Latvia shuts down Russian broadcaster over Ukraine war coverage

TV Rain studio in Moscow, Russia. File photo

Russia’s last independent television channel, TV Rain, has been shut down in Latvia after less than five months on air. The channel, which is known as Dozhd in Russian, has been accused of showing content that supports Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

TV Rain has called the allegations “unfair and absurd” in a post on social media. It has been ordered to stop broadcasting on 8 December.

TV Rain says it will obey the order but will remain on YouTube, which is where most of its audience watches its content. However, it will no longer be able to broadcast on cable television inside Latvia, which has a large Russian-speaking population.

The National Electronic Media Council (NEPLP), Latvia’s media regulator, said the decision to revoke the licence was taken “in connection with threats to national security and public order”.

Earlier this month, the regulator fined the channel €10,000 ($10,488) for displaying a map in which occupied Crimea was shown as part of Russia’s territory.

It was also censured for calling the Russian army “our army” in a piece about how to provide recruits with supplies. One of the broadcaster’s hosts, Alexei Korostelyov, was fired as a result.

Journalists at TV Rain say it is “absurd” to suggest that the channel has anything other than an anti-war stance.

The decision has also been criticised by many opposition figures in Russia, who argue that TV Rain is an important source of independent information for Russian-speakers about the war.

“There is Putin, who started the war. There is TV Rain, which tells the truth about Putin and about the war. Stripping TV Rain of its licence only helps Putin,” said Kira Yarmysh, press secretary to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The channel, which has long been critical of President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government, was blocked in Russia in early March, just days after Moscow invaded Ukraine. Many employees then fled Russia, and later started work on rebuilding Dozhd abroad. It is one of several independent media outlets to have moved its operations to Latvia.

Exiled journalists from the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta launched a new publication in May this year, while German public broadcaster DW relocated its Moscow-based operations. The Meduza news website has been based in Latvia since the Ukrainian crisis began in 2014, after reporting restrictions were imposed in Russia.

Latvia’s State Security Service (VDD) has been investigating the incident at TV Rain and said it has repeatedly warned about the “various risks emanating from Russia’s so-called independent media relocating their activity to Latvia”.

The VDD said these risks include the possible connections of media representatives to Russian intelligence and security services, as well as the danger posed if Moscow sought to target Latvia as part of measures to influence public opinion online and elsewhere.

Commenting on its decision to revoke TV Rain’s broadcasting licence, NEPLP added that it “was convinced that the management of TV Rain did not understand the nature and gravity of each individual infringement, nor of any set of infringements”.

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