Latvian journalists protest firing of LTV head

  • 2002-02-28
  • Timothy Jacobs
RIGA - The Latvian Journalists Union sent a letter earlier this month to the International Federation of Journalists alleging that political motives were behind the recent firing of Rolands Tjarve, the former director general of Latvijas Televizija, Latvia's state-owned television company.

In the Feb. 18 letter Latvian Journalist Union President Ligita Azovska wrote: "The hasty and dubious dismissal of Tjarve carried out by Latvia's National Radio and Television Council in a time when the country is facing election campaigns for Parliament was just the last in a long series of such dismissals over the last few years.

"It clearly shows that LTV and Latvijas Radio - also government-owned and overseen by the LNRTC - are still state and not public broadcasting organizations, and they and their supervisory boards can be easily manipulated."

The Latvian Journalists Union noted that members of the council, public broadcasting's governing body, are appointed by politicians representing the six parties currently holding seats in Parliament.

In an interview in the Latvian newspaper Dienas Bizness, Tjarve said it was clear that he was fired for political reasons. He said the stated reasons for his dismissal - various financial scandals revolving around advertising deals and guaranteed financial commitments - were unjustified and that the council simply wanted a more pliable person in charge of the network.

But Ilmars Slapins, one of the nine trustees on Latvia's National Radio and Television Council, said Tjarve was removed from his post due to poor fiscal management of the station.

"The council lost confidence in him over the last couple of years," he said. "He made a couple of big mistakes over those years. Mainly the mistakes were in planning the finances and balancing the budget of the company."

Tjarve is accused of selling advertising for extraordinarily low prices.

"We don't understand why they are selling the advertising time for such a little amount of money," said Slapins. "We found that this was a bad deal for the television station and a good deal for the advertising companies."

The only council member who voted to retain Tjarve was Olgerts Zenitis of the right-wing For Fatherland and Freedom party.

The Latvian Journalist's Union also raised concerns over how the station was financed. It is budgeted money by Parliament like any other government institution, and some see this as a conflict of interest because the possibility exists for Parliament to use the station's budget as leverage to ensure that they will receive positive coverage.

The interim director of LTV, Gundars Reders, announced plans to regulate the network leading up to Latvia's general elections this fall to ensure that political advertising is not be disguised as regular programming.

By sending the letter, the Latvian Journalist's Union hopes to spawn a regional round table discussion on public broadcasting that would include representatives from the Baltic states, Scandinavia and Russia.