Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Latvia gets another badge for banana republic repression

Well, Latvia got what it was “working” for – a drop of 20 places to 50th place in the world in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. It was in “good” company, just three places behind the 47th place United States, which has disgraced its own benchmark First Amendment press freedom protections by arresting journalists covering the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in several cities.
Latvia earned its sharp drop, according to Reporters Without Borders, for two incidents this year – a raid by anti-corruption police on the newspaper Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze (NRA) and the detention, for 48 hours, of the editor of a website in Latvian which exposed what it claimed was suspcious e-mail correspondence between Riga mayor Nils Ušakovs and the Russian Embassy.
Unfortunately, I missed the NRA incident in this blog, or perhaps I thought that an investigation by the anti-corruption police (KNAB) was justified, since the newspaper is effectively controlled by Ventspils mayor, oligarch and accused money-laundered and economic criminal Aivars Lembergs. I may have been wrong.
In any event, if you scroll back through what I have posted during 2011, there is plenty of reason to consider the freedom of expression (not just the rights of journalists) to have been dragged down to the level of a black humor banana republic by several actions of the authorities. So this ranking is well deserved, though I am more worried about the decline of press freedom in the country where I grew up – the United States. I frequently refer to the clear language of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law...”. That, for me, sets the standard for freedom of the press and speech, and it is very disturbing that the US cannot live up to its own standards. What can one expect of Latvia.
Nonetheless, respecting the rights of journalists and the freedom of expression is a low cost enterprise. Just let them be. And it has been proven possible in a country with much the same historical experience and “post-Soviet” political culture as Latvia – it's neighbor to the north, Estonia, ranked number three in the press freedom index after Finland and Norway. Another lesson not learned by a country that seems to want a downward spiral into cheap-ass (no concentration camps, just petty and stupid repression) banana republic status.