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26th Aug 2019

Lithuania bans Russian TV station

  • Crosses mark site of Lithuania's anti-Soviet uprising next to TV antenna in Vilnius (Photo: Lee Fenner)

Lithuania’s media watchdog has blocked broadcasts by Russian TV channel RTR Planeta on grounds of inciting hatred over Ukraine.

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

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

The regulator 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 Vladimir Zhirinovski, a Russian nationalist MP and Duma vice chairman, who, the commission says, called on Russia 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 Western media products because some Russian media benefit from 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's licensed in Sweden and broadcasts in the Baltic states but all its cotent 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 min-bans on shows by Ren TV, another Russian company.

The crackdown has stirred some debate.

There is criticism of the involvement of the Lithuanian military in media oversight.

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

The bill, proposed by president Dalia Grybauskaite, is to penalise 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 Martisius said there should be better EU-level regulation.

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 licencsed in, say, Sweden or the UK, violate both national and EU-level hate speech laws, but procedures are too cumbersome to take them off the air.

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

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Opinion

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Rather than creating its own counter-propaganda, the EU should reach out to civil society in Eastern Europe and Russia itself via social media.

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