Media Law in Latvia (Part One - Sources)
Basic principles of Media Law in Latvia
At the core of Latvian Media Law is the prohibition of government censorship. Additionally, Media Law seeks to prohibit monopolies in the press and to protect basic human rights, including the right to freely receive, keep, and distribute information; and to express a person's views.
Constitutional sources of Media Law in Latvia
The Constitution of the Republic of Latvia, called Satversme, prohibits censorship and protects some human rights, such as the freedom of expression and rights to honour and dignity. These rights are not without limitations and may be subject to restrictions to protect the rights of other people, the democratic structure of the state, and public safety, welfare, and morals. Accordingly, specific restrictions have been implemented in the Law on the Press. For instance, the press may neither publish information that injures a person's reputation or fame nor defame a person.
Similarly, the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia grants to everyone the right to own property and thus to obtain property and operate as a media publisher. But the Law on the Press and Other Mass Information Means prohibits the monopolization of mass media. The Electronic Media Law prescribes that there can be three types of broadcasters-public, commercial, and non-commercial.
Public electronic media is a public corporation established and operated in accordance with the Electronic Media Law, the Law on State and Local Government Capital Shares and Capital, the Commercial Law and other laws and regulations, and Statutes approved by the National Council for Electronic Media.
The owners of the commercial broadcasters are business operators established in accordance with the laws and regulations. They finance their activities with revenues from their own commercial, sponsorship or subscription charges for the programs.
Non-commercial electronic media includes non-profit broadcasters that provide services for a specific audience with a common interest. Broadcasting of other programs as well as audio and audio-visual commercial releases is prohibited in non-commercial electronic media services or programs. However, non-commercial electronic media, which use their services or programs for their distribution facilities, may distribute other electronic media made programs or programs upon receipt of permit of the commercial or electronic media and with the previous consent of the National Council for Electronic Media.
Electronic media are free and independent within their programs and broadcasting and distribution, as well as in editorial work, as far as they are unlimited by the Latvian Constitution, the Electronic Media Law and other laws, the national technical standards and international agreements binding to Latvia. Moreover, electronic media, respecting variety of opinions, defends an independent, democratic and judicial idea of Latvian state, observes human rights, and works in the interest of Latvian society.
Codified sources of Media Law in Latvia
The Law on the Press is the main codified source regulating media in Latvia, which provides a general framework for all media and regulates journalists' activities. However, the Electronic Media Law regulates radio and television broadcasting. The latter ensures freedom of speech and opinion, comprehensive availability of socially significant information, undisturbed maintenance and development of free, democratic debate by giving opportunity to every Latvian citizen form a view independently about the processes in the country and accordingly encouraging him or her to participate as a democratic member of society in decisions regarding these processes.
Case law sources of Media Law in Latvia
The courts of Latvia have passed several judgments regarding media, especially evaluating probable infringement of honour and dignity and appraising the press's right to interfere in a private life.
For instance, on February 13, 2002, the Supreme Court of Latvia held that the European Convention for the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms will govern the evaluation of possible infringements of a person's honour and dignity in Latvia. Moreover, the Court established the difference between “news” and “opinion”. “News” can be true or false and it can be subject to verification of truth. Supreme Court of Latvia states that the term “news” is identical to the term “information”. The distinction between “news” and “opinion” is significant when a media publisher does not have evidence that the published information is true and so has to revoke it immediately. It is not possible to verify if an “opinion” is true. Nonetheless, there must be a basis for giving incisive and negative judgment about a person. Therefore, the court has to evaluate if there have been any facts that could be a basis for such judgment. The more incisive the judgment, the more potent the basis will have to be. If published information infringes a person's honour and dignity and is an “opinion”, the plaintiff cannot require admission that the information is false.
Similarly, in the judgment of May 8, 2002, the Supreme Court of Latvia held that, in order to provide equitable remuneration, it is important to evaluate the principle of proportionality if there is an infringement of a persons' honour and dignity. The principle of proportionality means that the profit for society has to be greater than the loss of the individual whose rights are infringed.
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