Amid Press Freedom Challenges, an Entrepreneurial Spirit Found in Latvia

In a blog post from Pakistan Press International correspondent and Master of Journalism student, Idrees Ali takes a look at the challenges that face investigative journalists in Latvia through a three week research mission with a number of his fellow students from the University of Maryland. Ali states that the Latvian press was used primarily in the past as a vehicle for propaganda and that, though some improvements have been made since they became independent in 1991, there are still many powerful influential people working to control the amount of truth that is disseminated through the news.

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In speaking with local journalists, he has discovered that many of them “self-censor” in order to avoid conflicts with management in their media outlets. The expectation exists for reporters to avoid speaking on certain subjects and many do conform to that. It is also shown that, while many former Soviet Union countries are now under independent rule, there is still a great deal of influence from the Russian media owners.

One concession, however, was that more Latvian journalists were taking it upon themselves to create and manage their own publications, free from external influence, evoking an entrepreneurial spirit in the Latvian press. In interviewing some of these journalists, Ali and his colleagues discovered that many were guarding their editorial independence through their own ventures.

Nellija Locmele and Inga Springe are two journalist that quit the country’s daily paper, Diema, when it was sold to suspicions new owners in 2009. Locmele created a weekly magazine, Ir, focused on local public affairs and ensuring that the reporting takes an objective view in their stories. They have a circulation of about 50,000 and the publication is independently owned.

Springe started an investigative reporting centre (the Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism) called re:baltica, which is run as a non-profit and is focused on issues in the political, economic and social arenas. One of their projects looks at the shrinking middle class and investigates how the gap is growing between the rich and the poor in Baltic nations, which garnered positive attention from local government who are now proposing measures to address social inequality.

With their own ventures sustaining their careers in media, Springe and Locmele feel very free to approach any issue that needs to be investigated and to report on it without fear of being censored or reprimanded. They do, however, face lawsuits from officials attempting to intimidate them. Ir is currently dealing with four lawsuits and other journalists are often concerned about prosecution. Re:baltica recently uncover six examples of criminal cases against journalists.

While both these examples show that free press is still surviving in Latvia, there is still the issue of financial losses and challenges that face media worldwide. Newsrooms are closing or being reduced and there is less expense money to support investigative journalists. Springe and Locmele are excellent examples of what independent spirit can accomplish and their commitment to freedom of the media has been able to surmount some of the obstacles that currently face investigative journalism.

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