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Latvia suspends Russian TV channel for alleged ‘hate speech’

April 7, 2016

Latvia’s broadcast regulator on Thursday said it was taking a Russian-language TV channel off the air in the Baltic state for six months, claiming it has incited hatred and made anti-Ukrainian statements.

“We believe that hatred and… hate speech cannot be justified by the right to freedom of expression,” said the NEPLP regulator’s chairwoman Aija Dulevska, naming the channel as “Rossiya RTR” in a statement.

The decision came just a week after the EU member shut down the local website of Russia’s state media outlet Sputnik, focused on foreign news, calling it a “propaganda tool” and questioning the credibility of its reporting on the Ukraine conflict — claims the Russian foreign ministry denied.

The NEPLP said it had found “serious breaches” of regulations by the Russian channel including “incitement to hatred based on race or nationality” and had thus decided to ban broadcasts of the channel for six months.

The NEPLP singled out two broadcasts from January and July 2015 that it said featured anti-Ukrainian sentiments and misleading information about Latvia’s ethnic Russian minority, which make up about a quarter of its two million population.

The regulator said it had notified the channel’s management in Sweden, where it is registered.

Ukraine and the West have repeatedly accused Moscow of waging an “information war” to justify its backing of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its meddling in eastern Ukraine have triggered concern in Latvia and fellow Baltic states Estonia and Lithuania, which emerged from nearly five decades of Soviet occupation in the early 1990s.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.