The Baltic media environment in transition?

  • 2014-05-01
  • By Veiko Spolitis

The Baltic identity is often taken for granted, even though it is a vague ideological construct. To go beyond the vagueness of such construct or such trademarks as Latvian national air carrier airBaltic or Baltic News Service, there is a need for coordinated and purposeful action in Vilnius, Tallinn and Riga.

All three Baltic States have shown remarkable success of rebuilding their national identities within a globally challenging free market system governed by the World Trade Organization, and the European integration process.
The global system of open markets enables us to see the gradual formation of continent-size proto-markets. Regardless of shortcomings of the European Union process, the events in Ukraine warn us that we are at the point of no return to the old matrix of nation-state balance of power system in Europe. It is a reminder also to the Baltic States’ policymakers that it is more efficient to invest in jointly governed infrastructure projects, because after Lithuania becomes a member of the eurozone, the common regulatory principles from Brussels will exceed local regulations as far as financial markets are concerned.

Traditionally, we have spoken about the jointly coordinated infrastructure projects Via Baltica highway, Lithuanian nuclear power project, and Rail Baltica railway linking Helsinki with Berlin. We could talk at length about the aforementioned ones, but that is not the purpose of my article. It is a fact that at least some of the projects are delayed due to the domestic political calculations and embedded interest groups with shady links to odious investors. Such interest groups skillfully whip up outdated national interest concepts and thus derail Baltic and common European projects.

Very often the publics are misled by outdated concepts that stem from international affairs governed by the same principles as they were during the 1930s, with no alternatives provided. And here I speak not only about the Latvian- or Estonian- or so-called Russian speaking populations cozily residing in the Kremlin TV bubble, but also about Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians who live in their local media created “normalcy.” In this situation with Ukraine events in the background, I was gladly witnessing a myriad of initiatives from Latvian and Estonian policymakers about establishment of a New Baltic media platform broadcasting in the Russian language.

This idea has been around for some time. There are calculations made and such a project would cost about 7.5 million euros per annum which, if implemented, could turn out to be a very valuable asset. A proposal to create a pan-Baltic TV platform was first floated in the 2010 Estonia – Latvia Future Cooperation Report by Anvar Samost and Andris Razans. The idea to mutually show Estonian public TV in Latvia and vice-versa still has not been achieved because it requires political will. To add Baltic public TV into the digital TV packages in the three states would allow one to see Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian news with subtitles from primary sources and would uniquely allow to create a sense of Balticness among Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians.

I do not know why the inter-parliamentary Baltic Assembly has not endorsed the three governments to work on this project. Perhaps after reading this column honorable MPs would mandate Mrs. Straujuma, and Messrs Roivas and Butkevicius to call Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian public broadcasters to exchange contents of TV programs and solve the legal issues about advertising.

The decision to go Baltic in the media environment would greatly help to move on with pan-Baltic infrastructure projects and avoid unnecessary politicking, and prevent unnecessary meddling of third parties in Baltic domestic affairs. While the three Baltic governments implement the project of sharing each other’s public TV, the work on a common media platform or a Pan Baltic News network could start as well.

It is essential that the future media platform broadcasts in Russian and English.
First, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania through different media platforms have many inspiring stories about the local Russophone citizens and permanent residents that are left unheard due to the propaganda noise of the Kremlin-controlled media. And second, it is essential to inform the Western public from primary sources in Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius in order to stop the anachronistic tradition of Moscow-based Western journalists covering events in the Baltic States.

Someone would justly remind me about the positive role of The Baltic Times, but my response is that there is a qualitative difference between the scope of reach between print and electronic media. Ukraine events clearly show that the Kremlin has excelled in information operations, and the best answer to such “information onslaught” is a common answer by all Baltic democracies, and it’s essential that they plan and work on this jointly.
The Baltic media environment is at a crossroads, and to paraphrase the old catchphrase: either Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania media entertain their own citizens and the world together, or they sink separately into public oblivion.

Veiko Spolitis is an associate scholar at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs