Many foreigners and Russian migrants in European countries are discussing the ongoing situation with the Russian media outlet TV Rain, specifically its further broadcasting. The channel has been removed from the Russian Federation for covering the war and consequently moved to Latvia, but since has also been blocked there. As a result, there are many voices, especially Russian ones, screaming about how Europe is showing its Russophobia this way and damaging freedom of speech in the region. So, what happened, why did it happen, and what is next? Is there really any reason to be concerned about the freedom of media?
What happened to the TV Rain?
After a pause in their broadcasting, the channel decided to get a license in Latvia and broadcast as a cable network in the EU, meaning that their product would also be available in Lithuania and other EU states. Since then, the channel’s activity has already sparked several controversies among Ukrainians. However, the biggest scandal happened on December 1, when the channel’s host, Alexey Korostelev, was promoting a mail address for messages about the violations of soldiers’ rights during the mobilization in Russia, saying that he hopes that they managed to help many soldiers, for example, with the equipment or just with simple comfort on the battlefield. Even though TV Rain fired the host and publicly apologized for his statement, the Latvian Ministry of Defense said the channel’s license had to be revoked. Later, within a week, the Latvian Council on Electronic Media announced that it had revoked TV Rain’s license and had to stop its cable broadcasting on December 8. The Council stated that the channel had received four warnings linked to the following actions:
First: TV Rain did not dub its content in Latvian, which was one of the conditions for getting the Latvian broadcasting license.
Second: in one of the broadcasts, the channel showed the Russian map with Crimea included.
Third: in one of the broadcasts, one of the hosts called the Russian army “ours”, which is illegal as the Russian Federation is officially recognised as a terrorist state in Latvia.
Fourth: the aforementioned Korostelev’s commentary.
These four cases became the foundation for revoking TV Rain’s license. The migration authorities of Latvia are also considering revoking the visas of 13 channel workers. The reaction of the TV channel was that of devastation – on December 6, right after the announcement of the decision, TV Rain’s Director General Natalya Sindeeva recorded a video of her crying and asking Korostelev and two other journalists who resigned in solidarity with him to come back to the channel. She also apologized to journalists and viewers, saying that they acted in a f**ked up way and that maybe, after this statement, everything will fall apart because Ukrainians will not forgive us. But how did they and others react in reality?
The reaction in Ukraine, Russia, and abroad
Most Ukrainians not only supported the Latvian decision, but were euphoric about it. It is interesting to look at this through the prism of the current relations between Ukrainians and Russians. Even though TV Rain’s hosts participate in the Ukrainian national television news marathon from time to time, the media workers and activists are not only skeptical about their participation but about TV Rain’s activity in general. It is difficult to find a better example of just how different modern Ukrainians and Russians are, despite the myth of brotherhood nations that is still wandering through Europe like a ghost.
Even though Russian officials presented a very expected reaction to this, Russian commentators, activists and media space in general decided to take a strong stand against the decision of the Latvian authorities. They called the decision politicized and damaging to the freedom of media in Europe. Furthermore, some Russians blame Latvia for spreading Russophobia and aiding the Kremlin regime. As it turns out, they consider TV Rain a pillar of the fight against Russian government propaganda, a claim not supported by many Ukrainians as they see the channel’s content as neo-imperialistic. There are more than 100 Russian-language media outlets that support TV Rain, including Meduza, Novaya Gazeta. Evropa, Mediazona, Insider, etc. As one of their arguments, they use the fact that there are pro-Kremlin media in Latvia that still have their licenses to work in the country with more aggressive programming, for example, Aif Evropa. Alexey Navalny also publicly supported the channel, which has been used by the fans of the channel within the narrative for Latvia to change the decision, despite his controversial statements about the Crimea annexation in 2014.
The reaction in Europe is also not that unilateral. The Latvian Association of Journalists, for instance, also supported TV Rain saying that the decision to revoke the license is not adequate for the violations it has made. In its statement, it says there could be a better outcome if the channel were to retain its license whilst under strict supervision. They justify TV Rain’s actions with the lack of experience in work in Latvia, lack of understanding of public opinion and its importance in a democratic society.
As we can see, the situation seems to look very cloudy. But is it really that serious? Is TV Rain really disappearing forever?
What is next for the TV Rain?
The Russian liberal side of the media spectrum is calling the Latvian decision the closure or the death of TV Rain, but, in fact, that is definitely too dramatic for the situation. Yes, the license is revoked in Latvia. However, TV Rain also has studios in Georgia and the Netherlands. Learning from their past mistakes, it would not be an issue to move to one of these countries and try their luck there. Furthermore, the channel still has the rights to broadcast on YouTube.
It is also surprising that Latvia is being presented as a soulless monster in that case and that their media policies became such a surprise. People who professionally research the media landscape in Europe know that the Latvian law has become one of the toughest against fake news in recent years. It is one of the few EU countries at the moment where you can be incarcerated for spreading disinformation. It would be good for the channel’s management to research at least a small portion of the media law of the country where they want to work. Practice shows that it was not an exception to the rule explicitly made for this channel.
This situation is more important for the foreign audience to see what Russian liberalism is and what the Russian opposition is. As you can see, it is more of a ghost that is scared away by any slightest trouble. Yes, people make mistakes. It is more than understandable. However, it is so infantile to sit and cry for hours about how small that mistake was instead of facing the issue, learning from the mistakes, and becoming more resilient. The lack of license in Latvia is not the end of the world in the media space. But, in Russian fashion, instead of holding themselves accountable, they prefer trying to victimize themselves and blame the whole world for the mistakes they are making. Unfortunately, this approach is quite similar to the Kremlin worldview too.