VILNIUS – The Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania will be recommended to ban TV programs of the Kremlin-controlled RT group, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius says.
In his words, such a recommendation will follow a clarification received from the European Commission in late June that the existing EU sanctions should cover not only blacklisted persons but also businesses they control.
"We are speaking about the state news agency Rossiya Segodnia (RT). Its head Dmitry Kiselyov, who is subject to the sanctions in terms of the status of that company, that organization as he is the autocratic manager appointed by the Russian president. He is free to appoint officials, establish the structure, policies, and is in charge of this organization's economic and financial matters," Linkevicius told journalists on Thursday.
"With no doubt, it means that he is in full control of this establishment. He is sanctioned, and, with no doubt, those channels he manages should also be sanctioned. And we will submit this type of recommendation to the Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania," Linkevicius told journalists.
He said Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia asked for the EC's clarification back in February. The minister also called on the country's businesses having business ties with Russia to pay attention to this clarification.
"I would like to pay attention that they should also take this fact into account that companies might not be on the list but the people who control them might be blacklisted. Therefore, there might be consequences as we have already noted after the European Commission's clarification," the Lithuanian foreign minister said.
"It's not some political statement, and the consequences are legal and economic. Therefore, everything should be weighted and thoroughly legally checked. So, everything is taking place really fast, I think. And the fact that it (Latvia – BNS) managed to do it first this time, so it's no race. The key thing is to make the right decision, and I don’t think it will take long for us," the minister said.
Linkevicius also reminded the fact that Lithuania introduced the first restrictions for some Russian TV channels for incitement to war and discord seven years ago but, he stressed, in this case these are "economic sanctions".
According to the minister, censuring content "is not the path we should take" but he called previous RTCL decisions to temporarily ban certain TV channels for the spread of propaganda necessary for security reasons.
"If violence is promoted and news reports having security consequences are clearly distorted, then clearly that should be sanctioned. And that's not for life, there's a certain period set, and there are prior warnings. I don’t think we should misuse those restrictions as we are a free society and should, first of all, tolerate the free word. But we have always stressed that the freedom to disseminate news is not equal to the freedom to lie," Linkevicius said.
He also noted that the EU has no common strategy on the application of sanctions and called on other member states to show unity with their examples.
Earlier this week, the National Electronic Mass Media Council of Latvia (NEPLP) decided to ban rebroadcasting of seven RT channels, citing the fact that they are controlled by Kiselyov who is subject to the existing EU sanctions. The Latvian media watchdog also called on other Community member to follow its suit.
Mantas Marticius, head of Lithuania's RTCL, told BNS the commission would consider following Latvia's suit and ban RT channels once it receives the ministry's official position on the basis that Kiselyov is linked to this media group.
"The key thing is to have information that there's a connection between this EU-blacklisted person and the rebroadcast channel. Then the RTCL puts this issue soon, i.e., next Wednesday, on the agenda and makes a decision," he said.
It is necessary to do so to prepare for possible legal actions if the RT group decides to appeal, the RTCL head said.
RT (formerly known as Russia Today) has a network of TV channels in the English, Spanish, Arabic and other languages and disseminates Kremlin-friendly content.
NEPLP says the ban will cover the TV channels RT, RT HD, RT Arabic, RT Spanish, RT Documentary HD, RT Documentary and RT TV.
Lithuania's RTCL says the group's two channels – RT Spanish and RT Documentary – are broadcast in Lithuania. They are rebroadcast by Balticum, Consilium Optimum and Penki Kontinentai.
Kiselyov was put on the blacklist for his role in spreading propaganda on Russia's annexation of the Crimea in 2014 and Russia's ongoing military activity in eastern and southeastern Ukraine.