Latvian media manager on Dozhd TV channel, Russian journalists’ behavior in his country

9 December 2022, 05:32 PM
Latvia's online media regulator revoked Dozhd's broadcasting license in December (Photo:Reuters)

Latvia's online media regulator revoked Dozhd's broadcasting license in December (Photo:Reuters)

Konstantins Kuzikovs, the chairman of the board of AS Delfi, the Latvian branch of the network of online news outlets in the Baltic countries, in an interview with NV on Dec. 9 shared his thoughts about the revocation of the license of Russian television channel Dozhd (Rain) and his country’s attitude to this scandal.

Latvia’s decision to revoke the broadcasting license of Russian liberal TV channel Dozhd created a huge scandal. Dozhd had repeatedly shown maps of Russia with Ukraine’s Crimea as part of it, but the Latvian regulator decided to revoke the license after a program host talked about how the TV channel was helping the Russian military fighting in Ukraine.

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Since the Latvian license gave the right to distribute the content created by the TV channel in European Union, Russia, the United States, and other countries, it is currently expected that the Russian TV channel will disappear in a large part of the world. Following Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania have already announced the suspension of its broadcasting.

In turn, the TV channel’s representatives made a series of harsh statements after the license was revoked, accusing the Latvian regulator of aiding Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and depriving Russians of their right to objective information. Dozhd was supported by almost all Russian liberal media, including the Meduza and Novaya Gazeta online media outlets.

NV: How does the revocation of the Dozhd TV channel broadcasting license affect the future of this media outlet?

Kuzikovs: It turns out that they can continue broadcasting on YouTube. They just can’t continue broadcasting via a cable operator, on cable TV. As far as I know, Lithuania also banned its broadcasting on cable networks.

NV: And Estonia.

Kuzikovs: I’m not surprised. Of course, they can try to get a license in some other country. But let’s be realistic: the license in Latvia was issued on much more favorable terms, more quickly, moreover, they received technical support from the Latvian mass media. They also launched here, in Latvia, as part of one of media outlet, using a studio. It was such an open approach. They can try in another country. Will it be just as easy? I don’t know. Will they be understood in the same way in Russian somewhere further west? I have doubts. Moreover, the first question will be the following: why were you banned from broadcasting in Latvia? They will have to answer it every time.

NV: What was the support for the Dozhd TV channel in Latvia, which you are talking about, related to?

Kuzikovs: It was quite logical: all the Baltic countries began to actively support Ukraine at the beginning of the war, because after all, we were in the same union and perfectly understood what the closeness with such a neighbor could turn into. Accordingly, it is about helping not only Ukraine, but also helping those few Russian journalists and Russian mass media who have remained faithful to some journalistic principles, the so-called liberal journalists. Therefore, there was the so-called green corridor for such journalists in Latvia in March, at the beginning of the war. Many people came. And Latvia has become such a center, because we are in the center of the Baltics, many other media outlets have launched here. The Dozhd is not the only one. The Novaya Gazeta was also relaunched here. It is logical that we supported not only Ukrainians, but also such Russians who were persecuted in Russia.

Konstantins Kuzikovs, the chairman of the board of AS Delfi (Фото: DR)
Konstantins Kuzikovs, the chairman of the board of AS Delfi / Photo: DR

NV: Does Latvian society now support the authorities’ decision to revoke the Dozhd TV channel’s license? How lively this event is being discussed?

Kuzikovs: First of all, it should be understood that neither Dozhd TV channel nor Meduza, which has been working here for a long time, were ever aimed at a local audience. They have always considered Russians living on the territory of Russia to be their main audience. These media have been living and live separately from the local audience. It is clear that the society wanted to support of these people, these mass media. But at the same time, society has requirements for those who come here. That is, if you came to our territory, if you know that this country gave a large part of the budget to support Ukraine... There is a state policy: we support Ukraine, we understand that if Ukraine loses, the Baltic countries will definitely be next. We know all this historically. And if you come to us, you must comply with the existing laws and regulations. It was clear that being just a liberal media is not enough. All the media are liberal here, there are no illiberal ones.

If you got out “of there,” it does not mean that you can continue to live in another country according to the old rules. You should understand the rules here and comply with them.

You can’t say what was said (by Dozhd anchor Alexei Korostelev about helping the Russian military). One of the Latvian journalists said very harshly, but truthfully: the more Russian soldiers will freeze, the fewer Ukrainians will die, and the less violence there will be.

NV: You said they had focused on the Russian audience, but did they have any audience in Latvia?

Kuzikovs: We’ve had this channel for many years, but it’s never been a big channel. One of many, it has never occupied a large market share.

NV: How can you assess the content and editorial policy of this mass media, at least before this scandal?

Kuzikovs: I cannot assess since I wasn’t its user. I was definitely inspired by some of the things they did, for example, the documentary about their early years, how they were closed. I saw this picture when they were still in Russia. When they came here, I didn’t watch their content. But the fact that the journalist said this (about support for the Russian military) on the air raises a big question about how the entire editorial process is structured. Maybe I’m wrong, this is my personal opinion, but it seems that every person can come out and say whatever they want on the air.

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After all, there is some kind of editorial policy – what we say, what we show, whether we add Crimea to the map of Russia’s territory or not. These seem to be small things or nuances, but they should be discussed. Irun a mass media that may occasionally make mistakes, but we admit them and explain why they were made.

Yes, the TV channel is in a very difficult situation. Because in this case, they lost their viewers not only in Ukraine, but also in Russia. It’s difficult to be a channel that works for different audiences, which accept the same event in completely different ways.

At one of the conferences, I personally heard a big dispute between Russian and Ukrainian journalists, and it ended with a good phrase: Ukrainian journalists survived the Maidan to have a democracy, and Russian journalists made compromises.

NV: How many other publications “escaped” from blocking in Russia to Latvia? How many are there? What is the attitude toward them in the country?

Kuzikovs: First of all, they didn’t escape from blocking. Latvia-based Delfi version in Russian is blocked both in Russia and Belarus. Prior to this blocking, half of the traffic of the Russian version came from abroad. This is one aspect. If we talk about who came here, these are definitely journalists from Echo of Moscow, Novaya Gazeta, Dozhd, etc. There are many of them, they were counted at some point, if I’m not mistaken, there were several hundred people. On the other hand, the offices of Deutsche Welle, Current Time (Radio Liberty’s project), and maybe some others also came here. They all came here to work, but they do not take an active part in the local life of the mass media, they set up their offices to speak in Russia. We live in parallel realities – we work for a local market, they work for another market. Latvia has definitely become a big hub – everyone saw that Meduza, for example, has been working here for a long time.

NV: How often are violations of other such media recorded? Is this the first such scandal or have similar situations already occurred?

Kuzikovs: No, and for one simple reason – our regulator is responsible for television, and the rest is in online format. It is the only one who asked for(a license) and lost it. This is the first such scandal. And there were no complaints about Meduza, for example.

Latvia has a media center that intensively supports journalists from the so-called post-Soviet space, provides training, and has connections with various liberal mass media. Latvia has always been very open to them, there were grants. So, I don’t remember any examples when the regulator shut down someone, except for the Dozhd TV channel.

NV: Will the situation with the Dozhd TV channel affect other mass media that emigrated from Russia to Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, as well as the government’s policy regarding other possible media migrants from Russia in the future?

Kuzikovs: Firstly, in my opinion, there won’t be any more such media migrants. Just because there is no one left to migrate. Second: Latvia opened this green corridor for a while, then closed it after a while. Since the question arose – who will come with them? And this is a very big question. I don’t think it will affect how open or closed we are to new media migrants – this process is already in the past.

Answering the first question, whether this situation will affect other mass media from Russia that previously emigrated, I hope so. For one simple reason. We have seen completely different reactions from different peoplewho have tried or are trying to protect Dozhd TV. Facebook is full of people who are trying to prove it legally, who are willing to go to the European courts. Although our regulator has specific questions and specific evidence. I don’t think that our regulator overdid anything in this situation. Some may accuse it only of the fact that it was a very harsh decision, but as far as I understand it, it was already impossible to evoke any response from these people. This is a problem.

Back to the part of the conversation where I talked about the position thatif I’m a liberal, then I live by my liberal values. But after changing the country of residence, you must understand how your liberal values coincide with the legislation. Therefore, I hope that other media will think about how their work complies with the legislation of a particular country. Whether it is Latvia, Lithuania, or Estonia. Because it has come to the point, for example, that one of the people defending Dozhd said purely in the Russian imperial style that Latvia should know who its master is, they say, we have agreed not with the Kremlin, but with Washington... Sorry, guys, but nothing has changed in your minds. Imperialism was (your minds), and it remains. ... It’s clear how far certain states have come, (or how some) remained at the same level after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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