Media group defends right to broadcast in Russian

  • 2001-08-16
  • BNS
RIGA - The owner of a mass media group, comprising a radio station and several Russian-language newspapers, has turned to the Latvian Constitutional Court claiming that the law about the use of languages in radio and television fails to comply with the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights and Basic Freedoms.

The court reported that Bizness & Baltija Media Group's owner Vladimir Gurov had submitted a claim against a provision under the radio and television law requiring broadcasting companies to limit the use of languages other than Latvian to 25 percent of their total daily broadcasting time.

Because of this provision, Radio Bizness & Baltija, a radio station with a target audience of Russian-speakers, is unable to air anywhere near as much Russian-language broadcasts as it thinks necessary.

Gurov believes this statutory provision is contradictory to the Latvian constitution's articles about human rights without any discrimination, the right to freedom of speech and the right of ethnic minorities to preserve and develop their language, ethnic and cultural peculiarities.

Ojars Rubenis, the chairman of the Latvian broadcast media watchdog the National Radio and Television Council said that one can always find something to contest and review in a law, but so far the language use restrictions "have been a problem only for Radio Bizness & Baltija and Mr. Gurov."

Rubenis said the Latvian laws governing the audio-visual area have been approved by the European Union, and the European Commission has no objections to restrictions on the use of foreign languages.

The Constitutional Court's acting chairman, Romans Apsitis, said that a court panel will review Gurov's application for a claim in the next few weeks to decide whether a case should or should not be opened over his allegations.

Radio Bizness & Baltija has been quarreling with the National Radio and Television Council over the language use restrictions for a long time. The council has wanted to suspend the station's operations on several occasions, but Bizness & Baltija has always appealed successfully against these decisions.

There are several radio stations in Latvia targeting the Russian-speaking community. Whenever the National Radio and Television Council detects excessive broadcasting in languages other than Latvian, the guilty station's broadcasting rights are suspended for one or several days.

About 40 percent of Latvia's total population of 2.4 million go about their everyday business using Russian.