Lithua­nian Govern­ment mulls manda­tory as­sets and in­ter­est dec­la­ra­tions from jour­nal­ists

Baltic News Network - - News -

The Lithua­nian Govern­ment read­ies to toughen the life of jour­nal­ists with a leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tive to in­tro­duce as­set, in­come and in­ter­est dec­la­ra­tion for all jour­nal­ists.

The pro­posal was sub­mit­ted to the Cabi­net on Wed­nes­day, fol­low­ing the con­clu­sions of a par­lia­men­tary probe into busi­nesses’ un­law­ful in­flu­ence on pol­i­tics. Seimas‘ Na­tional Se­cu­rity and De­fence Com­mit­tee com­menced it af­ter the rev­e­la­tion that MG Baltic, an in­flu­en­tial business group and owner of sev­eral ma­jor me­dia out­lets, has in­flu­enced the leg­isla­tive and pros­e­cu­tor-ap­point­ing process.

Sev­eral me­dia peo­ple ap­proached by BNN ridiculed the pro­pos­als and claimed they re­flect the Farm­ers and Greens-led Govern­ment’s in­creas­ing re­solve to in­ter­fere and con­trol me­dia.

«In­stead of help­ing print me­dia, which is af­fected by the trends most, author­i­ties want to crush it. Our ed­i­to­rial of­fice has been down­sized from 25 jour­nal­ists dur­ing our peak years in the early 1990s to a mere four jour­nal­ists now. Note, their salaries are just a lit­tle higher than the min­i­mum wage in the coun­try. What as­sets can they de­clare if they live on the brink of poverty?» Gin­taras Tomkus, editor-in-chief of Vakaru Ek­spre­sas, a daily pub­lished in Klaipeda in west­ern Lithua­nia, won­dered to BNN. Al­though the lo­cal wire news said in the be­gin­ning that all jour­nal­ists will be li­able to sub­mit their as­set, in­come and in­ter­est dec­la­ra­tions with the en­act­ment of the pro­posal, Skir­man­tas Malin­auskas, ad­vi­sor to Prime Min­is­ter Saulius Skver­nelis, back­tracked from the po­si­tion when speak­ing to BNS Lithua­nia and in­sisted there are plans to make jour­nal­ists sub­mit as­set and in­come dec­la­ra­tions to the State Tax In­spec­torate. «What we pro­pose is that me­dia out­lets them­selves would be al­lowed to set their own pro­ce­dures for declar­ing in­ter­ests, but the law would stip­u­late the prin­ci­ple that jour­nal­ists should sub­mit their dec­la­ra­tions to the editor-in-chief or di­rec­tor,» the ad­viser said.

How­ever, Saulius Skver­nelis, was claim­ing dif­fer­ently.

«We want to pro­tect jour­nal­ists from ac­cu­sa­tions and spec­u­la­tive in­for­ma­tion. There­fore, the need that as­sets and in­come were de­clared not only by me­dia com­pany share­hold­ers, di­rec­tors of such com­pa­nies, but also by all jour­nal­ists, too,» PM ac­cen­tu­ated.

He, nev­er­the­less, sup­ports the idea that jour­nal­ists ought to in­form about a pos­si­ble con­flict of in­ter­ests to their di­rect su­per­vi­sors first of all.

«That way we would cre­ate a self-reg­u­la­tion mech­a­nism, when the jour­nal­ist will be obliged to tell the editor-in-chief that, be­cause of con­flict of in­ter­ests, he or she can­not write a cer­tain story and et cetera,» Skver­nelis said.

PM also wants me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions to mark ad­ver­tise­ment ac­cord­ingly if they are re­lated to their own­ers’ business or busi­nesses.

«We also want me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions be­long­ing to business groups be known as such to the pub­lic. If there is a TV re­portage, for ex­am­ple, the broad­caster ought to mark that the cov­er­age is re­lated to some business, be it con­struc­tion, to­bacco or any other (business),» Skver­nelis rea­soned.

There’s also a pro­posal for the govern­ment to ini­ti­ate amend­ments to the Law on Ad­ver­tis­ing to bar un­marked ad­ver­tis­ing on so­cial me­dia.

«In all cases of paid ad­ver­tis­ing, both the nat­u­ral and the le­gal per­son should have the obli­ga­tion to mark that. Both the con­trac­tor and the per­son spread­ing in­for­ma­tion would be held ac­count­able if ad­ver­tis­ing is not marked,» Malin­auskas said.

The Lithua­nian govern­ment will also de­lib­er­ate a pro­posal to ban politi­cians from hold­ing own­er­ship in me­dia out­lets. Such politi­cians would in­clude party mem­bers, non-af­fil­i­ated MPs, mem­bers of the govern­ment and mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils as well as state of­fi­cials of po­lit­i­cal trust.

Me­dia peo­ple ap­proached by BNN crit­i­cised the ini­tia­tives, call­ing them «re­dun­dant», „«un­rea­son­able» and «flawed».

«Our me­dia, es­pe­cially its print seg­ment, has been so cor­nered up in terms of the fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion that the salaries of jour­nal­ists, if made pub­lic, will look ridicu­lous to all» Gin­taras Tomkus, editor-in-chief of Vakaru Ek­spre­sas, a daily pub­lished in Klaipeda, Lithua­nia‘s third-largest city, told BNN.

«I per­son­ally know many lo­cal pub­lish­ers and ed­i­tors-in-chief who thrived, say, 20 years ago and acted as busi­ness­men. Now, with the news trends af­fect­ing the print me­dia badly, they have down­sized their ed­i­to­rial of­fices be­yond recog­ni­tion and work as jour­nal­ists them­selves. This is my case, too, by the way. In the peak time of the news­pa­per, I em­ployed 25 jour­nal­ists and have just 4 of them left now,» Tomkus ac­cen­tu­ated.

«I write ar­ti­cles my­self, I take pho­tos my­self and even dis­trib­ute the news­pa­per my­self. This is what I did when we just es­tab­lished the news­pa­per dur­ing the years of Sąjūdis (Lithua­nia‘s na­tional move­ment for free­dom) in the early 1990s. Thanks to the state, print me­dia is go­ing ex­tinct now». Dainius Radze­vičius, chair­man of Lithua­nia‘s Jour­nal­ists Union, told BNN he was «dis­mayed» by the pro­posal to make jour­nal­ists de­clare their as­sets and in­ter­ests. «If we want more trans­parency in the state, then such dec­la­ra­tions should be manda­tory to ev­ery­body. I mean to rep­re­sen­ta­tives of all pro­fes­sions, i.e. lawyers, teach­ers, doc­tors and so on. It does not make sense to sin­gle out one cat­e­gory of peo­ple,» Radze­vičius un­der­scored. «Jour­nal­ists are nei­ther pol­i­tics nor pub­lic ser­vants». Ac­cord­ing to him, the state had to bar politi­cians from own­ing me­dia out­lets «long time ago».

«This is what we are ask­ing for years now,» he said. «Politi­cians should be con­sci­en­tious and should not even think of own­ing a news­pa­per in or­der to in­flu­ence the pub­lic opin­ion and so on. When me­dia and pol­i­tics merge we have an oli­garchy, be it the ex­am­ple of Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni in Italy or the ex­am­ples in Ukraine and Rus­sia,» he added. How­ever, Vy­tau­tas Bru­veris, a jour­nal­ist of daily Li­etu­vos Ry­tas, rea­soned to BNN that the ini­tia­tive re­gard­ing jour­nal­ists’ manda­tory as­set and in­ter­est dec­la­ra­tions is «good» as it aims to bring more trans­parency in me­dia op­er­a­tions.

He, nev­er­the­less, em­pha­sised that the ini­tia­tive was driven not by the will to make me­dia more trans­par­ent, but by the rul­ing party’s striv­ing to con­trol me­dia.

«For the rul­ing Farm­ers and Greens, me­dia is one of its big­gest foes. The sit­u­a­tion of our me­dia is not so far as bad as that in neigh­bour­ing Poland or, say, in Hun­gary and, of course, Rus­sia. How­ever, it is de­te­ri­o­rat­ing,» he said.

Ac­cord­ing to him, the re­cent par­lia­men­tary probe in the na­tional broad­caster’s ac­tiv­i­ties showed just that.

«The fo­cus was on how some of the TV hosts have be­come rich and how they ex­er­cise their in­flu­ence. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion how­ever by­passed other, more acute is­sues,» Bru­veris noted.

The pro­pos­als con­cern­ing me­dia will be sub­mit­ted for the Lithua­nian leg­is­la­tors in the au­tumn ses­sion. It starts on 10 Septem­ber.

AFP/SCANPIX

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