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EU court clears Lithuania on Russian TV case

By Angele Kedaitiene

On Thursday (4  July), the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has cleared Lithuania in Russian TV restriction case, ruling that Lithuania did not breach EU law when it introduced restrictions on a Russian TV channel for incitement to hatred.

The case dates to May 2016 when the Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania has ordered that the Lithuanian programs of TV channel NTV Mir could only be re-broadcast or distributed as part of packages available for an additional fee. The measure was cancelled following signals from the European Commission that it might run counter to EU legislation.

The Court of Justice has been asked to look into the ongoing case of the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court, which examines the appeal of the Baltic Media Alliance, owner of Russian-language channels, against the decision of the Lithuanian Radio and Television Commission to impose on Lithuanian operators moving the NTV Mir channel to paid packages. The Vilnius court has asked the EU court for clarification.

The European Court of Justice has stated that such decision was right, as “a member state may, for reasons of public policy such as combating incitement to hatred, impose a temporary obligation to broadcast or retransmit a television channel from another member state only in pay-to-view packages” the court decision says.

The Radio and Television Commission in 2016 has concluded that the Russian TV channel had spread false information on alleged collaboration of Lithuania and Latvia during the Holocaust, as well as that the authorities in the Baltic states allegedly pose a threat to the local Russian-speaking minorities.

In reality, Lithuania has officially condemned actions of its nationals who took part in persecuting the Jews during WWII, officially presented excuses to Israel, returned all confiscated Jewish property. The country integrates Russian population well, there are Russian schools, Russian-speaking Lithuanian can take public office and many of them work in the administration  of Lithuania, they are not denied citizenship, etc.

Earlier this year, because of the municipal, Presidential and European Parliament elections which took place in March and May, the Lithuanian parliament has adopted amendments to the Law on the Provision of Information to the Public. The amendments permit the Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania to stop television programs within 72 hours without a court decision, if the broadcast information pose a threat to national security. The amendments are linked to the EU’s Audio-visual Media Services Directive and includes the so-called procedure of immediate reaction. Before that, Lithuania has had a few safeguards to disinformation, which however were too long to implement. TV programs in Lithuania could be stopped by court decision, while programs broadcast by Europe-registered TV channels could be cancelled only after 3 infringement alerts within a year.

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