Media Mission

English summary

The monograph of Sandra Veinberg  “Media Mission. Press Development in Latvia following Reestablishment of Independent Statehood” portrays the development, achievements, processes and problems of the press sector in Latvia in the context of modern history of the state of Latvia and global media development trends.

It familiarizes readers not only with the sector statistics and facts of development trends, but also with the view of publishers and journalists of the periodical press in Latvia on the history of newspapers and magazines, their mission and development prospects in circumstances of a free state.

The book is based on the long-term scientific experience in media research of the author – Sandra Veinberg, doctor of philosophy, associated professor, well-known journalist and publicist (books published in Latvian “Mass Media” and “Public Relations. Theory and Practice”), as well as on practical experience working in the press and broadcasting journalism, both in Latvia and abroad.

The book provides evaluation and analysis of the Latvian press journalism, also using lots of interviews especially given to the author by Latvian journalists and senior level managers of the media.

The monograph offers an overview of the modern media development trends with a particular focus on the press development in Latvia following the reestablishment of independence in the early 90s. Analysis includes both media adaptation problems in the post-communist country and in the society, and pursues the role and mission of media in the democratisation environment in Latvia.

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The way of Latvia towards democratic and progressive media and public awareness on the press, radio and TV tasks in the country has been complicated.

The main problem in particular may be observed through the public opinion failure to understand the media activity, tasks and responsibility to the society. The opinions of Latvia’s population (public and media officials) on the issue differ. The society still cannot come to terms, whether the media are a megaphone of wealthy oligarchs and owners, a tool for mass manipulation, the church, a plate of honour, or yet the society’s window to the world.

So far, the time of Latvian independence measures for two decades. In terms of media development and consumption it is both a long and a short term. In comparison to similar free media development process in more developed Western countries, the term is inexcusably short. However, considering the development acceleration characteristic to the modern epoch, it should be concluded that media in the free Latvia have reached the maturity. That is a fact. The process has been slightly premature and hysteric, nevertheless, it has materialized. During 20 years it has managed to establish a branched press system in Latvia, which is booming and keeping up with the best Western media standards, in its best manifestations.

 

The layer of newspapers, magazines, radio, TV and Internet sites in Latvia is bulky and comparatively dense (five centralised morning newspapers, five state-scale TV channels, and several dozens of commercial broadcasting stations and magazines).

Already for 20 years Latvia has been a free state with free media. That is formally true. Another question is how the state of Latvia and the society ensure the freedom of media and realize the mission of their media? Do they respect or yet override the media entitlement to frigid, extensive and professional information, persuasion and education of people on the processes taking place in the society, the country and the world? Can media accomplish the mission entrusted? To what extent is the process restricted or supported by the state political and economic authority?

The monograph reviews the issues, attempting to explain the confusion of the Latvian society in front of the free media. It analyses the reasons for the society uncertainty.

Over the last 20 years newspapers and magazines in the independent Latvia have been managed by people who had grown up, educated and studied under the USSR dictatorship. This condition may possibly be one of the reasons for the media management in the independent state of Latvia being mainly based on the concepts arising from the ancient and dogmatic remains of the Soviet Union propaganda. The second reason for the erosion of media ethics is ambitions and deliberate indisposition of the media owners to understand the logic of democratic media mission. The third reason – misunderstandings in the PR relations with the media and the society. As a result, the field of media in Latvia over the first twenty years of independence has demonstrated development disorders that could have been prevented if the community and stakeholders (responsible publishers, public decision-makers, editors and journalists) had followed the logic of democratic media mission.

After taking a deeper look into the Latvian media development process, it has to be stated that the reasons for media confusion are even deeper. The confusion lies in the lack of the common society understanding on the role and mission of media in a democratic society. The public does not understand what can be requested from the media, and the media, on their turn, do not provide the necessary “supplies” to its target audience.

Media are culture technology or its communicative dimension. Parallel to informing, entertainment and education they carry out several important functions in the society.

 

Secondary socialisation was the first and the most significant function during the period of changes in Latvia.   The secondary socialisation is a mirror we look into and see ourselves and our society. The role of media in this work cannot be overestimated. The experience of the old democracies shows that so far the newspapers have been the main tool for the society integration into the democratic processes taking place in the state. That has not been the case in Latvia. Over the last 20 years, the newspapers and magazines of the independent state have focused on the public integration and socialisation projects to a very small extent. There are several reasons: so far the independent press in Latvia has seen itself more as a business sector and less as a Messiah/prophet or public tutor; the media have been short of specialists for socialisation implementation.

The socialisation process of the population of Latvia so far has not been successive and consecutive. After the World War II the population of the Baltic States was exposed to the clichés of the USSR propaganda habits, defining to the Latvian public reality concepts characteristic of a totalitarian state, instead of the national identity declaring the “homo sovieticus” pattern. The USSR media tried to indoctrinate into the illusion of imagined communities, founded in the soviet ideology assumptions that people are necessary for the state and not vice versa. Following the USSR empire collapse, the post-soviet oriented media in Latvia changed their habits cliché, attempting to establish the model of a democratic state community model. The intention achieved a varied success. There are various reasons for the unsuccessful result of the “process of introducing into the free world”.

The first reason – inhomogeneous background of the media community. At the moment when the state released itself from the bonds of the communist dictatorship, the population of Latvia had different collective understanding on the history (the Latvian speaking population of the occupied Latvia in their understanding of history went against both the Russian-speaking minority and the immigrants from the democratic West). The society included various socialisation sectors separated by a deep gap of mutual incomprehension. Consequently, formation of the national (state) identity became embarrassing to the media. Without a solid base at the start-up the democratic sprint in the future may also be unsuccessful (for example, understanding of the World War II and its consequences, which the national majority associates with occupation – i.e., negation, whereas a certain part of the Russian minority – with the victory over fascism – i.e., positive feelings and evaluation, etc.); speaking the business language – the population of the country did not have a single motivation for the present and future.

The second reason – the media should be forming the sense of national identity and national community offering not only the sense of collective community, but also common scale of emotional evaluation including matrices of moral and ethical values. The transition from the USSR “doxa” to the free Western Europe world perception and principle of values was not an easy transposition process of beliefs and evaluations to a great part of the population of Latvia. The norms founded in the community conscience by the totalitarian media appeared to be quite stable and in many cases did not make way to the scale of “the free world” assumptions and values in the heads of the populations. Following the journey of the public opinion from the totalitarian prohibition conditions to the excitement of the free world unlimited opportunities, exaggerations both in the freedom perception and decline of the moral and ethics (suddenly, many people supposed that everything that was not prohibited, would be allowed, there were no norms or rules, the one having the force and money – also had the power, etc.) can be observed. The regulatory role of the church, in this case, is limited (if compared to, for example, to the post-communist Poland), first of all, because the role of the main Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox churches and position in the secondary socialisation of the society had been passive so far (the conservatism of the management of the Latvian churches verges on the fundamentalism), and thus the imperiousness of dogmas (intolerance to equality problems of women and sexual minorities, etc. ) was associated by a large part of the population with the communistic regime and its ideological imperatives. Besides, in Latvia after the final accords of the awakening, no big interest from the clergy or senior church officials on the community spiritual recovery issues can be observed. It is replaced by the church race for the power and fight with the political power in the state.

The third reason, in the 90s, neither the public opinion of Latvia formed under the influence of the USSR media (that was not ready to recognise and absorb the democratic principles of the media game), nor the media themselves, not being mature enough for undertaking the community democratisation mission in the post-soviet Latvia, were ready for assimilation of the conceptions of the free Western world. Even after fall of the occupation regime, a great part of the community continued living and thinking under the soviet regime concepts, and media instead of democratisation mission armed with the ammunition of permissiveness (now everything was allowed that had been prohibited before).

Looking back to the social strain following the revolution in Latvia and during the period of changes in the 90s and the following decade, from the current view, it can be found that neither the population of Latvia, nor the state and its political leadership or its “supervisors” – mass media – were ready for the new era of free, democratic society. The public of Latvia at that time consisted of both native inhabitants “educated” under the influence of the post-soviet media, and the compatriots returning from emigration and bringing the concepts of their country of residence on “what is good”  and “applicable for the homeland that had suffered so much” with them to the released homeland. The rebirth had no consensus orientation.

During the transition period, each medium in Latvia devised its own platform of independence following highly subjective concepts of the media managers on what was or was not required for a free country and a free society.

Media educate people just like school and parents do. The uniqueness of the media environment can even be found in each country, continent, time and society, which largely affects the formation of the respective public opinion and herewith the development of the society and the state.  Media anthropology is a comparatively recent branch of media study because the communicative uniqueness in the media areal has been studied quite recently. In the context of Latvia, media analysts have had little focus on the aspect. However, it cannot be denied that the media “pedagogy” has a deeper effect on the society than it has been considered until now. Media situation in the country (freedom, non-freedom, censorship, totalitarianism, etc.) has largely affected the development of the society of Latvia, as well.

Over the last 20 years, the journalism of Latvia has spurted from the communication clichés of post-communist society. The community has adapted the new – European identity cognition. However, there are still many problems.

Over the last 20 years Latvian media have experienced three stages of development:

The first was the utopia period (immediately after the singing revolution). That was the period of opportunities and hopes for the Latvian media. In those days both media officials and the society thought that the new era in the free Latvia would automatically bring along moral, informative, ethical and high-quality media. They would “arrive” themselves, so to say – automatically. The period is characterised by enthusiasm and expectations, trust and hopes for the media “sunrise” that would enlighten all the great changes of the new era. At that time professionalism in the media, activity is replaced by delight and optimism. The freedom of the press at that time, first of all, was the freedom of issuing, broadcasting and printing topics that were censored in the media during the ideologically puritanical USSR era and due to that were widely demanded (topics on history, ideology, sexual orientation issues, etc.). Suddenly, the media could talk on topics of public interest, and that was the exact aspect (topics prohibited during the USSR censorship period) which made the press, radio, and TV of the first development period of the independent Latvia marketable and interesting to the society. For that reason, the issues of professional nature were moved into the background and were not live issues.

The second development period of the Latvian media was the formation of the media as institutions. So it was the time of institutionalisation. It dates back to the second half of the 90s, and highlights the formation of media concerns in the country. The new owners – foreigners arrive from abroad, from Sweden, Germany, America, and Poland, and the most powerful media trademarks begin to characterize themselves by using emotionally saturated slogans – “the largest newspaper”, “the ministry of truth”, “the only one – true tribune for the Russian-reading audience”, etc. The irony of this is that the media employees themselves were firmly convinced on the authenticity of the declared mission during that period. For that reason, this period of Latvian media development may also be characterised as “the sacral period”.

The third, so far, the final development period is the era of media formalisation and degeneration, when the mass media have transformed from idea generators into entertainment institutions with obvious content degeneration problems.

Now, the media have gradually come to the first serious crises, both in terms of content and form. The public of the new and free country still is not satisfied with the media contribution. One part of the audience believes that the media of the free Latvia have become a megaphone of their owners, serving to commercial and political interests, in their essence being means for public awareness manipulation.  Others believe that the media have lost the sense of content striving to achieve higher ratings by any means and thus depleting the content. Another part of media public have already abandoned subscription to newspapers because they “feel tired of the bad news” and prefer to dedicate themselves to the escapism (retreating from reality) provided by movies, entertainment TV or magazines.

There are several explanations to the Latvian population dissatisfaction with the media performance. One of them is the inability of newspapers, radio and TV to ensure high-quality media products. The second explanation is insufficient understanding of the recipients (public) on the tasks and mission of media work. The population competence on the media work in Latvia even now, twenty years after the regaining of independence, is insufficient. Conceptions of the majority of the population on the tasks of media work are founded during the old USSR times, when all types of “negative” or “unpleasant” information were censed in the media, thus deliberately making the impression that everything was in order in the country and in the society. During the USSR occupation, the media task was to glorify the existing order, to praise the heroes accepted by the party and to offer strictly selected information to their public, which lulled the citizens in the atmosphere of supposed prosperity and harmony. The new age of freedom and independence canceled the illusory fake picture of the truth cultivated by the USSR propagandists. Its place was taken by clear reality on which the media notified the population in an uncensored manner.

The shock on the fact that there were many manifestations in the society about which the censed media of the USSR had never told their readers, listeners and TV viewers, was profound. A great part of the society was not ready to perceive the truth and blamed the media and the new age for what was happening.

Media, advertising, and PR is not taught at schools in Latvia. Neither the media nor the educational system introduces the rules for media functioning in the democratic society to the population of Latvia. Incompetence in the field on the broadest levels of the society is still inexcusably high. It also covers the national political and economic elite, which keeps considering the press, radio and TV levers of their power, as it was during the times of the USSR.

Many consumers of the press, radio and TV – population of Latvia – believe that the media still are “the plate of honour” (as it was during the USSR), gossipmonger (as in the Wild West), mass manipulating tool (as in the countries of authoritarian dictatorship) and the workshop of the unjustified hopes and ideas (as in the beginning of the Awakening period).

Media are culture technology through which people produce and disseminate messages. News are generated by real people, the media are managed by particular persons. In the media business, nothing emerges on its own and does not function alone as dust in the space. Insufficient competence, both on the management and work of media, has lead to erosion of the mass media content in Latvia that was especially explicit during the financial crisis conditions. The management of media and journalists deliberately expose the media environment to the political and economic censorship, though not believing that even “in such a small country as Latvia” the media can function according to requirements of the internationally recognised journalist ethics. The PR and direct, indiscreet political and economic pressure over the last 20 years has subjected the media area, transforming the biggest part of the journalism in Latvia into public relation hoarding. As a result, even 20 years after the regaining of independence Latvia had neither a reasonable media work regulation on behalf of the government (laws, supervising bodies, the media ombudsman), nor average competence (from the top management to the wider public) on what actually was the mission of progressive media in the free and independent Latvia.

In terms of quantity, the media environment has had a flawless development. The printed media, radio, TV and Internet portals are massively flooding the informative space. However, the political and economic background in the country so far has been too fast. Under such influence, the media in Latvia have developed only formally (approaching to the western standard) and not in the terms of content. It can even be concluded that Latvian media so far have managed their mission of initiative of developing a democratic state only partially. In most cases the media surrendered to the pressure of the political and economic power, choosing either a compromise with the power and money or preferring entertainment over the analytic or deep-digging journalism.

The IT revolution is one of the most typical and striking phenomena of the modern age, it has opened the locks to the informative flow and the type of mass media – the Internet which enables feedback communication for the first time in the mass communication history. With the increasing amount of the information sources the amount of broadcasting information is growing, as well.  The flow of media information is de facto throughout the Western world, joined by the former “Eastern Europe” (including Latvia) over the last 20 years.  With the increasing amount of information, the problems of media content erosion become more and more explicit, that is an inevitable product of information overproduction situation. The process is also fostered by more and more massive presence of the PR at the media space. The media content is depleting, despite increase of the information sources and amounts.

Upon reestablishment of the Free State media in Latvia, first of all, there was an attempt to repeat the media scheme characteristic to the first age of the Free State. The multilingualism spectrum was also used that only to some degree resembled the model applied in the 20s and 30s. After 1990, the complex of the press issues was not as branched (fewer issues in the minority languages) as during the first republic anymore, moreover, there was a clear emphasis on the publications in the Russian language, radio and TV stations. The German, Estonian and Lithuanian, Hebrew and Ukrainian media were actually replaced by the Russian-speaking and Russian-writing media. The aspect was fostered by the financing of Russia to the Russian language media in Latvia (that has been officially denied, of course). Consequently, the double consequences of Karaganov’s doctrine can be observed at the media environment of Latvia. First of all, the process becomes apparent through the bribing process of the Latvian media. Secondly, it was carried out through the content formulation synchronisation with the Kremlin (by practical implementation of the ideological influence takeover in the Russian-speaking audience of Latvia). It still continues in the annexation of the political opinion through applying the soft power.

Russia is not the only country trying to enter the Latvian media environment during the Free State. The increase of foreign capital proportion in Latvia has been fostered by the unarranged media legislation, which does not comply with the norms of a democratic country, as well as by the lack of media supervision body (supervision of concentration and monopolisation process) and by the lack of publicity standard supervising bodies. Due to these conditions, the surface of the media area in terms of content is still relief and inhomogeneous.

Printed media subscription tradition during the Free State of Latvia continued to maintain the traditional norm of the printed media (characteristic to the first Free State circumstances) and thus took the Northern Europe media consumption model. The edition is proportionally high (in the country scale) and frequency of profile issues is sufficient.

Together with the regaining the independence, there is an explicitly noticeable impact of the USA TV standard in the area of broadcasting media in Latvia that may be explained by taking the USA TV model side, characteristic to the Eastern Europe, or ambitions and subjective likes of the media owners targeted towards the American private radio or TV. Perhaps the weak national policy regulation in the area should be blamed.

The close neighbouring countries (the Baltic States, Russia and its satellite states, Sweden (Scandinavia)) have also played an important role in the development of the Latvian media, which have directly and indirectly influenced the media processes in Latvia via direct and indirect owners.

In all times the media have been subordinated to the political and economic power and to their owners. These particular persons (management, owners of the media) have had an essential impact on the trajectory of the media development in Latvia. Over the last 20 years these people who have been standing at the cradle of the Latvian media, mostly have been full of enthusiasm, politically active and ambitious persons having a relatively conventional competence regarding the media issues.  Most of them have been more politicians and businessmen, journalists and revolutionists – and fewer people acquired the media work competence. In this case, also the emigration compatriots cannot be excluded, who took up the work in the media of the newly established country upon arrival into Latvia, working as enthusiasts rather than specialists competent in the media work. Most of the media managers did not have any democratic media management competence. Due to that reason, the reactions of so-called “idealism of ideas”, so far being the progressive journalism workshops of the developed western countries, were not formed at the situation of the newly established state of Latvia. Instead, already in early 90s, “the associated media” was born in Latvia, deliberately attracting to certain political or political and economic groups, advocating and lobbying their interests. The media idealism at the very beginning of development is replaced by the market logic, considering the journalism, radio or TV business as “any ordinary business”.

Two manifestations characteristic to the North American media arise from this statement, i.e., economic conformism and content tabloiding.

A significant role in the development of independent media of Latvia has also been played by the comprehension or incomprehension of the new political elite on the media work and principles in an independent and free state. This condition so far has determined the lack of reasonable media work regulation in the country (lack of progressive laws, regulations and regulating bodies) and attempts of “putting pressure” on the media in the name of their personal, political or economic interests.  The venality of politicians in respect to the media can be explained by the comprehension heritage from the times of the USSR in the media work and supervision, where newspapers, radio, and TV were service bodies of the Communist Party and government. The willingness of “having a hold over the media” by politicians and state authority can be observed through all independent media development periods in Latvia – from the early 90s to the moment of institutionalisation. Actually, in Latvia, more understanding and competence in relations with the media could have been asked from the state authority, not allowing the PR domination over the media area and more effective approach to the development processes of the media industry.

The freedom of media in Latvia did not emerge in front of sharply opened doors of the “freedom of expression”. It came gradually, thanks to the age of the ideological snow-break of “perestroika” in the eighties. The censorship pressure at that time was decreased gradually, as was the opportunity of media for free expression promoted gradually.

Independence of mass media is a fundamental prerequisite for democracy and grant of human rights. If people are deprived of these rights then elections are questionable and the democracy might not survive,” admits the USA newspaper The New York Times, writing on the USA Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) analysis carried out in 2004 on the free press in the former USSR territory. The analysis showed that independent mass media are only in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. The rest 12 post-soviet republics the government authority continues taking over under its control the mass media do not allow the work of the independent media and even kill the journalists carrying out investigations on important persons. Assassination of Anna Politkovskaya is used as a standard example of limitation of the press freedom in the post-soviet area and is a symbolic indicator that in countries and communities, where taboo and censorship restrictions are traditionally approved norms, and introduction of the freethinking in the mass media is rather an exception than a norm of media practice.

In Latvia, the development of media mission is closely related to the improvement of the state democratisation because the interconnection of the free press and public democratisation is also the progress drive of Latvia. Still, there are other factors present, whose influence on the media area development is no less significant. One of the most important is the media content quality erosion.

A journalist’s job is a profession. To master it, the journalist specialty must be studied in university and mastered through practical work in an editorial office. If a talented individual can write, film or talk well into the microphone, it does not mean that such a person should be automatically considered a journalist. One cannot automatically become a journalist, if he/she can write, film, take pictures or speak in front of a camera. Good journalism requires substantial resources – intellectual, mental and professional.  Over the last twenty years, investments made into mastering journalism as a profession in Latvia have been insufficient, and many press imperfections can largely be explained by insufficient training of highly qualified specialists in the country.

Shortage of professional creative resources in the independent journalism of Latvia is one of the explanations of the media output quality devaluation during the last twenty years. The content corrosion process has been accelerated by the introduction of the Internet in the media area. Web-journalism is a free reading, so far – appendix to the printed newspaper reading of which is charged. At the moment when a web-newspaper becomes basic media also in Latvia, it will be difficult to find sufficient funding for ensuring the content quality of the publications. So far the attempts to introduce sound charging system on the Internet for the use of web-media have been unsuccessful. It means that in the media a professional journalist will gradually be replaced by a “writer” with no professional knowledge on the media area.

Now, 20 years after regaining of the media freedom, more than ever qualified journalism, critical analytical reporters, challenging, progressive culture programs breaking the traditional concepts, destroying prejudices and stagnation are required. Journalism of a democratic country requires independent journalists capable and skilled to providing the analytic explanation of the ongoing events and ready to fight against lies, insincerity, and corruption, finding out all “invisible sides of the moon” even when the work creates risk of the journalists’ welfare and good image in the public space. The state needs journalists serving the people, not being bound to high ratings or profit. The same way as the state taxes finance conservation of our cultural heritage so that we could keep the national opera, theatre, library and the Open-air Museum, national media should also be included in the list of national icons. Their mission and task lie in producing high-quality media art and not wide-consumption pop-culture.

The quality mission is not an easy task. It is closely related to guarantees for media freedom. The collapse of the Berlin wall, singing revolution and renovation of Latvian independence destroyed the hated “Glavlit”, the official censorship. Still, the invisible side of the censorship is present even in the contemporary Latvia, because the media system is controlled by monopolies, their existence is determined by advertisers and politic oligarchy having direct and indirect effect not only on the financial situation of media (advertising income, tax policy) but also the substance of content (PR offensive). Concentration processes at media area cause more and more increasing unemployment among journalists. Instead, the publishers focus on translations of texts, purchase of entertainment materials and cultivation of local escapism. The business logic of buying cheap and selling expensive does not meet the culture-producing mission. The job of the media within the public interests is not a business project, and as such requires paying more careful attention from the strategic decision-makers in Latvia.

The modern history of media development in Latvia provides food for thought both to those being involved in the process and the detached observers. Those holding the power are forced to account for the representative democracy, a form of state administration so far recognised as being the most appropriate form for managing equal in rights society. The political parties must take the leading role in the process. Nearby, on the other side of the field media are operating, undertaking half of the responsibility burden on the future of the country and people. The history of Latvian media clearly demonstrates what happens when the power “falls into hands” of politicians, and to what extent the media have been prepared to undertake the power control functions – initiating wide debates on important and urgent questions. The power in Latvia is hared. It is designated to the politicians, however, used by the media. Thus the responsibility on the current events cannot be delegated – neither by media to politicians, nor by politicians to the media.

Democracy without talented journalism is impossible, and professionally high-value journalism cannot exist without democracy. After the reestablishment of independence in 1991, Latvian press had to drag the democracy into the dusky scene of the country.

The media had to take a mission.  The task was not easy because the burden of the psychological heritage stood behind the Latvian society – long years of political censorship, free word, and book bonfires.

The transition period among Latvian journalists is characterised as “the most unique pleasant experience neither experienced before nor after the Awakening period”. “We will never have such time again. The end of 80s and beginning of 90s is an incomparable period of time, when, in fact, each more or less professional journalist in every media – press, radio or TV – was actually working at censorship-free environment, listening only to one’s own conscience, and allowing manifestation of one’s professional capacities to full extent. That was a period when even editors-in-chief or COBs – let alone managers of lower units (holding the offices during bolshevism environment) – did not try to utter a word in case a journalist allowed to do “something more”, out of the blue. At that time, none of the regulation levers were applied to the press. There was only the voice of conscience. I recall those times as peculiar golden era of our journalism. I believe that my generation, those who could enjoy it, are historically-privileged people.” [1]

At that time, there were no insignificant secondary matters. The society was solitaire, almost family-like. The officials were not protected by bullet-proof press services. The information was immediate; the ideas were clearer and more direct. All that can be found in the newspapers of that time, being published in different sizes. The journalism was clearer, and it seems, also more unselfish. »[2]

Initially, the modern media system in Latvia was centripetally formed around the four biggest morning newspapers (Čas, Diena, Lauku Avīze (later – Latvijas Avīze) and Neatkarīgā Cīņa (later – Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze), gradually forming around them horizontal media companies which expanded their activity and later were transformed into concerns. Later on, the Russian- language newspapers Vesti Segodņa and Telegraf joined the big four.

Three of them (Čas, Neatkarīgā Cīņa and Lauku Avīze) developed creative staff on the basis of the former Soviet editorial offices, i.e., on the basis of the newspapers Sovetskaja molodjož, Cīņa and Lauku Avīze. The newspaper Diena, on its turn, was established on a new foundation.

The tugboats of the democratic concepts during the period of changes – such as the newspapers Literatūra un Māksla, Atmoda and those similar to leaflet groups of politic activists and organisations – had performed their role and ceased efficient existence in the new Latvia overloaded with the independence.[3]

Political journalism as a business idea was on the basis of the Free State media system, dominated by the policy of parties carrying the leading ideology – the Anti-Marxism. Everything related to the heritage of the USSR and communism era was considered to be hopelessly bad, and everything coming from the West was perceived as perfect and acceptable. That view was understandable, however often many exaggerations that could not be solved later resulted from the excitement.

One of such exaggerations resulting from good intentions was the fanatic trust in the market economy as self-regulatory phenomenon and assurance that by transferring everything to private hands a miracle would happen and Latvia would turn into an advanced and prosperous country.

Looking from the current point of view, it is difficult to understand whether the incompetence in media business of that time was to be blamed for the development problems of the Latvian media, or the USSR era thinking atavism that “the country is small” and thus there is no place for fighting and free journalism in the territory of Latvia. So far (unfortunately), the fundamental and independent journalism ideas of Rudolf Augstein’s weekly magazine Der Spiegel have still not been introduced in the free Latvia.

There are several reasons for such quality journalism delay in Latvia (in the Free State conditions). First – the development of coordinated media environment so far has not been impeded by business, but by the politicians and their poor understanding of media work at democratic state environment. The policy and politicians during that country – building period could significantly affect the media business development and situation of quality journalism. To follow the interests of the ruling economic forces, the law application procedure was changed. Policy, economics, and justice were maneuvered to ensure private business.

Media environment, of course, was not an exception. It had either to take a fighting pose against the consolidation of power and money in the newly established state of Latvia or to accept the situation and to take sides with an appealing politically economic grouping. The biggest newspapers in Latvia gradually chose the latter, stepping under the umbrella of powerful political and economic forces.

The second reason for lack of quality journalism are the journalists, who started to work for the newly established editorial offices and sympathised or were forced to sympathise to a political grouping considered to be the most appropriate. Such approach, directly or indirectly, was requested from the co-workers by the responsible publishers. Readiness of media associates to obey rather than implement the independent editorial policy can be explained both by the notion of the Soviet period media owners on their role in the company (“my newspaper – everyone must write the way I want because I have the say here!”) or masochism infiltrated during the USSR period (“what can I, an ordinary journalist do, if everything is decided and set by the owner”).

Unfortunately, none of the newspapers published in exile during the occupation regime became an edition of national importance. Among them – editions brought over to Latvia: the Latvian edition in the Western Europe Brīvā Latvija, and the newspaper of the USA Latvians Laiks; that did not manage to make up to the quality standard of the modern journalism of Latvia. The magazine Jaunā Gaita, once being one of the most valuable Latvian periodical editions published abroad, neither passed the test of the modern era. It remained where it was – in the emigration niche and did not become a culture edition of national importance.

Over twenty years media concerns of Latvia have not succeeded in the vertical expansion. At the beginning of the 90s, everyone who established a newspaper or a magazine in Latvia could count on a certain share of readers that were ready to pay for the media offered. Twenty years later the picture in the press market was completely different. As a result of media industrialisation and unmonitored monopolisation[4], press tabloidisation, i.e., entertaining journalism developed and expanded instead of quality reading. In that case, demand was largely determined by supply.

In autumn 2008, financial and economic crisis began, when due to the inefficient policy of state management [5] the national budget of Latvia was pushed to deadlock, leading to durable and deep economic crisis in the state. At that moment, issue of several press editions was terminated and the number of editions was rapidly decreasing. The economic situation threatened to turn Latvia into Korea in terms of drop of the number of newspapers and magazines to the minimum. In the name of business Latvia was in a threatening situation characteristic to a totalitarian state – forced reduction of the number of informative media.

Before the crisis, the situation in the Latvian media market looked more promising. Prior to the financial crisis, during the prosperity period, i.e., in 2005, the biggest media company by annual turnover in the press sector in Latvia was considered to be Diena SC (12 million, LVL), followed by Petits Ltd (7 million, LVL), Lauku Avīze SC (5 million, LVL), Fenster Ltd (4 million, LVL), Mediju nams Ltd (3 million, LVL ), Dienas Bizness Ltd (2 million, LVL), Latvijas Vēstnesis Ltd (2 million, LVL), and Kurzemes Vārds Ltd (1 million, LVL).

In the market of Latvian magazines the leading positions were taken by the media company – magazine publishing house Žurnāls Santa Ltd (6 million, LVL), the second place – Rīgas Viļņi Ltd (2 million, LVL), and the third place – magazine publishing house Lilita Ltd (1.7 million, LVL).[6]

After the reestablishment of independence in Latvia in the 90s of the 20th century, the tradition of reading newspapers was preserved. During the years of prosperity, the population of Latvia spent approximately 15 minutes a day[7] for reading newspapers, i.e., half less than the rate of the Swedes or Norwegians. Newspapers were mostly read by people over 45, predominantly men (64.9 %), less women (61.6 %).[8]

The largest daily newspapers in Latvia during the fat years – in 2007 – (according to data aggregated by LPIA on press subscription at Latvijas Pasts, ACD, and PKS) were as follows:

Rītdiena[9] (130 628 copies), free newspaper in Latvian language, publisher: Printing House Lama Grupa Ltd,

Latvijas Avīze (43 337 copies), published in Latvian language by Lauku Avīze SC,

Diena (33 085 copies), published in Latvian language by Diena SC,

Vesti segodņa (14 891 copies), published in Russian language by PH Fenster Ltd,

Čas (11 982 copies), published in Russian language by PH Petits Ltd,

Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze (11 261 copies), published in Latvian language by Mediju nams Ltd,

Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze (3 times a week; 8511 copies), published in Latvian language by Mediju nams Ltd, Dienas Bizness Ltd,

+ Saldo (8411 copies), published in Latvian language by Dienas Bizness Ltd,

MK World Weekly Latvija (6302 copies), published in Russian language by MK Baltija Ltd.

From 2001 to 2005, half of the daily newspaper readers kept receiving their newspapers at home delivered by mail, the other half bought them. It means that the subscription tradition in Latvia was gradually replaced by the readiness of readers to purchase the newspaper at a newsstand or supermarket. With such approach Latvia differed from the Northern countries, where the morning newspaper subscription was rather characteristic (80 % subscribed, 20 % bought). In terms of buying newspapers and magazines, Latvia was gradually approaching to the newspaper consumption habits of the Central Europe.

Year 2007 became the year of the change in the development of periodicals. Within the period from 2002 to 2006, the print-run of newspapers in Latvia declined by 17 % and that was the biggest drop among the European Union Member states. The trend of print-run decrease of the press in Latvia lasted over the next years giving rise to the era of electronic media and internet editions.

In October 2009, the print-run of the largest Latvian morning newspapers already indicated serious reader loyalty erosion. The leading position is still taken by the newspaper Latvijas Avīze, however the number of subscribed issues has decreased by almost 40 % (25 500 copies)[10], the newspaper Diena has a similar situation – 38 % (20,548 copies), the NRA – 10 % (10,898), the Vesti segodņa – 28 % (10,796 copies), the Čas – 42 % (6,452 copies), the Telegraf (6,234 copies).[11]

In terms of the content range, Latvia has retained the accents of the national press, so far. In particular, the large central morning newspapers are still being read throughout the country and the supply package of the morning newspapers is retained, offering to the population at lest three morning newspapers of national importance in the Latvian language and three – in the Russian language. However, the comparatively high number of newspapers (2 million readers), competition of parallel press (free newspapers) and the Internet news portals also created a tough competition in the market of the morning newspapers. In their search for niche, the newspapers were trying to stabilise their uniqueness in the political profile. In the name of marketing interests the newspapers applied the lever of political, state security or even national issues.

The political shading of the Latvian newspapers enabled marking their geographical area of influence “turf” and dividing readers into sectors. Consequently, in order to keep the readers of their newspapers, editorial offices preferred aggressive content position over impassive and neutral journalism. Newspapers attracted their readers the same way the football clubs magnetised their fans (readers of the Diena against those of the Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze, etc.). Telling the name of the newspaper you read was the same as declaring your social and political orientation. During the first 20 years of independence, acceptance of a particular morning newspaper was like a social and psychological stamp carrying the slogan “you are what you read”. Intolerance to the readers of the other newspaper often reached the level of mutual hounding, when “everyone who are not with us, are against us”.

Instead of impassive and constructive journalism, the seed of politically fighting journalism was planted in the soil of the independent Latvia, applying methods worth of Lenin’s newspaper Iskra, and fighting not only against the ideological opponents but also against the editions, readers and editorial associates of competitors.

The political observers also became prophets in the independent Latvia, and 15 years after the regaining of independence this was the aspect which did not allow the journalism of Latvia break the status of a developing nation.

The moment of triumph of press releases and party congresses is fading into the past”[12]. Latvian journalism did not take the side of impassive analysis aiming at spanning as many readers as possible (that would have been a logical step from the view of the newspaper business) but instead decided to continue the line of the party-dictated newspapers. A bastion and crowd of supporters (army of readers) formed around each newspaper. It should be noted that “in most cases, the forcing of political emphasis is a business card of developing nations, for example, all leading journalists in India are obsessed with politics. [..] The few political reporters, in comparison to the others, are considered as the highest rank journalists and their publications are always placed on main pages of newspapers. [..] if a journalist has not expressed one’s opinion on politics, he/she is not regarded as considerable [..], thus a political observer in the country represents the model of an ideal and most proper journalist. In this position lies the difference on the viewpoint as to what is a journalist in India and the West.[13]

Twenty years of development is relatively long time. Stabilisation of the media system required the leading morning newspapers to come down from their political barricades hoping that less politics-oriented accents would appear on the news, debates and culture sections of newspapers, and only the editorials would continue manifesting the niche of the newspaper in the national political spectrum. However, even in the situation of developed democracy in Latvia, mutual fights of the morning newspapers did not cease.  They continued over the entire 20 years.

Local or regional newspapers in Latvia rank among the most popular readings in Latvia[14]. Over the course of time these editions managed to change their orientation adapting to the free market. During the pre-crisis period of prosperity, in 2006, the group included 35 morning and 17 weekly newspapers.

Biggest regional morning newspapers in Latvia:

Kurzemes Vārds – 7538 copies, published in Latvian and Russian by Kurzemes Vārds Ltd,

Liesma –          6798 copies, published in Latvian by Imanta Info Ltd,

Druva –          6681 copies, published in Latvian by Druva Ltd,

Zemgales Ziņas – 6606 copies, published in Latvian by Novadu Ziņas Ltd / Diena SC,

Bauskas Dzīve – 5870 copies, published in Latvian by Bauskas Dzīve Ltd,

Rēzeknes Vēstis – 5747 copies, published in Russian by Rēzeknes Vēstis Ltd,

Neatkarīgās Tukuma Ziņas – 5673 copies, published in Latvian by Novadu Ziņas Ltd/ Diena SC,

Talsu Vēstis –  5410 copies, published in Latvian by Talsu Vēstis Ltd,

Staburags –          5042 copies, published in Latvian by Staburags Ltd, Novadu Ziņas Ltd/Diena SC,

Auseklis –          4966 copies, published in Latvian by Auseklis izdevniecība Ltd.

The most important indicator for regional newspapers is the covering density that may be the decisive indication in the attraction of income from advertising.

A very explicit density of newspapers can be observed in the second largest city of Latvia – Daugavpils, where several local newspapers are striving for the readers’  attention: the Naša gazeta, the Seičas, the Million, the Dinaburg – Vesti, the Latgales Laiks, the Reklama and the Ekspress ņedeļa. The Latgales Laiks and the Million are issued twice a week, the rest are weekly newspapers[15]. With the unusual density of newspapers the market of Daugavpils newspapers is unique in Europe. It must be pointed out that the regional press in Latvia has more stable audience positions than the centralised country-wide editions. For example, in Daugavpils the drop in print-run of local newspapers during the financial crisis is similar to the one experienced by the national importance media: the highest fall in 2009 (compared to 2007) experienced the Naša gazeta (1911 copies – 720 copies), the Seičas (the print-run figures are not made public), the Million (1839 copies – 1082 copies), the Dinaburg – Vesti (129 copies – 122 copies), the Latgales Laiks (3194 copies – 3056 copies), the Reklama (711 copies – 376 copies) and the Ekspress ņedeļa (12034 copies – 2302 copies).[16] However, in general, the leading issues of the regional press in Latvia have experienced the financial crisis and the print-run recession impact with more endurance than the central newspapers. The Kurzemes Vārds (7538 copies – 5075 copies),[17] the Liesma (6798 copies – 5075 copies), the Druva (6681 copies – 5221 copies), the Zemgales Ziņas (6606 copies – 4894 copies), the Bauskas Dzīve (5870 copies – 4955 copies), the Rēzeknes Vēstis (5747 copies – 4958 copies), the Neatkarīgās Tukuma Ziņas (5673 copies – 4697 copies), the Talsu Vēstis (5410 copies – 4224 copies), the Staburags (5042 copies – 3980 copies), and the Auseklis (4966 copies – 4042 copies). The Latgales Laiks (3056 copies), the Saldus Zeme (3588 copies) and the Vaduguns (3848 copies) also do not fall far behind the top ten regional newspapers.[18]

The regional editions in Latvia are among the most consumed group of press editions. In 2009, approximately 44 % of the population of Latvia had browsed at least one regional press edition per week. Despite slight decrease (compared to previous years) in consumption of the regional press in Latvia, their influence on the national media environment is decisive.

The market of Latvian magazines falls into the heterogeneous group that may be subdivided into two large, internally differentiated sectors – popular magazines and specialised (niche) editions.

The popular magazines are the biggest group of entertainment magazines. In Latvia, it includes around 50 magazines of different periodicity.

In Latvia, equally to the rest of the Western Europe, hobby magazines focus on the following categories: auto, moto, home, garden, household, science and machinery, sports and fitness, music, cinematography, TV, theatre and photography, hunting and fishing, tourism, travelling,   nature-based recreation, money and economics, electronics, computers.

Up to now, all these categories have been dominated by the biggest national magazine publishers: Izdevniecība Žurnāls Santa Ltd (6 million, LVL[19]), Izdevniecība Rīgas Viļņi Ltd (2 milj[20].), Izdevniecība Lilita Ltd (1.7 million, LVL), Lietišķās informācijas dienests Ltd (1.3 million, LVL), Mediju grupa Tops Ltd (1.1 million, LVL).[21]

According to the data aggregated by LPIA (Latvijas Pasts, ACD, PKS, and Preses A Pasts), during pre-crisis period the top ten national magazines were as follows[22]:

Ieva –          25 134 copies, published by Publishing House Žurnāls Santa,

Republika.lv 20 443 copies, published by Žurnāls Ltd,

Praktiskais Latvietis – 16 418 copies, published by Lauku Avīze SC,

Privātā Dzīve – 14 254 copies, published by Publishing House Žurnāls Santa.

Ievas Māja –          13 155 copies, published by Publishing House Žurnāls Santa

Ievas Stāsti –          11 881 copies, published by Publishing House Žurnāls Santa,

Santa –          11 277 copies, published by Publishing House Žurnāls Santa,

Mājas & Dārzs – 10 914 copies, published by Forma Media Ltd,

Mans Mazais –            9778 copies, published by Publishing House Žurnāls Santa,

Ilustrētā Zinātne – 9565 copies, published by Mediju Grupa TOPS, Diena SC.

During the crisis, the print-run and income of magazines slightly decreases. However, the print-run fall is much smaller than the one observed in the sector of morning newspapers.

Several echo-effects of the globalisation process can be observed in the area of media. The first is economic, the second – culturally political.

The commercial consideration – to achieve maximum print-runt in order to attract advertisers – has to lead to the press tabloidisation.[23]

In the future, only the big nations will be able to afford the issue of quality newspapers because their print-run is usually small (there are few readers whose level of education, competence , nd intellectual needs are so high). Whereas in the small countries, there are not so many patrons of press or sponsors ready to donate money for quality newspaper issue to meet the needs of intellectual elite  (the quality newspapers are not profit-makers, thus they are usually sponsored by funds or any other independent, loyal form of capital).

So far, no solution for existence of such an edition in Latvia has been found, because non-profit media are published merely in the name of political rather than altruistic interests.

The more informed layers of the Latvian society in the future will be forced to delve into analytical articles of high quality press of the big nations (English, German, French, Russian, etc.) because there will be no such publications in the native language. Entertainment and easy-digestible information, on its turn, will also be available in our native language in the future.

From the view of cultural policy, confrontation will increase among the current editions, employing society, who is taking the side of the belligerent elites (parties), as their tool. For the purpose of ensuring high print-run they will make use of passion, preconception, and taboo.

Middle-level or low-level journalism editions do not carry out analysis and education, and simplify the information making it instantly comprehensible to as wide circle of readers as possible. In order to avoid content analysis of an info-entertainment newspaper or magazine, the authors like to provide the argument: “we supply what the buyer demands”. However, it has been a while, since the consumption of eye-snacks has lead majority of readers to passiveness of opinion and information deficit (on the real processes in the society). There is a ground for hope that media will have to change their course with the lapse of time because the content-related crisis has been knocking on the door of media for a long time in the USA, Canada, and Australia, as well as in the Western Europe.

The level of good, high-quality journalism will always be necessary for the state and its people, irrespective of where we read, hear or see it.

The growing standard of living teaches us to distinguish between high quality and poor quality shoes, good education and average education, competent media and an entertainer.

Academic studies show that when looking for recreation in a text various readers choose different level reading. Thus investment of newspapers and magazines in reading not only begin to justify, but it appears to be an up-to-date marketing approach for survival of the printed media through time.

The commercial television marches into a similar direction, employing confusion of the public media in front of popular and entertaining genres, and makes investments into journalism. “Yes, we do that. It is not a secret that we collect everything that was disposed of by the Swedish National Television as unprofitable programs, and buy up their strong, analytically-minded journalists,” on the new direction comments Kurt Almkvist, head of Axess Television [24].

No one has relieved media from the mission of popular education. It is difficult to combine the job of a teacher and the profit, however it is possible that people (readers) are smart students and would pay 30, 80 or more santims for a paper in order to read something new and challenging, shocking and exciting. It is possible that an individual wants to buy some reading and is ready to pay for it even at the time imbued with entertainment.

The time does not give credit. The most important is that free press with no censorship and repressions has been settled in Latvia.

Consequently, everything will be determined by the substance, quality of the content.

Newspapers and magazines are people’s window to the world. Let’s hope that also in the future these eyes of Latvia will always be wide open to all processes, because almost everything that the society knows and understands is entering our public space through media. Thus it is so important that in periodicals one could always read something that is of interest and kindles thoughts. The magical power of media begins to function at the very moment when the money has been spent to buy a magazine in a news-stand, a newspaper in a supermarket, or when a morning newspaper just taken out of the mailbox heats in your hands and you know there is much to read.


[1] Arnis Terzens, Journalist

[2] related by Journalist Lidija Dārziņa.

[3] There were also attempts of issuing the Literatūra un Māksla later, however, all reanimation processes failed. It was replaced by the newspaper Diena the name of which also reflected its main task – to inform on the freshest news on the particular day. (Pauls Raudseps).

[4] There is no legislation restricting media monopolies in Latvia.

[5] The national budget of Latvia was invested for rescuing the private bank Parex, as a result, the state treasury was empty and had to be financed from international loans, immediately beginning to dictate the national economic policy.

[6] Turnover in 2005, LVL, Lursoft data.

[7] World Press Trends, 2006.

[8] ib.

[9] Terminates the issue of hard copy versions in 2008.

[10] LPIA subscription data as on October 2009.

[11] ib.

[12] Nord L., Nygren G. Medieskugga. 2002,

[13] Hannerz U. Antropologi/Journalistik. Om sätt att beskriva världen.

[14] In 2006, regional newspapers were read or leafed through by 49 % of population. See TNS Latvia. Media Study. Prese. Ziema 2006.–Ziema 2007.

[15] Except for the free of charge 4-day newspaper the Ekspress Vestņik.

[16] LPIA data.

[17] Comparison of annual print-run in 2007 and 2009, LPIA data.

[18] December print-runs, LPIA data.

[19] In 2007 – LVL 5.5 million.

[20] In 2007 – LVL 4.3 million.

[21] Annual turnover, 2005.

[22] LPIA subscription data until 2 April 2007.

[23] Print-run of high quality press usually is small (Le Monde) and low quality – big (The Sun).

[24] TV8MTG.

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