Opinion

Latvia revokes Russian opposition TV station Dozhd’s broadcasting licence

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Latvia’s National Electronic Media Council (NEPLP) has cancelled Russian opposition channel Dozhd’s (Rain) broadcasting licence on December 6, saying the station had threatened the country’s national security.

The decision followed a gaffe made by the station’s top anchor last week, Alexei Korostelev, who talked about “our troops” in Ukraine and apparently called on viewers to send donations to provide “equipment” and improve the “comfort” of Russian servicemen fighting in Ukraine.

The station quickly backpedalled following an outcry from Ukraine’s supporters, fired Korostelev and deleted the offending footage.

Dozhd editor-in-chief Tikhon Dzyadko apologised to viewers. The channel said that the anchor’s on-air remarks were taken out of context. Dozhd “has not helped, and is not and will not be … helping the Russian army – on the front lines or otherwise,” Dzyadko said at the time.

Latvia has been one of Russia’s most outspoken critics, but it has also become a refuge for anti-regime opposition fleeing Russia. Many of Russia’s opposition media outlets have chosen Riga as a base. Dozhd has been labelled a “foreign agent” in Russia and its staff, facing the threat of arrest, moved the base of operations to Riga in April.

Chairman of Latvia’s media council Ivars Abolins said on Twitter: “Due to the threat to national security and public order, NEPLP made the decision this morning to revoke the broadcasting permission of the Dozhd TV channel.”

The channel was ordered to stop broadcasting on December 8. Abolins stressed that Latvian laws “should be observed and respected by everyone.” On December 2, the council head threatened Dozhd with the revocation of its licence, noting it had been twice warned for previous violations. On the same day, the process of withdrawing the permission to stay in the country given to the broadcaster’s media workers began, said Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks.

It is not clear what will happen to the staff of the station that have made their home in Latvia. If they were forcibly deported back to Russia, they would face likely arrest. Simply using the word “war” to describe the conflict in Ukraine is illegal in Russia, which refers to the war as a “special operation”.

Earlier, NEPLP fined the TV channel €10,000 for showing on air a map with Crimea as part of Russia. The station got a second warning after Korostelev called the Russian army “ours” in a report.

In the programme “Here and Now” on December 1, he called on viewers to talk about problems in the Russian army and expressed the hope that by highlighting these problems, it would be possible to help servicemen “with equipment and with just basic amenities at the front.”

NEPLP gave broadcasting permission to Dozhd TV on June 6 after Russia’s media watchdog Roskomnadzor blocked the station in Russia on March 1.

Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office accused Dozhd of disseminating “deliberately false information regarding the actions of Russian military personnel as part of a special operation to protect the DPR and LPR [so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic].” On March 3, Dozhd announced it was shutting down its operations in Russia and began the move to Latvia.

Dozhd creative producer Anna Mongayt said the channel would continue to broadcast on its YouTube channel.

“We know how to overcome epic difficulties and don’t consider our mission accomplished,” she wrote on the Telegram messaging app as cited by the Moscow Times.

Founded in 2008, Dozhd remains one of the largest independent Russian media outlets. Prior to the war, it covered topics like opposition protests, corruption and fake news despite increasing restrictions introduced by the Russian authorities. This autumn, Dozhd opened a broadcasting studio in Amsterdam in partnership with the Moscow Times.

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