Latvian Television struggles with its leadership

The final weeks of 2003 and the first few of this year have proven to be rough time for the state-funded Latvijas Televīzija (LTV). Uldis Grava, who left behind a career at Radio Free Europe to repatriate and take over running the public television broadcaster, has left LTV to work with Jaunais laiks, the party of Prime Minister Einars Repše. Grava’s last day in LTV’s towering headquarters on Zaķusala was Jan. 16.

Grava took over the reins at LTV in 2002. Although he might have had high hopes of getting the broadcaster in financial and professional shape, he met a lot of resistance from within and without LTV, in part because of misguided scoffing at him being a “foreigner.” It’s no wonder, then, that he decided to get out.

Unfortunately, even his last days were not to be quiet. Grava suggested that his replacement should be one Edgars Kots. LTV staff and media experts cried foul, urging the National Radio and Television Council to require that a search be done for suitable candidates, rather than merely appointing Grava’s heir apparent.

Why the concern? Because Kots has been director of the Rīga-based advertising firm Labvakar, which in turn tied him to Edvīns Inkēns, a former member of parliament and controversial journalist who now is chairman of the board for Latvian Independent Television (LNT). LNT is LTV’s chief rival in Latvia’s tiny broadcast market. Plus, critics pointed out, Kots doesn’t have a university degree, a requirement for the LTV general director’s job.

And, critics also noted, there’s the political subtext. Why should Grava, who is leaving a supposedly apolitical broadcaster to work for the prime minister’s political party, get to choose his successor? Doesn’t that suggest that his successor would be someone who is looked upon favorably by the political powers that be?

Although the radio and TV council decided Jan. 8 that it will conduct a search for Grava’s replacement, it nonetheless on Jan. 15 approved Kots, rather than LTV News Director Gundars Rēders, as acting general director. The council’s tie vote was broken by Chairman Imants Rākins, who, critics again noted, was appointed to the council by Jaunais laiks. (To be fair, Rākins is not without qualifications, having himself served from 1992-1995 as LTV’s general director.)

Clearly, some in LTV’s newsroom didn’t like that and, during the Jan. 15 evening news show “Panorāma,” let their opinion be known, likening what happened to how power is passed down in a monarchy. Rākins responded, calling the airing of the newsroom’s opinion unobjective and unethical, according to Baltic News Service. A case of the pot calling the kettle black? Perhaps.

What’s sad about the debate over LTV is that it isn’t serving to make the broadcaster any better. Latvia, in my opinion, needs a strong public broadcaster, one that can be sheltered from Jaunais laiks or whichever party is in power. Whoever becomes the next general director, whether it’s Kots or someone else, will still face the unenviable challenge of trying the steer an invaluable but troubled institution.

S magazine folds

Among the chores with the beginning of the new year was renewal of a number of subscriptions to Latvian magazines. One of them was S, a young women’s magazine my daughter has been reading for a couple of years.

But we were surprised to learn, in an e-mail from the Santa publishing house (publisher of a number of titles, including the popular women’s magazine Santa and the gossipy Privātā Dzīve), that S will cease publication after its March issue. The publishing house’s board last week decided to drop the title.

Even more surprising was the reason: competition from one of the best-known women’s magazines in the world, Cosmopolitan, published by New York-based Hearst Magazines International. If you haven’t looked at a Latvian newsstand recently, you too might be surprised to see that there’s now a Latvian edition of Cosmo. In fact, it’s been there since March 2002, put out in association with I&L Publishing Limited of Rīga.

S, with its combination of fashion, culture, sex and relationship advice, will be sorely missed by at least one young reader. Or maybe she’ll just start reading Latvian Cosmo.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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