On December 8, the independent Russian television channel “Dozhd” (TV Rain) had to stop broadcasting in Latvia after the Latvian authorities revoked its broadcasting licence.

The reason is “a threat to national security and public order,” according to the head of the National Council for Electronic Media of Latvia (NEPLP), Ivars Abolins.

A few days earlier, host Alexei Korostelev said in a live broadcast that he hoped the TV channel had managed to improve the situation of the mobilized Russians at the front. A few hours later, Korostelyov was released and the Latvian State Security Service launched an investigation into suspected aid to “Russian occupying forces”.

The broadcaster considers the allegations to be “unfair and absurd”. Political scientists who were spoken to by Deutsche Welle believe that the reason for this surprising empathy with Russian soldiers could be that Dozhd is trying to appeal to viewer groups in Russia who would otherwise not tune in to the channel critical of the government.

A few hours after Alexei Korostelev’s live report on Dozhd, in which he called for reporting problems that Russian soldiers are facing during the mobilization, the TV station stopped working with the journalist.

This was announced by the moderator Yekaterina Kotrikadze. She emphasized that the decision was “difficult, but the only possible one”. In protest and solidarity with Korostelyev, Dozhd also resigned from some of his colleagues.

Meanwhile, Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks has called on social media to cancel the visas of Dozhd journalists. He explained that “we’ve run out of patience”. In an interview with the local newspaper Neatkariga, Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics added: “Even if someone says that the mobilized are being given moral help, then that too is support for the war. There is a line between free speech and support for war.”

Like many other independent media outlets in Russia, Dozhd was blocked shortly after the Russian aggression against Ukraine began and had to stop broadcasting. In July, officials announced that they would start work in Latvia after the Latvian authorities granted the license.

Although the channel has repeatedly made it clear that it opposes Russia’s war against Ukraine, some Latvian observers have urged Dozhd to take a clear stance on its own reporting on the mobilized Russians and the state of the Russian army. The complaints of the Latvian authorities are not limited to the testimony of Alexei Korostelyov.

A few days earlier, “Doschd” had been fined 10,000 euros because a broadcast called the Russian army “ours”. A map of the Russian Federation including the annexed Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea was also shown. According to the Latvian authorities, “Doschd” had previously received a warning for broadcasting without subtitles in Latvian.

Calls for Dozhd to be closed came after presenter Yekaterina Kotrikadze spoke to Riga Mayor Martins Stakis about the demolition of Soviet-era monuments in Latvia. However, Stakis himself described that interview as “correct”. But observers agree that Riga’s dissatisfaction with Dozhd began precisely with this interview. But there were no formal reasons for complaints at the time. In this regard, Latvian political scientist Kristians Rozenvalds says that part of Latvian society fears that the channel might interfere in Latvian politics.

The Latvian political scientist Philip Raevsky, on the other hand, points out that the journalistic culture in Russia and Latvia is fundamentally different. “We can’t blame anyone that the station works differently than we do. Of course, ‘Doschd’ is more aggressive than the local media. It’s a matter of taste and tradition. The interview with the mayor was more painful for those who had little understanding of how journalists work,” believes Raevsky.

Gunta Sloga of the Baltic Center for Media Excellence told DW the ban on broadcasting “Dozhd” raised a broader issue, namely freedom of expression in Latvia. ” ‘Doschd’ has made mistakes, but it shocks me how easily the license was revoked. When an authority can easily make a decision without first talking to the media, as in the case of Dozhd. Tomorrow it could hit Latvian media,” Sloga says, noting that the prosecution of Dozhd lasted several months, huh is not normal for a democratic country.

Shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the passage of a law in the Russian Federation providing legal responsibility for “fake reports” about the Russian army, access to the Dozhd website was blocked by the Russian authorities at the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office blocked by authorities. Due to the threat of criminal prosecution, the editorial team had to leave Russia.

In June it was announced that “Dozhd” received a broadcasting license in Latvia, after which the channel legally became a Latvian media company subject to local laws. “A Latvian broadcaster cannot call the Russian army ‘ours’ and express its condolences to the invaders involved in the genocide of civilians,” Raevsky clarifies. The Latvian parliament has classified the war against Ukraine as genocide.

According to Raevsky, in addition to national legislation, one must also pay attention to the historical circumstances of Latvia and the emotional background in the Baltic countries regarding the war in Ukraine. There is a fear that all Russians, including opposition journalists, could be Putin agents. According to the political scientist, the Latvian public sees its own historical parallels in the suffering of the Ukrainian people: “The Latvian nation has experienced something similar. That was in 1940, when the Red Army occupied Latvia, and in 1949, when Latvians were deported en masse to Siberia.”

Political expert Abbas Galliamov explains Dozhd’s emphasis on its coverage of the mobilization in Russia by saying that the Russian opposition “will not be able to defeat the regime until it has a critical mass of votes from… swing voters wins for himself”.

According to Galliamov, the moods of these people must be taken into account in order to win them over. The narratives on “Doschd” about the mobilized Russians are an attempt to open up a new audience. “Strategically, the TV channel corresponds to the interests of the Russian liberal movement, which wants the end of the Putin regime and the war in Ukraine,” believes the expert.

Philip Raevsky, on the other hand, thinks that the Latvian government is aware of the political importance of the information Dozhd offers to the Russian audience. “But in Latvia there is a feeling that you will not weaken the Putin regime with an empathetic attitude towards the army that kills civilians in Ukraine,” Raevsky said.

Adaptation from the Russian: Markian Ostapchuk

Author: Maria Katamadze

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The original of this article “Why Latvia stops the TV channel “Doschd”” comes from Deutsche Welle.