Thursday, September 22, 2011

Latvian talk show host booted after 16 years for calling politicians "whores"

Kārlis Streips, a Latvian-American  host for Skats no malas (A View from The Sidelines), a talk show featuring local journalists, has been fired for calling the Latvia's Green and Farmer's Union political party "whores" (maukas in Latvian). Streips made the remark in his first post-election Monday evening show. He has been hosting the show, featuring himself and three Latvian journalists (in rotating, different groups) for the past 16 years.
While Streips guests have represented different political views and included both Latvian and Latvian-speaking representatives of the local Russian media, the host (who worked for local TV in the US before moving to then Soviet Latvia in the late 1980s) often ended the program by talking directly to the camera and saying what he thought about the issues under discussion -- from politics to admonishing his viewers not to drive and drink (on the Midsummer holiday).
The management of Latvian Television accused Streips of violating rules against prime-time vulgarity and a breach of good taste. However, viewers now able to turn off the Latvian voice-over on interactive cable TV can hear a stream of obscenities when watching certain American ir British films. Also, Streips "vulgarity" was political speech, not his attempt to wrap up his Monday evening show with an Eddie-Murphy style tirade.
Comments on internet portals have been generally favorable to Streips and have accused Latvian TV of political censorship. On Twitter Latvians have created a hashtag #maukas. Some observers link his firing to the resignation of Ilze Nagla, the host and a reporter of De Facto, an investigative news program, and to the failure of LTV to renew its contract with Jānis Domburs, the host of a topical current events discussion program Kas notiek Latvijā? (What's Happening in Latvia). As one observer put it, LTV has been reduced to running just straight news programs, light entertainment and reruns from its past glory.
It is rumored that Streips may be quickly hired by the private, Swedish-owned channel TV3 where several frustrated LTV journalists have gone in recent years. The fact that Streips is controversial both for his opinions and the fact that he is one of a handful of openly gay public figures in Latvia (Streips is not an activist and generally low-key about his sexual orientation). He is seen as a workaholic who also runs a radio show and teaches journalist at the University of Latvia, as well as working as a translator and English language voice-over talent on some commercial and documentary films.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Liepaja municipal police harass Saeima candidate

Municipal police in Liepāja, a port city in Western Latvia harassed and detained Ansis Dobelis, a candidate for the Latvian parliament, the Saeima, in the September 17 national elections because he was approaching people on the street. Dobelis, a candidate from the centrist Unity (Vienotība) party reported the incident in his Latvian-language blog
In the blog post, Dobelis writes that he decided to walk around in Liepāja and personally approach city dwellers to talk about his candidacy. This is exactly how candidates campaign -- "pressing flesh" (shaking hands) and talking one-on-one with citizens -- in free, civilized societies. Liepāja and, perhaps, Latvia as a whole, is apparently not, nor will soon be, a free and civilized society.
Dobelis was detained by the Liepāja municipal police, questioned, photographed and had some kind of document prepared, but not shown to him, concerning his actions. The police said he was violating a city ordinance about posting political bills and holding campaign meetings in the town center. While there can be considerations of esthetics (posting placards on municipal or third-party property) and public order -- holding large rallies, etc., this kind of ordinance, appears, on its face, to be a violation of fundamental rights of free speech and assembly. It is even more offensive when used to attack the basic democratic process of election campaigning.
Unfortunately, a climate of hostility toward public political displays is partially fed by public discussions of the alleged necessity of forbidding most, if not all paid political campaigning, of drastically restricting forms of expression by candidates and reducing the race for the national parliament to a 19th century level of meeting hall gatherings with no coverage by electronic media and draconian controls the print media. While no one has actually called for anything that extreme, certain imprecise formulations of the need to limit campaign spending and contributions can have a chilling effect on expression and media contacts by candidates, and "heating up" effect on those looking for any excuse to repress free expression.