Latvian operator drops Russian channels over sanctions

By: AFP      Published: 08:42 PM, 1 Feb, 2021
Latvian operator drops Russian channels over sanctions

Latvian telecom operator Tet said Monday it was dropping several Russian television channels from its digital terrestrial broadcast and cable TV offerings because of international sanctions.

The company said in a statement that it would no longer carry NTV Mir, Ren TV, two Russian movie channels and Baltic-based PBK.

"Despite our repeated attempts, we could not obtain legally correct information about the beneficiary of these channels, which may be connected with persons under international sanctions," Tet said in a statement.

Latvia's State Security Service conducted several raids on PBK last year following claims that it might be connected to Yury Kovalchuk, a Russian billionaire under US and EU sanctions over his support for Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Kovalchuk has been described by the US Treasury as one of President Vladimir Putin's "cashiers".

Around a third of Latvia's population speaks Russian as a first language.

Governments in ex-Soviet Baltic states frequently accuse Russian state-controlled channels broadcast in their countries of spreading disinformation and Kremlin propaganda.

"Tet's decision is welcome. It will diminish the pressure of Russian propaganda in Latvia," Ivars Abolins, chairman of the broadcast watchdog agency NEPLP, told AFP.

Abolins said  his agency was now checking the beneficiaries of all other foreign television channels that rebroadcast in Latvia, which might lead to further restrictions.

Tet is the biggest voice, data and TV services provider in Latvia and is owned by the Swedish telecom Telia and the Latvian government.

It is also the sole operator of terrestrial digital TV coverage in Latvia in addition to providing cable TV and on-demand-TV services.

The company's turnover exceeds 200 million euros ($242 million) a year.

According to Kantar research, PBK was the third most watched TV channel in Latvia in 2020, while NTV Mir and Ren TV Baltic were fifth and sixth.

The three channels together account for about 15 percent of the TV market in Latvia.