The Ministry of Culture is responsible for media policy as a whole. It does not supervise the activities of the media or investigate possible infringements in media content. As the regulatory authority, the National Electronic Mass Media Council is responsible for the supervision of the audio (radio) and audiovisual (television) media. As in other democratic states, responsibility for the evaluation of the activities of other media lies with the sector’s associations. In cases of serious violations (hate speech, protection of minors and so on), competence lies with the law enforcement agencies. Every person has the right, according to the procedures set out in law, to demand retraction of news or an apology, and in cases of conflict, to apply to the court.
Electronic communications, postal services are under the purview of the Ministry of Transport. The Press Law obliges the disclosure of media ownership through the provision of information on the beneficial owners from the Register of Enterprises where this is recorded in the media register (in 2015 there were 1531 registered media). However, public access to this register is restricted and this does not promote transparency of the media environment. Moreover, the current rules permit the registration as media of various types of channels of communication that in actual fact do not fulfil the functions of independent and professional media organisations. At the same time, the Press Law permits Internet news portals to operate unregistered as mass media. Over the last ten years the ownership structure of the Latvian media has changed and become less transparent. Although current legislation permits the identification of the formal owners of media organisations, the true beneficial owners remain unknown. This is not just a threat to the freedoms guaranteed by the Satversme (constitution) but also increases the risk of Latvian media becoming channels of influence by other states. The Ministry of Culture and the Register of Enterprises plan to resolve this issue, including the drafting of new legislation.
The National Electronic Mass Media Council (NEPLP) issues broadcasting or retransmission permits, as well as special permits for cable television and radio operations.
The NEPLP is an independent institution that ensures the electronic mass media observe the constitution, the Law on Electronic Mass Media and other laws in their operations. It also controls the situation with freedom of speech and information in the electronic media.
In the 4th quarter of 2016, the NEPLP monitoring centre monitored 2,848 hours of radio and television programming, producing 148 investigation and monitoring reports. During this period it found 16 violations of various kinds (administrative, advertising etc.). Administrative sanctions were applied for surreptitious advertising, breaches of the rules on the amount of advertising, infringements of generally accepted journalistic and ethical principles in the presentation of the news, lack of translation of films into the official language and other violations. In November 2016 the NEPLP also monitored the cable operators and found discrepancies between the channels being retransmitted and those listed in the retransmission permit.
On 7 April 2016 the NEPLP decided to prohibit the retransmission of the Rossiya RTR television channel in the territory of Latvia for a period of six months. The Council had found repeated serious violations, including incitement to hatred, in the programmes broadcast by Rossiya RTR in breach of Latvia’s Law on Electronic Mass Media and the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive.
The situation in Latvia has evolved whereby the NEPLP performs the functions of a regulator with responsibility for the overall development of the electronic media sector as well as that of the supervisor and shareholder of the Latvian public service media. It follows that, as the regulator of all the electronic media, the NEPLP supervises itself. Moreover, it is unusual for a media regulator to be a media shareholder.
The issue of the governance of the electronic media has been on the table for several years yet it remains unsolved. For example, in 2010 the opinion of the Presidential Commission of Constitutional Law on the law regulating the public service media in a democratic state was that the conflict of interests should be prevented whereby one regulatory authority supervises all the electronic media, including those over which it realises the mandate of the state as owner. Separation of the functions of the media regulator from the governance of the public service media is one of the topical issues in the electronic media environment.
The term of office of four of the five members of the NEPLP ends at the beginning of February 2017 and parliament is currently evaluating 10 candidacies for the four positions. In December 2016 the Saeima supported amendments to the Electronic Mass Media Law that would require candidates to the NEPLP to have the right of access to state secrets.