Post-Soviet Media Law & Policy Newsletter
Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law May 30, 1996
Latvian Mass Media Act
The authorship of any mass media law by any legislative
body requires first that a philosophical question be resolved. The question
represents a choice between market place regulation or formal structural
regulation. In the case of the Latvian law it is apparent that the legislative
body has opted for formal structural regulation.
Many countries have made the same initial decision.
The United States, for example, did just that with its 1934 Communication
Act. Subsequent experience under that law and its underlying philosophy
demonstrated that those selecting formal structural regulation must anticipate
all potential regulatory contingencies and must also be prepared to micro-manage
the industry they regulate. Experience also demonstrates that once such
a regimen is adopted, the size of the bureaucracy and the quantity of regulation
increases as predictability as a geometric progression. After forty-seven
years of trying this approach, the United States abandoned it in 1981 in
favor of marketplace regulation. That philosophical switch became law in
1996 with the overwhelming bipartisan passage of the Telecommunications
The Latvia law has some themes running through it which
will generate considerable tension and will make its administration quite
difficult. Because of the inherent conflicts the law will ultimately prove
to be unworkable and some future Seima will be forced to rewrite it.
One dominant theme in these law which will prove impossible
to administer and which will occasion much litigation is its attempt to
micro manage content. To be sure the law has an announced intention to
protect freedom of expression but then gradually erodes the concept section
by section. Examples: Article 3 Section 2 states in part: “Broadcasters
shall support the idea of an independent, democratic and juristic country
respecting diversity of opinions...” Maybe the diverse opinions which this
law seeks to protect don’t support the idea of an “independent, democratic
and juristic country.” This section reflects a society embracing the concept
of freedom of expression, but uneasy with it at the same time. Some scholars,
such as Professor Thomas Emerson in the United States, see freedom of expression
as a “safety valve” for society. Repression of speech is what puts people
in the streets. Is that not what happened in Eastern Europe in 1989?
The law is replete with other sections which also attempt
to put parameters on freedom of expression. Examples: Article 3 Section
3 requires news to be “objective and neutral”. Who will determine if it
is; where are the definitions of the terms? Article 12 Section 3 proposes
awarding licenses to broadcast to those whose proposed programs “are targeted
to satisfy the demands of society in a wider sense.” What does that mean?
Where are the standards which determine which programming is acceptable
and which is not. Article 17 Section 2 says electronic mass media organization
“shall ensure that facts and events be reflecting honestly, impartially.”
Again that is a cloud on content determination and editorial discretion
of the broadcasters: And so it is with many others: Article 17 Section
3 on violence, pornography and hate speech; Article 18 Section 4 on times
for adult programming; Article 18 Section 5 on violence, homicide, horror,
drugs and “impolite utterances.”
What are the definitions to judge all the content restrictions?
Who is going to do the monitoring and enforcement? Who is going to pay
for it? And how are all these restrictions consistent with Article 3 Section
6 which prohibits censorship.
As laudable as some of the public policy objectives
behind these provisions might be, they are inconsistent with freedom of
expression and will be a regulatory nightmare.
Attempts at content regulation has been a disaster in
the United States. Recent attempts to enforce an indecency standard and
to deal with depiction of violence have led to regulatory paralysis and
extensive costly litigation. Shows and content which the United States
Federal Communication Commission has sought to restrict are highly rated.
If the audience does not get what it wants from local broadcasting it will
turn to cross border media, satellite channels, or the home video market.
To succeed a free and independent media must have an audience which it
can sell to advertisers.
Once you get past all the content questions and the
limitations they place on the broadcasters’ ability to satisfy the audience
programming desires, it is time to examine the question of the law’s impact
on the economic viability of Latvian broadcasters.
Now we find a second dominant theme in the law. The
Seima in drafting the commercial section of this law has obviously made
a judgement that advertising lacks integrity, is not credible and that
the institution which sells it are not trustworthy. If public policy places
too many restrictions on the ability to generate revenue, private electronic
media cannot succeed.
The theme in this part of the Latvian law is clearly
stated in Section 1 of Article 21: “Advertising must be truthful and honest.”
Again where are the definitions? Who makes the judgement as to whether
or not the standards are met. And who does the monitoring and who pays
for the regulation?
So advertising is inherently not trustworthy. What other
limitations does the law place on generation of commercial revenue?
Article 21 Section 5 limits certain product advertising
such as alcohol but curiously not cigarettes. Article 21 Section 6 recognizes
existing legal restrictions on commercial advertising of “medical and legal
services, food, medicine, agricultural chemicals” and it seems financial
institutions. That is a lot of exclusions of what are very significant
electronic media advertisers in other countries. Will there be enough significant
potential advertisers left to sustain an emerging market dependent on electronic
A majority of electronic media advertising in the West
comes from local businesses: food stores, pharmacies, banks, stock brokers;
some of the very product categories limited by this law. Article 22 Section
(2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) contain further limitations. Sections (2) (3) exclude
advertising during official state ceremonies or religious events. That
really is a question of taste which the audience can decide. Why do it
with the law? Then Section 4 excludes advertising in news programs? Why?
In the United States twenty-five percent of a local television station’s
total advertising revenue comes from newscasts. Section 5 and 6 limit advertising
time to 15 percent of the broadcast day and 12 minutes in any one hour.
Again this is an appropriate audience function. If there are too many commercials
the audience will tune out the station. The station will then discipline
itself as to commercial content because you cannot sell and audience you
don’t have. Finally there are the commercial content restrictions of Article
22, Section 7. This limits commercials in TV films or feature films to
once every 45 minutes, limits repeat of the same spot and limits advertising
in sport events to intervals. This is all obsessive micro managing of the
mercantile function. It is counter productive to the public policy objective
of an independent, financially viable electronic media.
The law has other commercial limitations which are extensions
of the theme that commercial media cannot be trusted to discipline itself.
The Latvia law does attempt to ensure the integrity
of the news gathering process in Article 35 on the rights of the broadcaster
to receive information. What is missing is an enforcement mechanism for
those situations in which “institutions of state power” refuse to provide
the information. The American “Freedom of Information Act” has such an
Article 36 is a kind of personal attack rule for persons
who may have been reported on falsely by the media. It is a laudable objective
but it lacks adequate detail in its procedure and has no definitions. For
example: who determines whether the broadcaster has “sufficient proof”
Now, some final observations on the mechanism of the
law. The Latvian law creates excessive cross jurisdiction for electronic
media regulation. For example: Article 27 Section (2) (3) splits responsibility
for quality control and technical standards between the National Broadcasting
Council and the State Telecommunication Inspectorate. Article 8 Section
9 gives the representative of the National Broadcasting Council a veto
over actions of state radio and TV. Jurisdictional entities included in
regulating electronic media include the National Broadcasting Council,
the State Telecommunications Inspectorate, the Minister of Transport, the
Ministry of Justice and the Committee for Monitoring of Monopolies. This
shared responsibility will lead to jurisdictional disputes and the law
has no procedure to resolve them.
There are also procedural problems in the licensing
process. For example see Article 12 Section 5. A disappointed license applicant
can appeal a National Broadcasting Council decision. But what happens while
the appeal is pending? Can the winning applicant build the facility while
the appeal is pending? What if the disappointed applicant then wins the
It would be very unfortunate if the predictable difficulties
which will flow from this law would discredit the concept of an independent
commercial electronic media. Care must be taken to ensure that this will
Chair of Broadcasting Department
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
Latvian Electronic Mass Media Act
Chapter I. GENERAL CONDITIONS
Article 2. The terms and definitions used for the purposes of
(1) Broadcasting is program development (compilation)
and distribution (delivery for distribution) for reception by the
public. Closed circuit program delivery within hotels, means of transportation,
buildings is not understood as broadcasting.
Program supply to adjacent buildings is not understood
as broadcasting if the number of subscribers (cable terminals) is below
(2) Electronic mass media in terms of this Act are radio,
TV, cable radio, cable TV, computer TV, teletext, RDS and other broadcasting
(3) For the purposes of broadcasting an independent
producer is a person engaged in production of films, commercials, separate
radio or TV programs. Independent producers whose products are distributed
by broadcasters shall have open sources of financing.
(4) A program service is a program or a series of programs
presented and distributed using electronic means. A program may be
distributed over a number of hours and networks.
(5) Program distribution is delivery via link systems
(conveying of programs from the source of the technical facilities of transmission)
(6) A program is an informative, analytical or other
electronically presented material with a certain name and a certain volume.
Programs may be periodic or non-periodic, or interrupted.
(7) Broadcasting is program dissemination for reception
by the public by means of terrestrial transmitters, cable networks and/or
via satellites in an open or encrypted form using part of electromagnetic
oscillations spectrum on internationally allocated frequencies (for radio)
and channels (for TV).
(8) Transmitter service zone is its territory of coverage.
Article 3. Principles of electronic mass media operation.
(1) Electronic mass media shall be operated by establishments
or companies (hereinafter the broadcasters) holders of broadcasting licenses,
rebroadcasting licenses, or cable TV (cable radio) licenses issued by the
National Broadcasting Council.
(2) Broadcasters shall support the idea of an independent
democratic and juristic country respecting diversity of opinions, internationally
recognized human rights and shall serve the interests of Latvia’s society.
(3) News shall be objective, neutral.
(4) Broadcasters shall be free and independent concerning
program development and distribution as far as they are not regulated by
Satversme (Constitution), this Act and other laws, technical standards
of the state, such international agreements and conventions that are binding
(5) Latvijas valsts radio un televizijas centers has
no right to refuse broadcasting if a broadcasting or rebroadcasting license
has been granted by the national Broadcasting Council.
(6) No programs are subjected to censorship.
(7) The producers determined by this Act shall ensure
all broadcasters equal rights of access to use the electromagnetic frequency
(8) Foreign investments into enterprises and companies
of electronic mass media are limited according to the Law “On Foreign Investments
in the Republic of Latvia.”
Such investments shall not exceed 20 % and are subject
to control of the National Broadcasting Council.
(9) The broadcasters’ programs shall be diverse. They
shall reflect views and opinions existing in the society.
(10) Ensuring the program exchange of Latvia’s broadcasters,
records (fixations) of programs are exempted of customs duties on import
Article 8. Limitations of media concentration and monopolization.
(1) No electronic mass media shall be monopolized
to serve the interests of a party, an organization, an enterprise, a group
or an individual.
(2) No regional or local electronic mass media shall
be connected into networks unless it is stipulated by the national concept
of electronic mass media development.
(3) Program development shall be independent. No synchronous
or parallel broadcasting except children’s, cultural, scientific and sports
programs or reports from events or venues shall be allowed without a rebroadcasting
(4) No broadcasters other than public service broadcasters
are allowed to establish more than three program services.
(5) An individual or his/her spouse who is a sole founder
of a broadcasting organization or owns a controlling stake in it, is not
allowed to exceed 25 per cent of shares in other broadcasting organizations.
(6) Political parties, establishments and companies
founded and controlled by such parties are not allowed to form electronic
(7) Any person holding and elected position in an administrative
body of a party and owning, sharing or controlling and electronic mass
media organization has no voting power at the boards of the latter organization.
(8) An individual or entity inheriting or otherwise
gaining control over a broadcasting organization as governed by paragraphs
(5) and (6) of this Article shall alienate the illegal part within three
months. Otherwise the part shall be confiscated.
(9) Since Latvijas valsts radio un telev€zijas centers
is a natural monopoly in broadcasting it shall operate as a non-profit
state company. Its statutes shall be endorsed at the Ministry of Transportation.
A representative of the National Broadcasting Council
shall be incorporated into Latvijas valsts radio un telev€zijas centers’
board and given the veto power concerning broadcasting operations. The
Council representative shall have the right to invite other broadcasters’
representatives as counsellors.
Article 11. Competition for broadcasting license.
(1) The National Broadcasting Council shall announce
competition for vacant frequencies and channels according to the national
platform of electronic mass media development.
(2) The competition shall be announced in “Latvijas
Valstnesis” bulletin and a local newspaper if the competition is opened
for a local coverage frequency or channel. The announcement shall contain
the following data:
1) form of electronic mass media (radio, TV etc.);
(3) Individuals possessing legal power, legal entities
or groups registered in Latvia may take part in the competition.
2) program requirements (duration, admissible proportion of languages,
sound and picture format and quality);
3) technical parameters [frequency (channel), maximum power, territory;
4) period of validity;
5) deadline to start the operation;
6) fee for the license and measure of chancery revenue;
7) deadline of application;
(4) Every competitor shall file an application indicating
the name, surname, citizenship (name of legal entities) and address, as
well as the founder’s experience in mass media.
b) the applicant holds elected positions in the
administrative bodies of political parties,
(6) The National Broadcasting Council shall publish
the data on applicants, their general program concepts, their possible
sources of financing in the “Latvijas V€stnesis” bulletin and regional
media concerned no later that one month before the summary of the results
of the competition is announced.
4) a declaration that the applicant is prepared to meet the requirements
of paragraphs (5) and (7) of Article 8 if he/she wins the competition,
5) a document that testifies the payment of the chancery revenue,
6) documents testifying the payment of a security deposit in the value
of an annual fee for the broadcasting license.
Article 17. General conditions of program development.
(1) The broadcaster’s program shall conform to the
general program concept licensed by the national broadcasting Council.
(2) Electronic mass media organizations shall ensure
that facts and events be reflected honestly, impartially and comprehensively
in its broadcasts according to the universally recognized principles of
ethics and journalism. Any commentary shall be accurately separated from
the news and the name of the author of commentaries shall be announced.
(3) No program shall incorporate:
1) undue propaganda of violence and cruelty;
(4) Following the Acts “On Emergency” and “On Civil
Defense of the Republic of Latvia” electronic mass media have the duty
to broadcast the officials’ announcements to the population.
3) incitement of national or racial hatred, enmity, humiliation, abasement;
4) incitements of war or military conflict;
5) incitements to subvert the state power, forcibly change the social order,
destroy the country’s territorial integrity or commit other crimes;
Commercial broadcasters shall ensure distribution of
education or informative material prepared by the Ministries according
to the instructions of the Cabinet of Ministers, apportioning a 30 seconds
air time within the period from 18.00 to 22.00 hours.
(5) Election campaigning on electronic mass media are
governed by separate rules.
(6) An electronic mass media organization may
use other author’s programs, films, plots and other material observing
the provisions of Latvia’s Act “On Copyright and Neighboring Rights” and
the binding international agreements.
(7) Broadcasters whose programs do not cover the whole
territory of Latvia shall not acquire exclusive rights for such important
social events as:
Song Festivals, Baltica Festivals, Olympic Games, World
Championships and European championships in Olympic sports, any other World
and European championships taking place in the Republic of Latvia other
events arousing special interest of Latvia’s audience.
Article 18. Special conditions of program development.
(1) The following proportions between Latvian and
foreign programs shall be observed in Latvia’s visual programs, except
cable TV and satellite TV; between 19 and 23 hours on weekdays, between
7 and 12 and between 19 and 23 on holidays, except news, sports, games,
quizzes and advertising:
1) at least 80% shall be European production, including;
(2) Concerning the national subscription radio programmes
produced in Latvia, the proportion of local author’s music shall prevail
between 7 and 22 over 40% in duration of music, averaged over a period
of one month.
2) at least 40% local Latvian productions, as averaged over a period
of one month;
(3) The cooperation of electronic mass media with other
(independent) producers shall take place on the basis of mutual agreements
determining the contributions and liabilities of the parties.
(4) Electronic media shall not distribute programmes
capable of inhibiting normal physical, mental or moral development of children
or adolescents unless the broadcasting time is specially selected (between
22 and 7) or technical protection (encryption) is provided.Such broadcasts
or programmes shall carry special warnings both on timetable and before
(5) Between 7 and 22 hours programme containing violence
(physical or psychological) in visual or textual form, homicidal, horror-inciting
scenes, plots associated with the use of drugs are interdicted. The texts
shall not contain taboo expressions, impolite utterances and refer to sexual
proceedings. The provisions of this part shall not concern encrypted cable
Article 19. The language of programme.
(1) Every programme shall take place in one language
only. Programme fragments in other languages shall be provided with
translations (subtitling, voice-over, overdubbing). This does not concern
language teaching and music performances.
(2) The language of the soundtrack, or voice-over shall
be deemed the programme language. The programme language shall be named
in the programme review unless it is the state language.
(3) Films shall be dubbed or be provided with subtitles
in Latvian. Films for children may be dubbed or carry voice-over translations
(4) TV programmes prepared in foreign languages, except
live transmissions, rebroadcasting, foreign service, news and language
teaching programmes shall be provided with subtitles in Latvian.
(5) The proportion of a broadcaster’s foreign languages
programmes shall not exceed 30% of the total air time. These conditions
are no concern of Latvijas telev€zija, Latvijas radio, cable TV, cable
radio and satellite TV, satellite radio and crossborder radio and TV.
Article 21. The contents of advertising.
(1) Advertising shall be truthful and honest. It
shall not misguide, carry false information or otherwise threaten the customers’
interests (health, security etc.). It shall conform to the requirements
of the Act on Protection of the Customers.
(2) Advertising shall observe the requirements of the
Act “On Competition and Restrictions on Monopolies.”
(3) Commercials targeted at children or featuring minors
shall not threaten the children’s interests and shall take into account
the special sensitivity of children.
(4) Advertising shall not promote violence.
(5) Advertising of wine and beer shall be allowed. Advertising
of all other alcohol shall be banned. Commercials advertising alcohol shall
not feature minors and:
1) it may not be aimed specifically at minors,
(6) Limitations on commercial advertising of medical
and legal services, food, medicine, agricultural chemicals, as well as
of companies accepting monetary deposits or issuing bills, bonds are governed
by respective laws and regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers.
2) it shall not link the consumption of alcohol to enhanced physical performance
or to driving,
3) it shall not claim that alcohol has therapeutic qualities or that it
is stimulant, a sedative or a means of solving personal conflicts,
4) it shall not present abstinence or moderation in a negative light,
5) it shall not place emphasis on high alcoholic content as being a positive
quality f the beverages.
Article 22. Distribution of advertisements.
(1) Advertising shall be readily recognizable as
such and kept quite separate from other parts of the programme service
by optical and/or acoustic means. The distributed advertising shall be
in the language of the broadcast or the state language. The commercials
shall be presented in blocks.
(2) Distribution of advertisements during transmission
of official state ceremonies shall take place exclusively by permission
and shall be coordinated with the organizers of the events.
(3) Distribution of advertisements during the transmission
of religious ceremonies shall take place exclusively by permission and
shall be coordinated with the respective confessions or the organizers
of the events.
(4) No advertising shall be allowed during the news
programmes within national subscription.
(5) Air time allowed for commercials in electronic mass
media shall not exceed 15% on a daily basis.
(6) advertising time shall not exceed 12 minutes within
In the programmes of national subscription advertising
time shall not exceed 6 minutes in any hour if the National broadcasting
Council has not set a lower margin for separate programme services, programmes
(7) distributing audiovisual works such as TV films
and feature films (except serials, entertainment and documentaries) only
one advertising unit is allowed in every 45 minute segment. A repeated
commercial unit is admissible if the programme exceeds one or two 45 minute
segments by 20 minutes. Within programme constituting transmissions of
sports events, events related to sports or within performances with intermissions
commercial advertising shall be placed exclusively between parts or during
(8) Advertising may take the form of subtitles, logos
or sliding texts on TV on the condition that it shall not occupy more than
one fifth of the screen.
(9) Advertising in the form of subtitles, logos or sliding
texts on TV shall not occupy more than one fifth of the screen and shall
not be present longer than 15 minutes of any hour in national subscription
programmes, if the National Broadcasting Council has not set a lower limit
for specific programmes or parts.
Article 25. Responsibility for advertising.
(1) The advertiser is responsible of the contents
(2) Both the advertiser and the electronic mass media
shall be responsible for distribution of illegal or prohibited advertisements.
(3) Electronic mass media organization is responsible
for legitimate distribution of advertising over the program.
Article 35. The broadcasters’ rights to receive information.
(1) The broadcasters shall enjoy the right to receive
information from the institutions of state power and municipal authorities,
from public organizations, state and municipal enterprises.
(2) The broadcasters are guaranteed free access to produce
up to 90 seconds of new reports at events of interest to the public and
accessible to large masses of population
Article 36. Refutation.
(1) A person offended by a programme that has distributed
false information may demand that the broadcaster should rectify the information.
(2) The application to distribute a refutation shall
be submitted to the broadcaster in writing within two weeks informing the
National Broadcasting Council to that effect.
(3) Refutations shall be perused within 7 days of receipt.
If the broadcaster has no sufficient proof of the distributed information
it shall be subject to immediate refutation.
(4) Refutations shall be distributed in the broadcaster’s
name and in an equally favourable position in programme and time as that
given to the false information.
(5) If the broadcaster refuses to the refutation it
shall inform the applicant to that effect within 7 days. The applicant
is competent to apply to courts of law within 14 days. Refutation if such
is demanded by a verdict, shall comply to part (4) of this Article.
Article 37. Right to reply.
(1) Any individual or legal entity insulted in a
programme has the right of reply from the same electronic mass media organization
without regard whether an application for a refutation has been submitted
or not. The reply may be a broadcast of the insulted person’s or his/her
representative’s recorded speech or a presentation of a text the latter
person has prepared.
(2) The person wishing to benefit from the right of
reply shall submit an application to the National Broadcasting Council
and the broadcaster in writing within two weeks after the airing of the
false data. The applicant’s reply shall be attached to the application.
(7) The broadcaster may refuse to distribute the reply:
1) if the applicant does not have any legally justifiable interest
in the distribution of the reply,
The refusal shall be given to the applicant in writing.
2) the reply is inadequately long,
3) the reply contains a culpable statement.
(8) If the insulted person has received a refusal, it
may appeal to courts of law within two weeks.