The political (in)dependence of the media in Lithuania

Analysis presented in this paper shows that significant part of the Lithuanian media subjects (especially in the municipalities) are controlled by politicians and some – by authority institutions. Another form of political influence on the media subjects is finances allocated by the State, municipal institutions and political parties to the media organizations in order to publicize their activities (or publish advertising) – which often provide guaranties of more favorable news media content for the allocators of financial resources. There are only individual economically capable and independent media organizations (national and local) that administer the media which provide relatively comprehensive and unbiased political picture. The claim of the article is that the level of political parallelism of the Lithuanian media system tends to be high.

Dynamics of interaction between the political subjects (political parties, state and municipal institutions, politicians) and media subjects (media organizations, media outlets) are specific in every country. This is determined by certain legal environment and media regulation, traditions of the political culture, level of journalism professionalization and also by particular economic and social factors. If political subjects have a significant influence on the media outlets, then the content of the latter usually becomes politically biased. Under democratic political regime, external pluralism at the level of the media system can exist when different media outlets reflect different political orientations.

Two concepts of mass communication theory are essential when analysing the political bias in media systems: party-press parallelism and political parallelism. Party-press parallelism means “the degree to which the structure of the media system paralleled that of the party system. It exists in its strongest form when each news organization is aligned with a particular party, whose views it represent in the public sphere” (Hallin, Mancini, 2004: 27). In his introduction of concept party-press parallelism, Seymour-Ure proposed four criteria for measurement of the level of parallelism: owning and managing of a media organization by a party, the loyalty of a paper to the party, the correspondence between the supporters of a party and the readers of a paper, the ratio between parties and papers (Seymour-Ure, 1974; Albuquerque, 2012). Hallin and Mancini use a more general term of political parallelism, referring rather to the general political tendency in the media than the association of media outlets with particular parties. According to them “one-to-one connection between media and political parties is increasingly uncommon today” (2004: 27). These authors distinguish such components of political parallelism: media content (reflection of distinct political orientation in different media), organizational connections between media and political parties, tendency for media personnel to be active in political life, the partisanship of media audience, journalistic role and practices (intended bias or neutrality).

Degree of organizational connections between the media and political parties is the most significant component while determining the level of political parallelism of the media system.  However, media content can become politically biased not only because of the connections between the parties and media subjects: this also may happen due to the influence of state and municipal institutions (controlled by certain politicians) on media subjects. Influence of individual politicians on the media subjects is another reason why media content can become politically biased. Consequently, while determining a level of political parallelism of the media system, it would be purposeful to analyse the influence of all political subjects on media subjects. As Hallin and Mancini (2004) state, media systems characterized by external pluralism have a high level of political parallelism and vice versa: media systems characterized by internal pluralism (pluralism achieved within each individual media outlet or organization; when media organizations avoid institutional ties to the political subjects and attempt to maintain balance of political views in their content) have a low level of political parallelism.

The aim of this paper is to analyse influence of the political subjects on the media subjects and to assess the level of political parallelism of the Lithuanian media system.

Political parallelism: market and law 

Democratisation of political field in Lithuania started on 3 June 1988 when the Initiative Group of the Reform Movement of Lithuania Sąjūdis was established. Soon afterwards, alternative Lithuanian press (originated from the Sąjūdis) that was uncontrolled by the Lithuanian Communist Party (LCP) was started. There were dozens of newspapers (national and local) which were published by Sąjūdis during the period of transition to democracy (1988–1990). Dualism of political views flourished in the press that was separately published by LCP and Sąjūdis in this period. It was time of clear and strong political parallelism of the Lithuanian press, that it to say, monopoly of LCP press was broken and every political side had their tribune. Besides that, some editorial offices tried to display pluralistic ideas that transcended the two-camp political division. Lithuanian television yet controlled by LCP was forced to admit talk show of Sąjūdis members.

Although new political parties started to publish its newspapers too and LCP (reformed into the Lithuanian Democratic Labour Party in the end of 1990) had changed titles and contents of its media outlets, party press in general lost its influence quite quickly. Two main causes of this decline could be discerned. First, significant changes in the supply could be observed just after the transition: sudden development of commercial press took place, the majority of old newspapers were privatized and many new outlets were launched. The second cause was related to the poor demand for party press: prolonged censorship and total control of freedom of speech by the Communist party formed a negative image of party press in society. Because of the legacy of the party press monopoly under the communist regime any political structure (even newly created) could not be perceived as a reliable publisher

Highly dynamical processes have been developing in the daily newspapers market since 1989. Daily of Young Communist League of Lithuania Komjaunimo tiesa was privatised in the end of 1989 and since 1990 have been published as Lietuvos rytas. Sąjūdis’ daily Respublika (originally launched in 1989) was separated from direct political control too. It was privatised by the managers of editorial office in 1990. Newly elected parliament (The Supreme Council – Restoration Seimas) and new government launched daily Lietuvos aidas after it was sworn in 1990. However, Lietuvos aidas was privatized by its employees in 1992.  LCP’ daily Tiesa changed its title to Diena but the existence of reformed outlet was short-lived: publishing of Diena was cancelled in 1996. Daily Lietuvos aidas which supported political views favourable to the parties in the political right could not be competitive in the daily market and lost a major part of its audience. The remains of state and party press had no choice but to try surviving in the periphery of market.

New Law on the Provision of Information to the Public was adopted in Lithuania in 1996. This Law stipulated that the  State  (with  the  exception  of  scientific  and educational institutions), municipalities may not  be owners  of  a  public  information  producer and a political party or political organization may not be owner of a radio or television station (Republic of Lithuania Law on the Provision of Information to the Public, 1996). However, Law effectively left a possibility for the parties to publish their own newspapers and magazines.

It must be emphasized that since the 1996 Lithuanian political parties did not compete in the press market equally with the private commercial publishers. Moreover in 2004 the Lithuanian Parliament adopted new amendment of the Law on the Provision of Information to the Public which stipulated the State and municipal institutions and agencies (except for scientific and educational establishments), political parties and political organizations may not be the producers of public information and/or participants therein. However, they may publish non periodical informational publications intended to inform the public of their activity (unless specified otherwise by the law) (Republic of Lithuania Law on the Provision of Information to the Public, 2004).

It is important to emphasize that the Law on the Provision of Information to the Public established formal separation of media ownership from the State, municipal institutions and political parties. In such a way significant component of political parallelism was removed – organizational connections between the media and legal political subjects. However, this does not mean that government institutions and parties in Lithuania are left completely without levers of influence on media. First, provisions of the Law on the Provision of Information to the Public are not always guaranteed in the practice: not even when a violation of Law is fixed by the supervisory institution of media, The Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics. A good example of such discrepancies between Law and practice is decision accepted by The Inspector of Journalist Ethics (on 3 December 2013) and by The Vilnius Regional Administrative Court (on 11 July 2014) that a factual publisher of newspaper Mano Druskininkai (published since December 2011) is The Administration of Municipality of Druskininkai. The Inspector of Journalist Ethics ascertained that The Administration of Municipality of Druskininkai violated provisions of the Law that are related with media pluralism and fair competition (The Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics, 2013; BNS, 2014). Despite these decisions the newspaper Mano Druskininkai was subsequently administered by the same publisher which declared intentions to exercise the right to appeal to a higher judicial authority (BNS, 2014).

Political influence through private companies

Even though the disposal of the media property by legal persons that are related to political parties is formally restricted, the politicians like other natural persons (or the participants of legal persons) may obtain and manage the media channels. In Lithuania some owners of editorial offices (as well as editors themselves) are members of the political parties or may support some political sides: consequently the media that are administered by them disseminate quite biased political content. This is very obvious in the regional municipalities where a large part of the local media is financially dependent on politicians. Moreover, the main shareholders of the local media also tend to be politicians: like members of Seimas (the Lithuanian Parliament), mayors, and members of municipal councils or their relatives.

All the main Lithuanian political parties develop influence on the local media content (and subsequently public opinion) through their members or protégé persons in the ownership structures (or management staff) of media companies in many Lithuanian municipalities. However, the Labour Party’s case is distinguished by the exceptional integrity and coordination of influence structure which expanded on national media too.

The most characteristic case regarding the control of media property by the politicians is The Municipality of Kėdainiai: major part of the local media market (two newspapers: Rinkos aikštė, Kėdainių garsas and a television channel Kėdainių krašto televizija) here is  controlled by the companies owned by relatives of the members of Labour Party (members of the governing coalition of 11th Seimas elected in October 2012) (BNS, 2013; The Chief Official Ethics Commission, 2012; The Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania, 2014; The Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania, 2014). Moreover, two members that belong to the Labour Party’s Political Group in the 11th Seimas altogether with a relative of member of this Political Group are owners of a company Interneto žinios. This company administers 54 internet sites that disseminate public information in the municipalities of Lithuania (Internetozinios.lt, 2014; The Chief Official Ethics Commission, 2012; The Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania, 2014).

Part of media is subject to influence through protégé persons of politicians’ in the ownership structures or management staff. Model of political influence when the main elements of content framing are determined by the members of Labour Party (and persons related to party) is established in the administration of some national media: internet web sites Balsas.lt, Ekonomika.lt (published as paper weekly too) and newspaper Valstiečių laikraštis (BNS, 2012; Pečeliūnienė, 2012; Veidas.lt, 2012). These media outlets form a significant part of media audience: Balsas.lt had a reach of 33 per cent, Ekonomika.lt – 6.7 per cent on May 2014 (Gemius Baltic, 2014), Valstiečių laikraštis is one of the most popular national newspapers in the rural districts.

In summary, it can be stated that significant part (and expanding in the internet field) of the Lithuanian media subjects governed by politicians (and their relatives, protégé persons) shows an increasing level of political parallelism of the media system.

Financial-political dependence

When the direct political control of the media organisations is absent, other important mean of influence on media content may be: financial support (paid for publishing of certain information) by the State institutions, municipalities, political parties or individual politicians. For example, data provided by The Public Procurement Office shows the value of public procurement of publicity services as 108.3 million LTL in the 2012 and the first half of 2013. Total of 90 organizations carried out the procurement of publicity services in this period. The value of the publicity services outsourced by the largest purchaser – The Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Lithuania – totals 17.5 million LTL (The Public Procurement Office, 2014).

Finances of the State institutions and other political subjects that are allocated transparently to the media organizations (in order to publish certain information or advertising) could be evaluated as autonomous incomes from business activity. However, there is a routine relationship between the allocated of finances for the advertising (or publicity of activities) on one hand and bias of editorial content in the relations of Lithuania media and political subjects on other.

Studies of the Lithuanian media demonstrate a wide spread practise to publish more favourable news on those politicians (State offices, political parties) which bring advertising contracts to the editorial offices. Research on the national dailies (Jastramskis, 2009) revealed more favourable presentation of the activities by those advertisers (politicians) who purchase the largest amounts of advertising. Activities of other advertisers (politicians) who do not purchase advertising at all presented less favourable or unfavourable in the certain national dailies. Politically biased content appeared in the content of 4 (out of 8) national dailies: Lietuvos rytas, Respublika, Lietuvos aidas which ironically escaped the direct political control during the transition to democracy (in the case of Lietuvos aidas it happened few years later) and daily Vakaro žinios too. It can be claimed that direct political dependence was replaced with more subtle dependence on the financial support coming from the political subjects. However, it must be emphasized that the marketing strategy based on the financial dependence on political subjects is not always successful nowadays – daily Respublika finished its existence in May 2014 (since then started as weekly).

In summary, it can be claimed that financial-political parallelism (when media content paid by the political subjects determines the political bias of journalism) is a characteristic attribute of the Lithuanian media system.

The National Radio and Television of Lithuania in the political field

The National Radio and Television of Lithuania (LRT) denote a public, non-profit institution which according to the right of ownership, belongs to the State. The governing bodies of the LRT are the Council and the Administration of the LRT (Republic of Lithuania Law on Amendment of Republic of Lithuania Law on The National Radio and television, 2005).

All governing coalitions of the Lithuanian Parliament tried to develop influence on management and funding of the LRT. The LRT board and director general were appointed directly by the Lithuanian Parliament in 1990–1996. Since 1996 director general of the LRT is appointed by the LRT Council (members of the LRT Council are appointed by President, Parliament and/or non-government organizations). In connection to different political views on the influence of LRT management, the Lithuanian Parliament several times changed articles of laws determining formation of the LRT Council (table 1). Political disputes regarding regulation of appointment of the LRT Council members between governing coalition of the Lithuanian Parliament, the President of the Republic of Lithuania and opposition of the Lithuanian Parliament had previously reached even The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania. The Constitutional Court recognised  that  the  resolution  of  5  December  1996 by the Seimas  of  the Republic  of  Lithuania on  the appointment of the members of the Council of The  National  Radio and Television of Lithuania contradicts the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania (The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania, 1997).

Since December 1996 to April 2000 legal provision was in force stipulating that all members of the LRT Council should be appointed by non-government organizations (Table 1). However, such composition of the LRT Council did not guarantee politically neutral and effective management of the LRT. It happened so that some of the shareholders (non-government organizations) of the LRT were politically engaged.

Since April 2000 the LRT Council is formed by 12 members: 4 are appointed by President of the Republic, 4 – by the Lithuania Parliament (2 members are delegated by the Opposition groups) and 4 – by non-government organizations (table 1). On the one hand two-thirds of the LRT Council members appointed by highest political authorities show quite strong political influence on management of the LRT. On the other hand, balanced representation between the LRT Council members that are delegated by the Governing coalition, Opposition Group of the Seimas and President (who cannot belong to any political party in the term of Office) does not create conditions for unilateral political influence on the management of the LRT.

Table 1. Number of the LRT Council members appointed by President, Parliament and non-government organizations. 

Who appoints
Since July to December 1996 Since December 1996 to April 2000 Since April 2000
President 3 4
Parliament 4 4
Non government organizations 6 15 4
Total 13 15 12

Sources: Republic of Lithuania Law on the Provision of Information to the Public (1996), Republic of Lithuania Law on Amendment of 29 Article of Law on the Provision of Information to the Public (1996), Republic of Lithuania Law on Amendment of 29 Article of Law on the Provision of Information to the Public (2000).

The Law on the Provision of Information to the Public (1996) stipulated that The National Radio and Television of Lithuania shall be financed by allocations from the state budget, subscription charge and commercial income. Also this Law stipulated that with the increase of LRT income from the subscription charge, the financing of the LRT from the state budget shall be decreased accordingly. However, the financing of the LRT from subscription charge was not implemented. The National Radio and Television of Lithuania have been funded from the State budged and advertising revenues. Funding from the state budged every year has been changed and has been depending on the political will of the Lithuanian Parliament. In such a way politicians tried to form clientelistic relations with the LRT, when resources are controlled and distributed by the patrons (politicians who represent the State) for the clients (representatives of public media) in exchange of support.

However, the LRT will get some financial independence from politicians and advertisers in 2015. Since then funding of the LRT will be related with revenues of the state and municipalities budgets (particular percent from tax revenue) but the LRT will not have right to get advertising incomes.

Conclusions 

Analyzed factors of influence of the political subjects on the media subjects allow claiming that formal ban of the Law on the Provision of Information to the Public for juridical political subjects to own media did not eliminate their influence on the content of media outlets. First of all, provisions of the Law are not always guaranteed in the practice – there are media outlets directly controlled by authority institutions. Secondly, there is direct political influence on the media subjects which are controlled by politicians (and its relatives, protégé persons). Thirdly, widespread form of political influence on the media subjects is finances allocated by the State, municipal institutions, political parties to the media organizations in order to publicize their activities (or publish advertising) which often provide guaranties of more favorable news media content for finance allocators.

There is a formal balance of political influence on the management of the National Radio and Television of Lithuania between the representatives of the President and the Lithuanian Parliament (Governing coalition and Opposition Group). Besides, funding of the National Radio and Television of Lithuania is set by law (related to the particular percent from tax revenue) and will not depend on the annual fluctuations of political will in the Lithuanian Parliament since 2015. Consequently, it can be claimed that managing and funding structure of the National Radio and Television of Lithuania allows for maintaining the balance of political views in the disseminated content.

It must be emphasised that those media subjects that are controlled by political subjects or are financially dependent on them have no opportunities to cover the overall political situation and to provide a comprehensive picture of the social groups and their interests in the media. There are only individual economically capable and independent media organizations (national and local) that administer the media which provide relatively full and unbiased political picture. Consequently, it can be claimed that the level of political parallelism of the Lithuanian media system tends to be high.

Title: The political (in)dependence of the media in Lithuania

Summary: Analysis presented in this paper shows that significant part of the Lithuanian media subjects (especially in the municipalities) are controlled by politicians and some – by authority institutions. Another form of political influence on the media subjects is finances allocated by the State, municipal institutions and political parties to the media organizations in order to publicize their activities (or publish advertising) – which often provide guaranties of more favorable news media content for the allocators of financial resources. There are only individual economically capable and independent media organizations (national and local) that administer the media which provide relatively comprehensive and unbiased political picture. The claim of the article is that the level of political parallelism of the Lithuanian media system tends to be high.

Keywords: media subject, political subject, political parallelism

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prof. assoc. dr Deimantas Jastramskis

prof. assoc. dr Deimantas Jastramskis

Medioznawca, dyrektor Instytutu Dziennikarstwa Uniwersytetu Wileńskiego
prof. assoc. dr Deimantas Jastramskis

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Medioznawca, dyrektor Instytutu Dziennikarstwa Uniwersytetu Wileńskiego

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