Head of pow­er­ful Seimas com­mit­tee: cer­tain me­dia out­lets can be stripped of li­censes

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In a new twist of the pro­longed scan­dal over the in­flu­ence of the pow­er­ful busi­ness hold­ing MG Baltic on Lithua­nia‘s pol­i­tics for years through its own tele­vi­sion chan­nels LNK, BTV, TV1, Info TV and Liuks!, Vy­tau­tas Bakas, chair­man of the pow­er­ful par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tee on Na­tional Se­cu­rity and De­fence (NGSK) in a TV in­ter­view poured gaso­line on the fire, propos­ing that cer­tain me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions act­ing against the state’s in­ter­ests must have their li­censes re­voked. «If the me­dia threat­ens the con­sti­tu­tional foun­da­tion of state and weak­ens democ­racy, then the me­dia out­let ought not to have li­cense,» Bakas em­pha­sised.

The month-long MG Baltic scan­dal dates back to late April, when then em­bat­tled, cor­rup­tion and in­flu­ence ped­dling charges fight­ing Eligi­jus Ma­si­ulis (he is former chair­man of Lithua­nia‘s Lib­eral Movement) made public some of his pri­vate cor­re­spon­dence with Lithua­nian pres­i­dent Dalia Gry­bauskaitė.

A bar­rage of emails re­veals that MG Baltic has ex­u­ber­antly med­dled in the ap­point­ing of key state fig­ures, like a former pros­e­cu­tor gen­eral, for ex­am­ple.

Some, how­ever, no­tice that the head-of­s­tate has also been too en­gaged in the Seimas pol­i­tics. Gry­bauskaitė, for in­stance, has asked Ma­si­ulis in one of her emails to «give re­gards» to MG Baltic and called To­mas Dap­kus, a jour­nal­ist in one of the MG Baltic-owned TV chan­nels, «a hound» that needs to be kept at bay with the new pros­e­cu­tor gen­eral ap­point­ment pro­ce­dures un­der­way.

In what many be­lieve was an at­tempt to shift the bad spot­light on the pres­i­dent, VSD, Lithua­nia‘s State Se­cu­rity Depart­ment (VSD) aired ex­ten­sive ex­cerpts of the con­ver­sa­tions of top MG Baltic heads and es­pe­cially those of Dap­kus, the jour­nal­ist.

In a re­port to the Seimas, the State Se­cu­rity Depart­ment says that MG Baltic, in pur­suit of its in­ter­ests, had de­vel­oped a long-term strat­egy that can be re­garded as de­struc­tive ac­tiv­ity post­ing a threat to na­tional se­cu­rity. Some, how­ever, chas­tise the in­tel­li­gence chief body for hav­ing ex­e­cut­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tions against MG Baltic for years. It turned out that VSD had eaves­dropped Dap­kus for nearly a dozen years. Bakas’ con­tro­ver­sial pro­posal has not been left un­no­ticed by Dainius Radze­vičius, the chair­man of Lithua­nia’s Union of Jour­nal­ists, LŽS.

«The ini­tia­tive, if re­alised leg­isla­tively, can have far-reach­ing re­ver­ber­a­tions to Lithua­nia in­ter­na­tion­ally,» Radze­vičius un­der­scored.

Speak­ing to BNN, Radze­vičius said that no VSD re­port can­not en­tail «le­gal con­se­quences» to Lithua­nian me­dia and, specif­i­cally, the TV chan­nels owned by the hold­ing as only courts serve jus­tice in Lithua­nia. «Dam­age (to me­dia) has been done, how­ever. The VSD re­port high­lighted anew the too in­tri­cate en­tan­gle­ment of Lithua­nian pol­i­tics, busi­ness and me­dia,» Radze­vičius em­pha­sised.

Ac­cord­ing to him, ideally, the politi­cians and the busi­ness­men ought to stop us­ing me­dia as a means to pub­li­cise their views and serve their busi­ness in­ter­ests, how­ever doubted whether it is doable.

«The en­tire busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment has to be­come a lot more trans­par­ent to se­vere the ties with the me­dia of the kind. Sec­ondly, me­dia’s self-reg­u­la­tion mech­a­nism in Lithua­nia ought to be­come a lot more stronger,» Radze­vičius un­der­lined.

In his words, the new reg­istry of Lithua­nia’s me­dia out­lets in­clud­ing all in­for­ma­tion on me­dia com­pany own­ers and ad­ver­tis­ers will make Lithua­nian me­dia more trans­par­ent. It will also con­tain in­for­ma­tion on the breaches of jour­nal­ism ethics by Lithua­nian me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions.

«When in oper­a­tion, reg­istry will give a whole lot bet­ter pic­ture of our me­dia,» Radze­vičius is con­vinced.

Vytis Jurko­nis, head of NGO «Free­dom House», how­ever, sug­gested that he shares the NSGK chair­man’s con­cerns which, he says, is «absolutely» un­der­stand­able to him. «The in­flu­ence of busi­ness and the prob­lems of trans­parency in the Lithua­nian me­dia map have been men­tioned in sev­eral in­ter­na­tional re­ports and in many in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences…In­dex of in­de­pen­dent me­dia in Lithua­nia is not as dra­matic as in Poland, how­ever it is not as sta­ble as in Estonia,» the NGO head noted.

Amid a par­lia­men­tary in­ves­ti­ga­tion into busi­ness groups’ pos­si­ble in­flu­ence on po­lit­i­cal pro­cesses, Prime Min­is­ter Saulius Skver­nelis said that he sees no grounds for tak­ing dras­tic mea­sures against me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions con­trolled by large busi­nesses and calls for re­ly­ing on the me­dia’s self-reg­u­la­tion bod­ies.

«Let’s not rush un­til we have the com­mit­tee’s find­ings. If some prob­lem ar­eas are re­vealed, as far as the me­dia are con­cerned, de­ci­sions that will have to be taken or could be taken should not be tough or dras­tic,» Skver­nelis told re­porters on Mon­day, May 14.

«I be­lieve, how­ever, that the me­dia will be able to do a lot through self-reg­u­la­tion, self­gov­ern­ment. I don’t think that to­day we should speak about rad­i­cal or tough mea­sures,» he added.

Mean­while, Ed­mundas Vaitekū­nas, chair­man of the Lithua­nian Ra­dio and Tele­vi­sion Com­mis­sion (LRTK), says that there is no clear le­gal mech­a­nism for re­vok­ing an is­sued broad­cast­ing li­cense if there are signs of ac­tiv­i­ties run­ning counter to na­tional se­cu­rity.

How­ever, the me­dia watch­dog would con­sider sus­pend­ing a li­cense if a spe­cial com­mis­sion pro­vided such in­for­ma­tion, he added.

Amid the scan­dal, Lithua­nian Pres­i­dent Dalia Gry­bauskaitė has said this week that MG Baltic is an ex­am­ple of oli­garchic ac­tiv­ity, but there is no le­gal ba­sis, at least for now, for strip­ping LNK, a TV chan­nel owned by the busi­ness group, of its li­cense.

«A clas­si­cal def­i­ni­tion of oli­garchs is when a busi­ness merges with pol­i­tics and runs its own me­dia to pur­sue its in­ter­ests, which are not al­ways com­pat­i­ble with the public in­ter­est. Thus, we can see a clas­si­cal ex­am­ple of this in MG Baltic’s ac­tiv­i­ties,» she said in an in­ter­view aired by Žinių Radi­jas on Tues­day, May 15.

«How­ever, I’d like to say it very clearly that Lithua­nia is a state ruled by law and we have laws that lay down the ba­sis for when a li­cense may be re­voked or sus­pended,» the pres­i­dent said.

«There­fore, I can an­swer very re­spon­si­bly that, in the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, the law does not pro­vide for such a ba­sis for sus­pend­ing the li­cense, at least with re­gard to LNK,» she added.

Ear­lier this month, with Ma­si­ulis‘ emails out, Gry­bauskaitė re­gret­ted that «un­for­tu­nately, there are jour­nal­ists who are be­com­ing a tool for or a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of in­ter­ests groups, lob­by­ists etc».

Former MG Baltic Vice Pres­i­dent Rai­mon­das Kurlian­skis is sus­pected of bribery and in­flu­ence ped­dling, and Dap­kus has been ques­tioned as a wit­ness in this po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion case.

The Com­mit­tee on Na­tional Se­cu­rity and De­fence’s probe into un­law­ful in­flu­ence on po­lit­i­cal pro­cesses in Lithua­nia in­volves five to six in­ter­est groups, ac­cord­ing to Bakas, the Com­mit­tee chair­man.

«(The avail­able ma­te­rial) shows in­ter­est groups aim­ing to es­tab­lish­ing them­selves or in­flu­enc­ing the strate­gic sec­tors of the state. These cen­tres of power have al­ways been in place, only their names have changed,» Bakas ac­cen­tu­ated.


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