Reporters Without Borders today condemned censorship that has been slapped on the short film The Last Bearslayer made by film-maker Jānis Vingris in the run-up to parliamentary elections on 2 Ooctober.
Officials at the anti-corruption bureau (Korupcijas Novēršanas un Apkarošanas Birojs - KNAB) on 6 September removed the film from the on-demand digital service of the public telecommunications group SIA Lattelecom, jointly operated by the Latvian government and the telecommunications group TeliaSonera, owned by the Swedish and Finnish governments.
The 23-minute film that was released on 3 September on SIA Lattelecom, uses heroes borrowed from Latvian history and folklore, but projected by Vingris into a dystopian future. The evil and powerful Dr Šņukurs (Dr Snout) holds power in an imaginary Latvia which he gradually leads into disaster. To battle him, the ancient hero of the Bearslayer saga (Lāčplēsis) is urged to square up to him in the boxing ring.
Alvis Vilks, deputy director of the KNAB, confirmed that the short film had been banned, saying: “The film is currently being examined because it could be considered as electoral advertising.” The KNAB has the role in the run-up to Saturday’s elections of ensuring that political parties do not broadcast campaign films in the final days before polling. “Every film during the pre-election period can be viewed as a political position or a form of political lobbying”, said Alvis Vilks, as reported to national news agency LETA News.
The reasons given by the KNAB for censoring the film are absolutely unacceptable and outrageous. Election campaign regulations and limitations applies only to political parties that are contesting the election. It is unthinkable for a member state of the European Union to limit in any way the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression at election time. The Last Bearslayer is a satirical film that does not in any sense constitute an election broadcast. We also note that political parties have full editorial freedom within their own media outlets in which they openly and legitimately campaign.
In an interview with Reporters Without Borders, Vingris denied that he is making a political point. “There is no reference in the film to any living politician and no reference to any political party. Anyone could see this for themselves if my film had not been hit with this measure. The evil protagonist Dr Šņukurs from time to time quotes sentences from repulsive speeches that we have heard in the past – it is the only connection with the recent political scene. Despite that, the film has been censored and I have to face a judicial investigation.”
The KNAB step has also turned out to be completely ineffective given the fact that the The Last Bearslayer can now be watched online, since the film has found temporary refuge on servers of OnlineFilm.org based in Germany. This course is not however a solution to censorship of The Last Bearslayer which should immediately be returned to the video options available on SIA Lattelecom.