telecommunications services. The only player in the fixed telecoms market was Lattelecom, while in the mobile communications sector, it was Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT). Competition appeared in 1995, when the Baltkom company entered the market. At first it offered only fixed services, but two years later it broke into the mobile field. Five years later, the company was bought by a subsidiary of Sweden’s Tele2 AB. The third mobile communications operator in Latvia launched operations in 2004. It was the Triatel company which, unlike the existing firms, operates in line with the CDMA standard, not the GSM one. Bite Latvija, now a partner of Vodafone, was the fourth company to enter the market. There are 33 companies in Latvia which offer fixed telephone services and 11 which offer mobile services. The largest mobile communications companies are LMT with 1.042 million connections, Tele2 with 1.039 million, and Bite with 200,000. The three companies are large and influential players in Latvia’s business world. LMT, for instance, had a turnover in 2009 of LVL 162.21 million (approximately EUR 227 million).

As time has gone by, it has not been just competition that has developed. The range of services and the technologies that underpin them have also expanded. GPRS data transmission became available in Latvia in 2002, and a 3G mobile communications network was launched in 2004. All three major mobile communications operators operate in this standard at this time.

Young people are the most active mobile phone users, and the trend has been to increasingly younger users. In 2006, between 95 and 99 per cent of people aged 20 to 29 used mobile phones, while in 2007, the same percentage applied to youngsters at the age of 15. The latest data show that approximately 90 per cent of the people of Latvia use mobile phone services. A little over half use prepaid cards. Others have permanent connections, while still others have several connections with prepaid cards and fixed systems. That explains why there are more mobile phone connections than people in the country.

Apart from calls and SMS messages, the most popular uses of mobile phones in Latvia include Internet browsing, sending or uploading photographs or videos, and reading E-mail. 13.8 per cent of all residents aged 16 to 74 use GPRS or 3G services to access the Internet on their phones. In 2007, 19.8 per cent of mobile phone users did so, but the economic crisis has prompted many people to drop these services to save money. Young people aged 16-24, which covers lots of students, are the most active users of mobile phone-based Internet services. Mobile marketing and news products specifically for mobile phones remain poorly developed in Latvia, although companies have increasingly been signalling an interest in investing in this segment.

The first e-mails in Latvia were sent in 1990. The technologies were brought in by scientists who arrived from Western Europe and the United States shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For the first several years after the restoration of Latvia’s independence, e-mail and the Internet remained the privilege of a few specialised scholars. Commercialisation of the Internet began in the mid-1990s, when the first Latvian web company, LANET, launched a 64 Kbit/s connection and a training programme for prospective users.

15 years on, 60 per cent of Latvia’s households have a computer, and 58 per cent have Internet access (data from 2009). Almost 87 per cent of families with Internet access now use a broadband connection. The penetration of technologies developed especially extensively in the last five years. In 2004 only 25 per cent of households had computers, and only 14.7 per cent had Internet connections. In 1999, only 6 per cent of the population could be described as Internet users. Today, people in the 16-24 age group are most active online. Approximately 96 per cent of young people in that age group use the Internet at least once a week.

The most popular reasons for using the Internet in Latvia include E-mail, searching of information for goods and services, online banking operations, reading news, chatting and engaging in discussions, as well as instant messaging. 6 per cent of Internet users in Latvia have their own blog.  The most popular Internet resources for Latvian Internet users are Google, Inbox.lv (a local E-mail, gaming, file storage and social network service), and Draugiem.lv (a social network site).

The Internet media environment in Latvia began to undergo intensive expansion in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The first news portal, Delfi.lv, appeared in November 1999. Over the course of the next year, the TVnet.lv and Apollo.lv portals were opened, all of them owned privately. Initially the portals did not specialise, but the most important innovation in Latvia’s media arena was the ability to leave anonymous comments under published articles and to engage in debate. The aforementioned portals remain the leaders in terms of hits. In 2010, Delfi.lv was visited by just under 670,000 users (450,000 for Tvnet.lv and 424,000 for Apollo.lv). By contrast, Latvia’s most popular Internet site, Inbox.lv, was visited 800,000 times in May 2010.

 The first Internet versions of Latvia’s press publications began to appear in the early 2000s. Initially, newspapers fully or partially presented their print content on the Net. Later they started to offer updated news and additional sections (video, photos, user’s content, blogs, etc.). Still, most of the content on newspaper portals continues to involve republishing of print materials or annotations. The most popular Internet sites related to print publications at this time are those offered by gossip magazine Kas Jauns and daily newspaper Diena.

Once newspapers began to present their electronic versions, talk began about whether fees could be charged for those who wished to use them. Until the mid-2000s, Internet usage numbers remained quite low, and the Net did not produce any serious competition in terms of press sales indicators. The economic crisis, however, led many people to cancel newspaper and magazine subscriptions in favour of news on the Internet which is free. In 2009, the number of people accessing the Internet for that purpose every day rose by 30 per cent in comparison to 2008. The number of people who never look for news on the Internet declined by 18 per cent during the same period in time. The traditional media were forced to react to these changes in media use. The first newspaper to charge a fee for the Internet version of its entire print content was Diena, which did so at the beginning of 2010. The price of the E-version is approximately 23 per cent cheaper than the cheapest subscription to the print version of the paper. The magazine Ir, established by a group of former Diena employees, has done the same. The E-version is 33 per cent cheaper than the print magazine.

The first television station to offer its programming not just on TV, but also on the Internet was LNT, which did so in 1999. In the early 2000s, an information technology company called Tilde offered broadcasts from several television channels on the Net. The most popular Internet homepage of a TV channel at this time is that of TV3, which is owned by the international media group MTG. It offers free live broadcasts and an archive of several of the channel’s shows. At this time, nearly all public and private television channels offer at least some of their programming in a live or archived format on the Internet, although Latvian Television, which is a state-financed public company, charges a fee for full access to its archive of broadcasts.

The first live radio broadcasts on the Internet began in the 1990s. Since 2000, Radio Latvia has offered a full archive of its programmes from the preceding six months. 13 per cent of the people of Latvia say that they listen to the radio on the Internet.  Among those aged 18 to 24, the percentage is higher – around 30 per cent of radio listeners use the Net for that purpose. The radio stations that attract the greatest audience on the Internet, accordingly, are those focusing on younger audiences.

There are two news agencies in Latvia which work with the local media – the national news agency LETA and the regional Baltic News Service (BNS).

LETA dates back to the first period of Latvian independence.  The ‘Latopress’ company was established in 1919 and later became LETA. During the Soviet era, the agency operated under the names LTA and then Latin form. In 1990, it regained its historical name of LETA. The agency identifies itself as a full-service information agency in Latvia. LETA reports on social issues, politics, sports, business, criminal news, news from Riga and Latvia’s regions, news from the Baltic States and the world, human interest stories, and other types of reports. It also has an archive dating back to 1993. It offers photo, video, media monitoring, publishing platforms for press releases and other services. LETA runs the Nozare.lv business portal, and the business magazine Kapitāls is also linked to the agency. The news agency offers news reports via mobile phone if the user sends an SMS or uses the WAP function.

The regional BNS news agency has an archive dating back to 1992. Since 2005, the agency has been owned by the Finnish media concern Alma Media. It is the largest information agency in the Baltic States, with offices in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. BNS offers original reporting about events not just in Latvia, but also in the Baltic region. It covers social issues, politics, economics, culture, criminal news, regional information, sports, weather, etc. It offers publication of announcements (managing a private database since 1994), and offers the Baltic Business Service product, which is a separate listing of important business information.

BNS organises the Mass Media Games each year. In recent years, some 2,000 representatives of Latvian media outlets and media agencies and members of their families have come together to relax and engage in sports. The 16th Mass Media Games were held in 2010.

The first associations of press-related professionals appeared in the early 20th century. The first Congress of Baltic Journalists was held in Riga in 1909. The Latvian Association of Writers and Journalists was established in 1917. From the 1920s until the early 1940s, Latvian writers and journalists had a union which handled professional issues such as tariffs, working hours and copyright and protected the rights of its members. After the Soviet occupation, in 1959, the Soviet Latvian Association of Journalists was established. In 1990, while Latvia was still formally a part of the USSR, the organisation dropped the word ‘Soviet’ from its title and became the Latvian Association of Journalists.

The association organises an annual awards ceremony for journalists, as well as the ‘Journalism Hope’ awards for young professionals, but public statements made about the organisation by media workers, experts and academics indicate that the organisation has no significant effect. It cannot bring representatives of the profession together or defend their rights. The organisation has a code of ethics which speaks to the role of the media in society, the duties of journalists, the responsibilities of editors and editorial boards, relationships with authors, rules on publication, and links between journalists and their audience. The document dates back to 1992, however, and has never been updated. This means that it is certainly out of date and carries little authority in the profession.

The Latvian Association of Press Publishers, which took on that name in April 1993, actually dates back to the period of upheaval just before the restoration of Latvia’s independence. In 1991, the Soviet regime confiscated the building where all of Latvia’s newspapers and magazines were housed and printed. Publishers came together to divide up available publishing resources, find offices for colleagues, share available amounts of paper and printing materials, etc. In February 1992, the organisation organised a ‘Week Without the Press’ to focus public and political attention on the fact that principles such as freedom of the press and freedom of speech were not being observed properly and that the economic chaos which existed in the country meant that many publications were going bankrupt. The organisation continues to be actively involved in press-related policy issues. It opposed an increase in the VAT rate on print media, for instance. It has called for a ban on advertising in state-financed media outlets, etc.

The Latvian Association of Broadcasting Organisations was established in 2006. It brings together several privately owned television and radio organisations, as well as associated members. Like the publishers’ association, the Association of Broadcasting Organisations reacts actively to changes in policy. It opposed higher broadcasting tariffs, encouraged a debate about the public media as competitors in the advertising market, and filed a lawsuit to address the dominant situation in the area of licensing agreements which were owned by the Copyright and Communications Consulting Agency/Latvian Author’s Association.

A full description of Latvia’s electronic media environment requires a look at production companies which are quite important in terms of preparing broadcasts for public and private television alike. One of the leading production companies is Beta Fakts, established in 2000. Some of its programmes were aired on Latvian Television, but for the past five years it has worked with TV3, which is part of the MTG concern. The company offers news broadcasts, as well as entertainment shows in areas such as cooking and lotteries. It has worked with the Virus Art production company to produce a game show, a broadcast on 20th century history, etc. Beta Fakts offers news broadcasts, popular annual ‘Latvijas lepnums’ (‘Heroes of Latvia’) awards ceremony, etc.

The Hansamedia production company was established in 1998. It produces television shows, informational stories, video films, video projects, advertising clips, etc. It has worked with Latvian Television for years, and several of the company’s shows are presented on that channel. These include a show for children, an entertainment talk show, a weekly TV magazine with in-studio interviews and stories, broadcasts about science, economic processes, disability and related problems, etc.

Virus Art was established in 1996. It currently focuses on organising different events, having previously acquired experience in producing various genres of television broadcasts.

During the 19th and much of the 20th century, the media in Latvia operated under strict conditions of censorship. Periods during which the principle of the freedom of the press was observed in Latvia occurred between 1918 and 1934 and since the Latvian independence drive (Atmoda) in the late 1980s. In 1924, a liberal press law took effect in Latvia, ensuring freedom of the press until 1934, when an authoritarian regime governed the country after a coup.

There are several laws and secondary normative acts which regulate the media in Latvia at this time. Many of these date back to the 1990s. Freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed in Latvia. The Constitution was adopted in 1922 and reinstated in 1991. Paragraph 100 states that “each person shall have the right to freedom of speech, which includes the right to freely acquire, possess and distribute information and to express his or her opinions. Censorship is prohibited.”

The law on the press and other mass media took effect in 1991, and it also enshrines freedom of the press and bans censorship and monopolisation of the press and other mass information resources. The law speaks to how the mass media are registered, operate, and end their operations. It addresses the types of information that must not be published, retraction of false news, the confidentiality of sources of information, the rights and obligations of journalists, etc. Both enterprises and individuals are permitted to establish and publish the mass media in Latvia.

A law on information openness was approved in 1998, its purpose being to ensure that people have access to information that is at the disposal of government institutions or that must be disclosed.  The law sets out a unified procedure whereby private individuals can obtain and use such information.

Other laws which pertain to the media are the law on advertising, on the protection of personal data, on copyright, on the state language. English translations of these various laws can be found on the Likumi.lv portal, which is operated by the official government newspaper Latvijas Vēstnesis.

In spring 2010, the police conducted a search of the apartment of a Latvian Television journalist with the aim of identifying her sources of information. More than 120 journalists signed an open letter demanding amendments to the law to protect journalists and their sources and to strengthen the principle of freedom of speech.

Latvia’s radio and television law dates back to 1995. It defines the way in which broadcasting organisations in Latvia are established, registered and supervised, as well as the way in which they work. At time of writing, a new draft law on the electronic mass media is being prepared to replace the 1995 law. Parliament approved the law on its final reading in mid-June, but the Latvian President vetoed it and sent it back for further consideration.

As noted earlier, a code of ethics was approved by the Latvian Association of Journalists in 1992, but it is both excessively general and out of date. Academics and media professionals don’t see it as a set of guidelines for journalists. The rights and obligations of journalists are also enshrined in general terms in the law on the press and other mass media resources. Among other things the law says that “the editor shall be responsible for the content of materials published in his or her mass medium.” The issue of journalistic ethics has been widely discussed in statements of mission, vision and goals that are issued by individual media outlets. One of the first media outlets to publish its own code of ethics was the newspaper Diena. All of its journalists were required to sign the code, which served as a prototype for the internal regulations of several other media organisations.

The communications sector (electronic communications, postal services) is under the purview of the Latvian Transportation Ministry. The cinema industry is supervised by the Culture Ministry. The ministry has classified cinema, publishing, television, radio and the interactive media as ‘creative industries’. As inter-sectoral phenomena, the Policy Planning Department of the Culture Ministry is responsible for these segments.

Individual mass media enterprises are registered in the Latvian Company Register. The National Radio and Television Council (NRTC) issues broadcasting or rebroadcasting permits, as well as special permits for cable television and radio operations. The radio and television sector is regulated by the NRTC, as well as by the Electronic Communications Directorate and the Competition Council in their areas of competence.

The NRTC is an independent institution which makes sure that the electronic mass media observe the Constitution, the law on radio and television and other laws in their operations. It also controls the situation with freedom of speech and information in the electronic media. The 1995 radio and television law defines the status, operations, functions and structure of the council. Its five members are elected by Parliament, and it is financed from the national budget. The draft law on electronic mass media, debated in 2010, speaks to the establishment of a Public Consulting Council by the National Council of Electronic Mass Media resources. It would ensure public involvement in defining the national commission and drafting a national strategy for the development of the electronic mass media sector. This panel is supposed to include representatives of relevant organisations, associations, professional institutions, etc. – those that specialise in mass media, education, culture, science and human rights.

Latvia does not have a long history of professional education for journalists. During the first half of the 20th century, journalists working for newspapers and the radio learned their skills on the job. A rather large percentage of these people started their careers as schoolteachers. An Institute of Journalism was set to be established in Riga in autumn 1940, but the Soviet occupation interrupted those plans. During the Soviet period, journalists were trained by Latvia State University (beginning in 1945) and by the Communist Party schools. Journalists in the Soviet Union were supposed to serve ideological purposes, too.

Education for journalists changed after the restoration of Latvia’s independence. The five-year higher education model for Soviet universities was transformed into a four-year bachelor’s programme and a two-year master’s programme. New courses were developed. The experience of universities in the United States and Western Europe was studied intensively. Faculty members were replaced, and time spent at Western universities became very important. The first doctoral programme in communications studies was established in 2006. The country’s largest university, the University of Latvia, offers a full study programme in communications studies, covering journalism, advertising, public relations and media research. This is one of the most popular educational programmes in Latvia, with some 700 students in the bachelor’s programme alone at this time. Journalism is also taught at the Vidzeme University College and the Riga Stradiņš University.

Information about the media and relevant statistics is collected by several institutions in Latvia. The one with the longest tradition of doing so is the Bibliography Institute of National Library of Latvia. Each year it publishes two compendia of all of Latvia’s periodicals from the past year – The Latvian Press and The Periodical Indicator. The institute also publishes a bibliographic register called Chronicle of the Latvian Press, as well as a database of bibliographic analysis. The Latvian National Library maintains a digital library of press publications in Latvia, Periodika.lv and Mantojums. More than 100 newspapers and magazines published between 1886 and 1970 are now available in the system, and the digital library is set to be expanded substantially in future years. The Academic Library of the University of Latvia maintains a bibliographic indicator of Latvian periodical publications between 1768 and 1945.

The Lursoft company has offered an archive of press publications and materials from the BNS news agency since 1994. The LETA news agency has offered an electronic version of major press publications since 2001.

 TNS Latvia conducts regular research of the commercial media market. It regularly offers ratings for the press, radio, television, the Internet, and the advertising market.

The SKDS research centre conducts public opinion surveys. Individual studies have been conducted by the National Radio and Television Council, the Baltic Institute of Social Sciences, the Providus Public Policy Research Centre and others.

Media research is also conducted by the Department of Communication Studies of the University of Latvia’s Faculty of Social Sciences and by the Advanced Social and Political Research Institute. The studies are available on the faculty’s homepage and its database of publications. Researchers from the Riga Stradiņš University and the Vidzeme University College also conduct studies in the media field.

The media landscape in Latvia expanded considerably in the early 21st century. There were changes in the content and use of the media, as well as in audience attitudes. New traditional publications were created, but the media system also expanded into the areas of Internet services, the digital media, and telecommunications.

This was enabled by the rapid growth in advertising and media consumption. Between 2002 and 2008, thanks to rapid economic growth, people in Latvia began to earn substantially more money.  For more than half a century they had been forced to be enormously frugal and to deal with all kinds of ‘Soviet shortages’. In the post-Soviet economy, wages were at first low, but during the boom years, people suddenly had far more money at their disposal This meant that they could spend more on entertainment and culture, as well as everyday technologies such as mobile phones, computers, TV sets, video and audio systems, and satellite dishes. The situation in Latvia was similar to the consumer boom and move toward a welfare society that occurred in Western Europe in the 1950s and 1960s. The first eight years of the new millennium were a period during which the consumerist attitudes of media users developed. This created a far greater diversity in media offerings and their consumption, although in some cases this meant trivialisation. The media world was fragmented in the effort to satisfy all of the many different consumer desires that were appearing.

The economic crisis has had a very important effect on the media landscape in Latvia, and its consequences are difficult to forecast. 2009 was a terribly difficult year for the media. As advertising revenues and the purchasing power of local residents both diminished, the media had to cut costs. Journalists were laid off, wages were trimmed, some publications disappeared, others merged. There were ownership changes, and the quality of journalism also suffered because of the sudden and unaccustomed changes. The government subsidy for the public media was cut substantially. At time of writing, the situation has become rather more stable. The autumn of 2010 will be a period of a very harshly fought parliamentary campaign, and that will be of decisive importance in terms of public trust in the media. It will also be a serious test of the professionalism of journalists in Latvia, not least in terms of analytical journalism.

In the short-term, the press, radio and television need to maintain audience numbers. Competition will force the media into offering entertainment that is as attractive as possible – soap operas, reality shows, various kinds of contests. The trend has increasingly been for people to obtain their information for free via the Internet or free newspapers. Internet portals are already competing seriously with the printed press, presenting it with new challenges in terms of preserving audience numbers and revenues. The first fee-based versions of press publications have appeared on the Internet already, but it is not yet clear whether others will follow their example, as the results of these early experiments are not yet known. What can be predicted is that the role of Internet news portals, as well as Internet television and radio stations, will only increase. The popularity of these communication channels is promoted not just by the wider spread of technologies, but also by the fact that a large number of people have emigrated from Latvia. They often access Latvian Internet outlets to find out what’s going on back home and to maintain a link to their motherland.

New developments in the next few years can be expected in the field of mobile telecommunications, where data transmission speeds and the quality of network coverage will improve increasingly. 4G data transmission is not yet available in Latvia, but the infrastructure for it is gradually being prepared. 4G transmission will enable the development of mobile television – a process which, because of limited data transmission speeds, has not been widely used up until now. It is also likely that press publishers and news agencies will increasingly be focusing on the delivery of content to users via mobile telephones, because the technologies of mobile phones are being developed further at a time when people are less likely to devote their time and attention to more traditional forms of the media.

There is also reason to expect changes in laws related to the media. The media in Latvia are regulated at this time by norms that were adopted during the first few years after the restoration of the country’s independence. These have been amended from time to time, and major changes in media regulations have encountered fairly widespread resonance. That is certainly true when it comes to the new draft law, which is supposed to be a set of up-to-date regulations of the electronic media.

 

What is difficult to predict is how the professional environment of the media will change. The Latvian Association of Journalists has, for a very long time, been quite passive in terms of representing the social and professional interests of journalists. There is reason to believe that the fact that journalists are not forming a professional association is dictated by substantial differences in the goals of the media enterprises which they represent, in their understanding of professional ethics, and so on. There are hopes, however, that journalists will eventually find it possible to engage in active discussions about the purpose of their profession, about ethics and professionalism therein. Perhaps a new professional organisation might be established, or the existing one might be reformed. Presumably, the intellectual resources of Latvia’s universities will make it possible to ensure serious studies of the media environment – something that would help to promote higher quality in the field of journalism.

Fragmentation of Latvia’s media landscape will continue, and technological modernisation and marketing will become more important in the battle over audience shares.

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Vita Zelče
Professor
Department of Communication Studies
Faculty of Social Sciences
University of Latvia
Lomonosova St. 1A, Riga
LV1019, Latvia
Tel.: +371-29417510
e-mail: vita.zelce@lu.lv

Klinta Ločmele
PhD Candidate
Department of Communication Studies
Faculty of Social Sciences
University of Latvia
Lomonosova St. 1A, Riga
LV1019, Latvia
Tel.: +371-26101217
e-mail: klinta.locmele@inbox.lv

Olga Procevska
PhD Candidate
Department of Communication Studies
Faculty of Social Sciences
University of Latvia
Lomonosova St. 1A, Riga
LV1019, Latvia
Tel.: +371-26377057
e-mail: olga.procevska@gmail.com