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 and digital media.
Although several media have closed in recent years, there are still several stable private players apart from the public service media. Latvijas Avīze and Diena, two important daily newspapers, in Latvia’s media history and still significant players today, have celebrated their 25th anniversary together with the women’s magazine Santa. The Internet portals Tvnet.lv and Delfi.lv and commercial television channel TV3 have been active for more than 15 years whereas Radio Skonto and Radio SWH as well as the commercial TV channel LNT have a history of over 20 years. Other media have also celebrated important anniversaries. Although the media market as a whole can be said to be saturated, there are still possibilities for new entrants but the decisive factor is having a feel for the audience and its expectations as well as finding a way to reach it.
It is possible to say that competition for audience attention will increase between the local media and global market players. A portion of the advertising revenues is already abroad and even beyond the EU. Audiences can be attracted by original content but this demands greater financial investment. The costs of so-called first copies is high and sometimes it is often less expensive to acquire foreign products although this reduces diversity and the audience’s ties to locally produced content.
In 2017 there will be local government elections and in 2018 the Latvian Saeima (parliament) elections. These may bring extra advertising revenue but at the same time they will be a test of media independence and trustworthiness at all media levels, both regional and national. The greatest challenges at the media policy level in the near future will be the reform of the regulatory authority (NEPLP) and separating its supervisory function over all the electronic media from the governance of the public service media and the approval of the public service remit. No doubt, the debate will continue over the need for the public service media to leave the commercial advertising market as is the case in many European states, including Estonia and Lithuania.
In the next two years active discussions are expected on the drafting of new media legislation. Bearing in mind the sometimes conflicting interests of those involved, these discussions may become heated especially on those aspects that so far have not been covered by any laws, for example on the regulation of the new media and its necessity.
Although the most popular programmes on television have been media events such as the Eurovision Song Contest or TV shows and infotainment, there is also a demand for analytical and investigative content, which have wide public resonance. For example, the public service channel LTV1’s programme Aizliegtais Paņēmiens (Forbidden Method) carried out an experiment by establishing a real fast food outlet “Frics” with the aim of discovering and showing what it is like to be a small enterprise in Latvia.
In the next few years there are plans to pay greater attention to the issues of media accountability and ethics. After two years Latvia may have its media ombudsman. Journalists will be encouraged to have a discussion on the ethics of journalism and as a result the number of media having their own code of ethics and applying it in practice may increase.
Fake news and sensationalism as infectious expressions in the media cannot be completely eradicated but the public understanding of the standards of reliable media and their role may increase. At the same time it should be said that, to a large extent, this depends on the promotion of society’s critical thinking in general. Although more and more will be spoken about the importance of media literacy in the state and non-governmental sector, the rift may widen between that part of society that consumes media content wisely and those who continue to be blindly led by their favourite media content and choose to live in an information bubble. The critical factor in this case will not be digital skills but precisely the ability to evaluate media content. Youngsters, the middle and older generations are subject to this risk of uncritical media consumption and will so be in the future.
It can be predicted that with the increasing use of mobile devices, the media will find ever more creative digital solutions for consumption of content. Traditional media activities could continue to expand and become more interactive in the digital environment. Already the website of the youth oriented public service radio channel Pieci.lv offers the possibility to listen to live broadcasts but also to several different music streams for example, music by new Latvian bands, international hits etc. The audience has always been and always will be the master that the media will want to serve in order to retain its attention. Fragmentation of Latvia’s media landscape will continue, and technological modernisation and marketing will become more important in the battle over audience shares.