Latvia’s electronic media authority NEPLP has revoked the broadcasting license of the independent Russian television channel Dozhd (Rain), the authority’s chief Ivars Abolins announced on December 6, Delfi reported.
He said that the decision was made with regard to national security and public order and after assessing a set of violations committed recently. These included the absence of an audio track in the state language (Latvian) for broadcasts, depicting Crimea on the map as part of Russian territory, the television presenter’s referring to the Russian army as “our army,” and the possible expression of support for the Russian army.
Information received from the State Security Service, the content of which Abolins does not disclose, was also assessed.
“After assessing the totality of violations, the NEPLP became sure that the management of the TV channel Dozhd is not aware of the significance and seriousness of the violations, so it cannot operate in Latvia,” said the head of the NEPLP.
The decision will take effect on the night of Thursday, December 8, when Dozhd must stop broadcasting in Latvia.
Russian TV channel Dozhd temporarily stopped broadcasting in March and later announced it is opening studios in Riga, Amsterdam, Tbilisi, and Paris.
“The TV channel will stop broadcasting on cable but will remain on YouTube. We continue to work and believe all accusations against us to be unfair and absurd,” Dozhd said on Twitter.
Given that Dozhd broadcasts its programs not only on television, but also on the Youtube platform, NEPLP will request that the Dozhd channel is geo-blocked on that platform from users in Latvia. “In Russia, they can broadcast freely on the Internet,” Abolins added.
“This decision shows that Latvia is a legal and democratic country that is open to the media, because Latvia has let in a large number of Russian-affiliated media outlets that can operate freely here. Only Dozhd TV channel was punished for breaking the law.” Abolins added.
The NEPLP decision can be appealed in court, and the Ministry of Interior and security agencies will make the final decision on whether Dozhd journalists can remain in Latvia, Abolins said.
Dozhd supports the Russian army?
On 2 December, Lativa’s security service launched an investigation into an incident when Dozhd host Aleksey Korostevlev appeared to show support for the Russian military in Ukraine. Speaking on 1 December on air of the program “Here and now,” he said “Write us at [email protected] or write to us in our Telegram bot. […] We hope that we were able to help many servicemen with, for instance, equipment and just basic comforts at the front.”
According to Tikhon Dziadko, editor-in-chief of the Dozhd TV channel, this phrase gives the viewer the impression that the Dozhd TV channel is engaged in helping the Russian army. “In this regard, it is important to note the following: the Dozhd TV channel was not, is not, and will not be involved in helping equip the Russian army — at the front or outside of it. The [email protected] mailbox was created to collect personal testimonies about the crimes of the Russian army in Ukraine and about the violations of the criminal and senseless mobilization in the Russian Federation.”
According to him, the dissemination of information about this is necessary for wide audiences to understand the criminal nature of the actions of the Russian leadership since 24 February 2022.
“Since the aired phrase was misleading our viewers, we have decided to immediately remove it from replays and from the broadcast recording. We apologize to our viewers,” Dziadko wrote on Twitter.
Journalist Ekaterina Kotrikadze said Friday on the program “Here and now” that Dozhd has decided to end its cooperation with Alexei Korostelev, who hosted the program on Thursday and spoke out in support of the Russian army.
On 2 December, NEPLP issued Dozhd a EUR 10,000 fine for two violations: mapping Crimea as part of Russia and calling the Russian army “our army.” Administrative proceedings were launched.
Criticism of Dozhd in Latvia
At the very beginning of its work from Latvia, TV Dozhd was criticized when presenter Ekaterina Kotrikadze in an interview with Riga Mayor Martins Stakis asked tough questions about the demolition of a monument to the Russian Army in Pardaugava and Latvia’s attitude toward the Russian-speaking population. Russians are Latvia’s largest ethnic minority, making up roughly 25% of the population after an intensive relocation program in Soviet times saw their numbers quadruple from 8.8% in 1935.
The interview provoked an explosion of indignation on social networks, Delfi reported. Filmmaker Alvis Hermanis wrote: “This is not journalism, but cruel political manipulation that is absolutely against the interests of Latvia. I am not even talking about common courtesy to the country that sheltered them. This is already very dangerous. One gets the impression that their goal is to undermine our country from within. Perhaps, they do it unconsciously and it is the same old Russian chauvinism. But it does not change the result. I strongly recommend Latvian security authorities to cancel all permits for their work and stay here. The sooner the better.”
Mayor Stakis, on the other hand, defended Dozhd: “The Dozhd TV channel itself is a huge opportunity for Latvia. They have 3.5 million subscribers, a million on cable, and yesterday they had 350,000 hits on Youtube. We have to treat it as an opportunity. I would never give such an interview to a Russian propaganda channel — they wouldn’t let me say that.”
Dozhd management spoke only Russian
NEPLP head Ivars Abolins stressed on the air of Spried ar Delfi that the story with Dozhd had dragged on since the summer when their license was issued. According to him, when Dozhd received its broadcasting license, it became a Latvian media outlet, not a Russian one, and, accordingly, had to comply with Latvian law. This included ensuring that programs were translated into Latvian. The TV channel pledged to do this in September, but it had not fulfilled this obligation by December.
According to Abolins, after the phrase “our army” about the Russian army was aired, NEPLP had a conversation with the management of Dozhd. It follows from Abolins’ words that the TV channel workers claimed: they could call “our army” the army of the country of their citizenship and origin.
Also, the head of NEPLP stressed that the decision to revoke the license was based on the conclusion of the Latvian Security Service about the risks to national security.
“We are on the same front with Ukraine. We can’t have a channel that says ‘our army’ about the Russian army,” Didzis Šmits, head of the Saeima Human Rights Commission, said on Spried ar Delfi.
About a month ago, the management of Dozhd came to a meeting of the NEPLP regulator to discuss a violation made by the TV company, assuming that they would be able to present their position in Russian and not bothering to find an interpreter. This case, which Abolins mentioned twice during the Spried ar Delfi broadcast, in his opinion, clearly illustrates that the management of Dozhd does not have a clear understanding of legality in Latvia. Abolins considers it a serious risk that violations by Dozhd will be repeated.
Latvian Foreign Ministry to decide whether Dozhd journalists can remain
Speaking to Meduza, Dozhd CEO Natalia Sindeeva said that she was not ready for such a step by the Latvian authorities. She acknowledged that the channel will need to leave the cable network and, consequently, lose about 20% of its revenue. The TV channel can appeal the NEPLP decision, but must go off air on 8 December.
The Latvian Foreign Ministry and security services will now decide if Dozhd journalists can remain in Latvia. Abolins stressed that Latvia has no complaints to other Russian opposition journalists who found in refuge in Latvia after Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February.
The international organization Reporters without borders asked the NEPLP chief to not annul Dozhd’s license, as the TV channel is one of the few remaining sources of independent information that Russian journalists provide to the Russian population. Reporters without borders argued that revoking Dozhd’s license would be a severe blow to the right to information of the Russian-speaking population in Russia and around the world.