Baltic countries: Misusing EU sanctions to ban Russian TV channels is not a legitimate tool for promoting reliable information
Latvia and Lithuania have just banned Russian TV channels, arguing they are implementing European Union sanctions. As Riga calls on all EU member states to follow suit, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) deplores the abuse of the sanctions regime.
The National Electronic Mass Media Council of Latvia (NEPLP) banned the broadcasting of the Russian TV network RT’s seven channels on 6 July on the grounds that this constituted implementation of the EU sanctions imposed in 2014 on Dmitrii Kiselev, who is, in addition to his capacity of the head of Russian news agency Rossiya Segodnya, allegedly in control of the RT. The NEPLP’s simultaneous call for all EU member countries to “follow our example” was quickly taken up by Latvia’s Baltic neighbour Lithuania, which announced on 8 July that it was going to ban the broadcasting of five RT channels.
Latvia is not the first Baltic country to cite EU sanctions as grounds for banning a media outlet carrying Russian propaganda. In December 2019, Estonia forced the closure of the local bureau of the news agency Sputnik, a Rossiya Segodnya offshoot, by abusively threatening to prosecute its employees for cooperating with Kiselev.
While it is legitimate to defend and promote independent and reliable news reporting, RSF regards these closures as a misuse of the EU sanctions policy. Banning or closing media is not part of the sanctions adopted against Kiselev. Regardless of the aggressiveness of Russian propaganda in Europe, EU sanctions are not a legitimate or appropriate tool for combating it.
Rather than banning media outlets on loose grounds and on a flimsy legal basis, countries can require all media to guarantee editorial independence and can then impose legitimate sanctions, subject to judicial control, when it is established that media outlets have not complied with their obligations. Imposing the same requirements on all media outlets (regardless of their country of origin) makes it possible to avoid retaliatory measures from countries waging information wars.
Latvia is ranked 22nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index, while Lithuania is 28th and Estonia is 14th.