Status: Free
Legal Environment: 6 (of 30)
Political Environment: 8 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 8 (of 30)
Total Score: 22 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Latvia's constitution protects freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally upholds these rights in practice. Libel remains a criminal offense, though no journalist has been imprisoned or fined during the past two years. The Freedom of Information Law guarantees and provides detailed rules on access to public information.

In a high-profile case, a Riga court ruled in February 2007 that the country's financial police had invaded the privacy of LTV journalist Ilze Jaunalksne and awarded her 100,000 lats ($47,000) in damages; a government appeal of the verdict was pending at year's end. Jaunalksne, who broke a story on government corruption the previous year, had her private mobile phone conversations tapped by the financial police, who then leaked the transcripts to the newspaper Neatkariga Rita Avize. At the end of 2007, the prosecutor's office was reviewing whether criminal conduct had occurred. Neatkariga Rita Avize is widely believed to be controlled by the powerful mayor of Ventspils, Aivars Lembergs, who has faced investigations for corruption.

In June, LTV management dismissed Arta Giga, the director of the weekly influential news program De Facto, which has run stories critical of the government. The dismissal, which was allegedly over relatively minor offenses, occurred shortly before a referendum on two controversial national security amendments and raised concerns among press freedom and corruption watchdog groups over the politicization of public television. The move followed a restructuring of LTV begun in 2006 that was viewed as compromising journalistic and editorial independence. In December, the general director of LTV resigned after a documentary critical of Russian president Vladimir Putin was abruptly pulled from the station's lineup. The program, which was originally scheduled to air the day before Russia's parliamentary elections, was broadcast a few days later. While the official reason provided for the delay was "technical problems," there were widespread allegations that the government had exerted pressure following complaints from the Russian Embassy.

Latvian media are diverse and competitive, offering a wide range of political viewpoints. There are four national terrestrial television channels: two public channels, LTV 1 and LTV 7, and two private stations, LNT and TV3. A number of privately owned radio and television outlets operate on a regional basis. Primary broadcast media are required to use Latvian, while secondary broadcasters may reserve up to 20 percent of their airtime for non-Latvian-language (Russian) programming; these requirements apply to terrestrial services only. The print media, which include a large number of both Latvian and Russian-language papers, are independent and privately owned. Foreign companies, including Swedish firms, own or control a considerable portion of Latvia's print and broadcast media, as well as media distribution and printing facilities; in May 2007, LNT was purchased by News Corporation, the media conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch. Transparency of media ownership is not adequately protected by law, and information on owners of media companies, some of whom are believed to be affiliated with political or economic interests, is not easily available in practice. According to the market research company TNS Latvia, Latvia's media advertising market volume increased by 24 percent in 2007 compared to 2006; television accounted for 35 percent of Latvia's total advertising market share, followed by newspapers with 22 percent. The government does not restrict access to the Internet, which was used by an estimated 47 percent of the population during the year.

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