The Baltic republics continue the battle with “enemy voices”, striking another blow at the TV set. Under the excuse of fighting Russian propaganda, the laws limiting radio broadcasts are being adopted and the favorite TV channels among the Russian-speakers of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are being banned. Incapable to draw a coherent information policy, the Baltic elites are resorting to the last argument – censorship and limiting information – thus, aligning themselves with the most totalitarian regimes where the political instruments are bans.
The Lithuanian Radio and Television Commission (RTCL) is once again considering the possibilities to impose a one-year ban on the broadcast of programs by three Russian TV channels – NTV Mir Lithuania, RTR Planeta and Ren TV Baltic. In the Commission members’ opinion, the content of the mentioned programs violates “journalist ethics and also spreads warmongering and international hatred.”
Edmundas Vaitekūnas, the Chairman of the Lithuanian Radio and Television Commission:
“Ren TV is shut down in Lithuania for the first time, previously in the country the broadcasts of the international versions of the Rossiya and NTV channels were cut off for three months for the same violations. The Commission demands the rebroadcaster to admit the noted violations and refute the information that didn’t suit the RTCL. Our goal is to stop the Russian channels from spreading information illegal under the Lithuanian laws.”
Lithuania isn’t the only participant in the fight with Russian TV. Last April, the Latvian National Electronic Media Council made a decision to cut off Rossiya RTR channel for three months, and the First Baltic Channel (PBK), broadcasting in Russian, got repeatedly fined for “transmitting one-sided, impartial information about the events in Ukraine.” In September, the Latvian Saeima also adopted a law aimed at limiting the content of the Russian programs on Latvian radio stations.
The calls to fight the TV sets are constantly heard in Estonia too.
Maksim Rogalski, an Estonian TV journalist:
“The complaints to the channels NTV, RTR Planeta and PBK are obvious. They incite warmongering, do military propaganda and pour lies all over the audience. That’s why I believe that the urge of the Lithuanian state to protect its citizens from this poison is normal and justified. I’m sure it’s the right way and I think that Estonia must follow its neighbors’ example.”
Such prohibitive measures signify that, in conditions of the heated up external political situation, the authorities of the Baltic republics have set course towards rolling back democracy and the freedom of speech. To visually judge the whole absurdity of the bans on the access to information for its own citizens in a modern globalized world, you should look at the practices of other states, actively using censorship instruments in their information policy. And here Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, who just assumed the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, all find themselves in a company of not the most democratic countries.
Who are they, the teachers of the democratic Baltic states?
China: The Great Firewall
Traditionally, censorship is a natural element of Chinese culture. The Celestial Empire, famous for one of the most ancient cases of mass book burning (3rd century BC), still safeguards its citizens from the “ideologically alien disease.”
Today, Beijing keeps the giant Chinese segment of internet content under strict watch. The content of Chinese web pages is continuously monitored by the Ministry of State Security. “Dangerous” materials are immediately deleted, and access to the pages with ideologically malign content is blocked within minutes. Such a prompt reaction is maintained by an automatic filtration system and blacklisted keywords. In 2009, Beijing took a step further and legally demanded to install special information monitoring software on the domestically made computers. China bans the access to Western information channels such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
China not only guards its information space against enemy interference, but consistently masters and develops the instruments of soft power. To cultivate a positive image of the Dragon Empire abroad, the government of China created a whole system of party-controlled media in foreign languages. The newspapers and magazines are successfully published in Japanese, Russian, English, French and other languages, radio stations and TV channels are broadcast and internet websites are launched, all under the vigilant eyes of the Chinese government. This information policy follows the strategic goal of the Chinese leadership – the strengthening of China’s positions in the global information space.
Also Beijing actively uses blogosphere where ideologically-correct users debunk the anti-China propaganda. Thanks to the activeness of Chinese bloggers, pinpointing the information distortion in the Western media, Beijing has managed to obtain the retractions of stories about the Tiananmen Square events from German channels RTL and N-TV and the US tabloid The Washington Post.
Apparently, this is how the Baltic state should have battled the “Kremlin trolls”, of whose surge the State Police of Latvia has informed.
Obviously, the Chinese approach to media control, utilizing the so-called “guided openness” model, essentially limits the freedom of speech. Yet, unlike the Baltic republics, whose state channels lately have been cultivating blatantly anti-Russian sentiments, while the ruling elites’ confidant experts don’t stop discussing on dozens of similar shows, when will the “terrorist state” attacking Ukraine encroach on the Baltic “sisters” independence, the “information geopolitics” of China has a one useful feature – external non-confrontationalism. Avoiding the “Baltic” aggressiveness, China, with its intrinsic Asian trickery, skillfully uses the weaknesses of its opponents. For instance, the Chinese media broadcast for foreign audiences present the negative information on economy, political and social situation in the European countries, referring exclusively to the foreign news outlets,
Despite the numerous feeble attempts to confront enemy propaganda, like the frozen United Baltic Channel project, broadcast in Russian language, the “Baltic hawks”, jumping into information war, haven’t yet managed to reach the technicality and effectiveness of the Chinese propaganda apparatus. Not bothering to retract false information, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia limit themselves to general words about the “Kremlin propaganda” and simply shut down the broadcasts of the Russian TV channels, choosing the way of North Korean and Iranian options of information policy.
Iran: The Islamic Gloss
Nowadays Iran is able to flaunt the harshest censorship of the world web, as 35% of all internet sites are simply inaccessible for the country’s residents. Against the law are all portals containing women’s rights, political sites, blogs and sites with sexual content. In 2006, the Islamic Republic’s authorities imposed a ban on its population to visit such services as YouTube and Wikipedia, in 2009, the Iranian youth was deprived of the opportunity to talk to their foreign counterparts on Facebook. And in the beginning of last year, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ali Khamenei completely forbade men and women, who personally don’t know each other, to chat online, and issued a fatwa on the subject.
Since March 2011, when the mass protest rallies demanding President Assad’s resignation began to take place across the country, official Tehran imposed a total ban on independent coverage of these events. Foreign journalists were barred from entering the country, and the media staff, who tried to cover the protest activities, got subjected to arrests and assaults.
Along with the control over internet space, when censorship occasionally reaches absolute comical heights, religious institutions and the government bodies of the Islamic Republic control the information content for all other possible sources.
Music and cinema, artwork and paintings, all of it undergoes ideological scrutiny, and the glossy fashion magazines get the Iranian correctors to outright cover with paint the “shameful” female body parts, like shoulders and knees.
The Islamic Republic, unlike China, decided not to bother itself with “information competition” or debunking the anti-Iran propaganda, and just closed down all malicious, according to the current authorities, sources of information.
North Korea: The Juche Internet
All the content of 12 large newspapers printed in North Korea, 20 magazines, radio and TV is prepared by the Korean Central News Agency and dedicated exclusively to the statements and actions of the country’s political leadership, and only unleash harsh criticism towards the West, USA, Israel, Japan and South Korea.
The TV sets and radio receivers, sold in the DPRK, undergo special tuning to exclude the picking up of any frequencies other then the government and are equipped with a protective seal, stopping the ability to technically modify the devices. An attempt of such modification is considered a serious crime.
It’s not really correct to speak about internet censorship in North Korea, because largely internet just doesn’t exist there. Access to the world web is available exclusively to the ruling elite and the team of propagandists, whose objective is to popularize Juche ideas in the outside world. Although, common folks can access surrogate internet called Kwangmyong, which is comprised out of communist propaganda content.
A small number of foreign journalists every year are granted the right to enter the North Korean territory but they have to be accompanied on a daily basis.
The Baltic Prohibitionists
In the end, in terms of implementing information policy the Baltic states find themselves in “good company” of Eastern despotates. In the establishment of their own Orwellian world Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia aren’t even close to China that implements a complex approach towards the using of soft power to form its own positive image, as they are to North Korea and Iran that resort to banning the information sources, alien to the ruling authorities. And, unlike China, that stands out with its non-confrontationalism, the information aggression of the “Baltic sisters” (Grybauskaitė’s “terrorist state” is to name a few) resembles more Kim Jong Un’s rhetoric.
Following the examples of European Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the “fourth Baltic republic”, Ukraine, has taken the path of restraints and bans, where alongside with the shutdowns of the Russian TV channels, the government intends to relinquish the state TV channel Inter as well, for daring to show the Ukrainian citizens the New Year’s show with Russian artists Baskov, Gazmanov and Kobzon. The next step of the three Baltic states, with Ukraine joining them, should, apparently, be the ban on the correspondence with the Russian citizens, similar to the Khamenei fatwa.
Obviously, the tensest political situation dictates certain behavior tactics. But even in the conditions of information war it’s tactically much wiser to debunk a propaganda fake, compromising the enemy information source, than going down the path of information totalitarianism.
Because, aside from limiting of the basic freedom, the freedom to get information, the struggle of the Baltic elites demonstrates the lack of respect for its own population. What, are the residents of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia so naive that they cannot distinguish truth from lies and information from propaganda?
Translated by Alexander Shamshiev.