Local Media for Democracy — country focus: Latvia

Report authored by Anda Rožukalne and Jānis Juzefovičs, Riga Stradins University


In 2022 the Ministry of Culture commissioned a study into the regional and local media landscape in Latvia[1]. Data from this report were used to draft the document “Latvian Media Policy Guidelines 2023-2027”, which is currently available only to the stakeholders. The report has identified a shortage of local news provision in the capital city Riga and municipalities around it. While the report has been used by media policymakers, it has not triggered any wider debate, either among industry professionals or the public.

The Electronic Mass Media Law defines “regional electronic mass media” as “those whose broadcasting area of transmission of programmes is not less than 20 percent of the territory of Latvia”, while “local electronic mass media” are defined as “those whose broadcasting area of transmission of programmes is less than the area of transmission of regional electronic mass media”[2]. There is no local or regional press, or community media defined by law in Latvia.

Due to the small and linguistically divided audience (on offer are local media in Latvian, the official language, and local media in Russian, spoken at home by nearly 35% of the population), and the lack of large advertisers, traditionally one to two local media outlets have been operating in the municipalities. There are only a few media groups owning several local / regional media outlets, leading to the assessment that the risk level is low for regional media. While almost all the municipalities have their own local newspaper, there is a limited number of local and regional radios and TV stations, mostly concentrated around the major cities. The readership of local print media continues to drop steadily, and the frequency of publication of local newspapers is in decline.

In the capital city Riga and the municipalities around it there is either none or only one local or regional media outlet present. For this reason, Riga and its surrounding municipalities have been identified in this study as news deserts. These areas are not economically deprived areas, nor do they suffer from low internet penetration.

[1] Kantar. Report on the Latvian regional media market and audiences. Ministry of Culture. 2022. https://www.km.gov.lv/lv/media/30558/download?attachment

[2] Electronic Mass Media Law 2010, https://likumi.lv/ta/en/en/id/214039-electronic-mass-media-law

Main findings

Granularity of infrastructure of local media – Medium risk (55%)

The most common local and regional media outlets in Latvia are news websites and newspapers.  Newspapers usually also run their own news sites, and there is a significant number of online-only media outlets. Less common are local and regional radio stations and TV channels. The key player in the audio-visual local and regional media market is free-to-air news and current affairs RE:TV channel. It unites 12 local and regional TV channels. In the second largest city of Daugavpils there are several popular city-based news sites. This makes Daugavpils’ local media ecosystem different from other cities and towns where, as a rule, local and regional media outlets cover both rural and urban areas. While socio-political events related to national institutions in Riga are covered by the national news media, there are no specific media outlets dedicated to news about Riga. Media structure analysis shows that the municipalities around the capital city are underserved by local and regional media.[1]

Offices of local media outlets are based in towns and cities, but they usually cover the events taking place both there and in the surrounding rural area. According to Ivonna Plaude, Chair of the Latvian Regional Media Association,[2] the number of local journalists continues to gradually decrease. A shortage of editorial staff, scarcity of funding making it difficult to hire enough employees, ageing newsrooms, trouble attracting young journalists, low salaries, overwork, and burnout are idiosyncratic of the Latvian local and regional media scene.[3]

The public service media, Latvian television and Latvian radio, have only one regional branch and a limited number of regional correspondents, established by Latvian radio. The PSM does not run any local or regional radio stations or TV channels. This is assessed as a high risk situation. The only regional branch of Latvian radio is situated in the Latgale region and is run by Latvian public radio. It started its operations in 2016 and today has its own shows (e.g., current affairs, culture, and arts), as well as providing content for other programmes in Latvian, Russian and the Latgalian regional dialect. Public radio also has news correspondents in two other regions, Vidzeme and Kurzeme. Public television has only one regional news correspondent; she covers the Latgale region. To provide news of other regions, public television commissions content from the local and regional private TV stations. Bordering Russia, the bulk of the Latgale population speak Russian as their family language and are keen users of Russian-origin media content: Latvian media policymakers consider this a threat to social cohesion and national security. As a result, significant investmentsin the development of a commercial and public media presence in the Latgale region has been made at the expense of other regions.[4]

There is one news agency in Latvia, LETA, which has correspondents in the major cities in all the regions of Latvia. It does not have correspondents in smaller cities. Yet, as the size of the country is small, if necessary, journalists can quickly get to the scene. At the same time, this means that the news agency can, in the main, cover events in the regions that are of interest to the national audience.

[1] Kantar. Report on the Latvian regional media market and audiences. Ministry of Culture. 2022. https://www.km.gov.lv/lv/media/30558/download?attachment

[2] Ivonna Plaude, Chair of the Board of Regional Media Association, phone interview, 19. 04. 2023.

[3] I. Šulmane and L. Uzule, ‘Views of national and regional media journalists’, Diversity of Latvian Media Environment, V. Zelče (ed.), 117-135. Riga: University of Latvia Press, 2018.

[4] Ministry of Culture. Latgale media will receive additional funding to strengthen the information environment. Ministry of Culture. 2023-06-21. https://www.km.gov.lv/lv/jaunums/latgales-mediji-sanems-papildu-finansejumu-informativas-telpas-stiprinasanai

Market and reach – Medium risk (55%)

In general, the existence of the local media market and reach is threatened by several risks related to falling income level, a decrease in the audience due to migration, and negative birth rates. The work of local media is hampered by limited opportunities to invest in digitisation and innovation projects.

The overall readership of local print media outlets is not high, and the number of subscribers is in steady decline. Only 36% of those surveyed in 2022 say they have read local print media over the last month.[1] The overwhelming majority, 91%, have read printed versions while only 20% have read digital versions. Of those who read printed versions, 30% paid for a particular edition (newsstand sales) and 21% subscribed, while the rest obtained access to the outlet in other ways (via friends, at the workplace, library, school, etc.). Of those who read the digital version, 17% paid for a particular edition and only 5% subscribed, creating a high risk situation. It should be noted that less than half of the local print media outlets provide the opportunity to pay for a digital copy.

According to Ivonna Plaude, the total income of local and regional media has fallen by 20-30% over the past two years (2021-2023)[2], creating a very high risk, while the turnover has increased as the subscription fees and retail prices have been raised. Due to inflation, the actual salaries of local/regional media employees have decreased.

The production costs of the print press have increased significantly; paper and printing services increased from 17% to 20% over one year. At the same time, the income from advertising decreased by 35%, shown in data collected by the Regional Media Association.[3] Although digital advertising revenues are growing, income is still very low, and most, 75%, continues to be made from press subscriptions. Advertising revenues constitute 10% of income, creating a high risk situation, and state direct support (grants for quality journalism projects provided by the Media Support Fund) makes up 11%. The income for digital media has slowly increased, but in figures it makes up a very small part of media outlets’ revenue. The same can be added about audio-visual media.

State advertising is not defined and regulated in Latvia.[4] Commenting on the issue of state advertising, Ivonna Plaude emphasises that the advertising campaigns created by state institutions, which are distributed by professional media agencies based on commercial rather than social responsibility principles, reach the local media in a very small way. Another big problem for local media is the impact of global platforms on the advertising market. About 80% of the population of Latvia use social networking platforms, so local media with small audiences are not considered serious players in the eyes of national advertisers. A large part of social advertisements related to issues of public interest, such as nature and environmental protection, public health, traffic safety, are placed on social networks.

The situation of local media is affected by the general economic condition of the country, which showed signs of a mild recession in 2023.[5] Even more so, the global Covid-19 pandemic negatively affected the income of local and regional media: the number of subscribers fell and the income from newsstand sales dropped. Historically, the development of the local press was negatively affected by informative leaflets issued by local municipalities; for a considerable time these contained journalism-like content and were delivered to all residents of the region free of charge. In all regions, municipal information publications have been used to strengthen the influence of local political power. This has affected the culture of media usage in the regions, as part of the audience gets used to free information, thus undermining the local press,[6] leading to a high risk assessment in this regard for the sake of this study.

Plaude also complained about the poor quality of the postal delivery service. Because of the lack of resources, local newspapers are often delivered late or not at all. This, Plaude thinks, is the main reason for a decrease in the number of subscriptions.

The quality of postal delivery also affects the frequency of publication of local newspapers; only one newspaper continues to publish five times a week, while others have moved to less frequent publication, only two or three times a week.

Two media outlets have closed recently. In 2019 the Alūksne and Maliena municipality newspapers merged, while a year later, in 2020, the newspaper Kursas Laiks in Liepāja city closed (its news portal Rekurzeme, though, continues to operate). This situation has been assessed as medium risk. In December 2023, the newspaper of the Dobele region (in the south of Latvia), Zemgale, issued twice a week, announced its closure,[7] ceasing its subscription campaign, giving an insufficient number of subscribers and the unstable financial situation as reasons for its decision.[8]

Since 2017 local and regional media can obtain direct state support for the creation of quality journalism content. This is administered by the Media Support Fund (MSF). MSF has a separate programme dedicated to the support of regional and local media; thus, the risk level is assessed as low. According to an interview with Kristers Plešakovs, Head of the Media Policy Unity at the Ministry of Culture, support for the industry is quite high, accounting for up to 20% of media income.[9] Ivonna Plaude estimated that state support creates between 10 to 20% of local and regional media income. Local media highly value the direct support of the state, while they are aware that it has not always contributed to innovation or higher quality.

Regarding indirect state support, local print media qualify for a reduced VAT (5%) and receive compensation for press delivery. This means that local media pay about 25% of the real press delivery costs, explained Plešakovs.

As for the local media viability, the Media Support Fund programmes provide opportunities for media companies to invest in innovations (formats, technologies, digitalised content etc.). In addition, the Baltic Centre for Media Excellence, a Riga-based NGO working in the field of media training and consultancy, provides support for local media management. Still, the opportunities described here are irregular and the media have to find alternative sources for innovations; thus, the state of funding sources for innovations is assessed as medium risk.

[1] Kantar, pp. 26, 29-31, 2022. https://www.km.gov.lv/lv/media/30558/download?attachment

[2] Phone interview with Ivonna Plaude, Chair of the Board of Regional Media Association, 2023-04-19.

[3] Phone interview with Ivonna Plaude, Chair of the Board of Regional Media Association, 2023-04-19.

[4] A. Rožukalne. Country report: Latvia. Monitoring media pluralism in the digital era: application of the media pluralism monitor in the European Union, Albania, Montenegro, the Republic of North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey in the year 2022. Florence: European University Institute, 2023. https://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/75728/Latvia_results_mpm_2023_cmpf%20%281%29.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

[5] Latvijas Banka [Latvian Bank]. Prognozes [Forecasts]. Latvijas Banka. 2023-09-29. https://www.bank.lv/darbibas-jomas/monetaras-politikas-istenosana/prognozes.

[6] Phone interview with Ivonna Plaude, Chair of the Board of Regional Media Association, 2023-04-19.

[7] S. Leitāne. ‘Pēc 56 gadu darbības laikraksts ‘Zemgale’ liek punktu’ [After 56 years of operation, the newspaper ‘Zemgale’ ends]. Delfi/ReTV. 2023-12-25. https://www.delfi.lv/55304686/retv-zinas-regionos/56218344/pec-56-gadu-darbibas-laikraksts-zemgale-liek-punktu

[8]  Guntars Līcis, executive director of the Association of Press Publishers, face to face interview (2023-12-13).

[9] Kristers Pļešakovs, Head of Media Policy Unit at Ministry of Culture, face to face interview with  (2023-04-19).

Safety of local journalists – Low risk (37.5%)

The safety of Latvian local media journalists is satisfactory, when considering that no physical attacks on journalists have been found. However, in line with the data of the Worlds of Journalism Study (WJS) (2021), local and regional media journalists admit receiving constant online threats.[1] 41% of regional and local media journalists surveyed by WJS admit they have been subjected to humiliating or hateful speech (11% encountered it often or very often); 32% experienced public discreditation of their work (10% often or very often); persecution, 3 % of respondents; 13% have experienced other types of threats or intimidation; 8% have experienced legal actions against them because of their work.

The Regional Media Association and the Latvian Journalists Association are the professional organisations that defend the interests of their members. Not all local and regional journalists and media companies are members of these organisations, still, regional/local media employees are represented on the boards of both organisations mentioned above, they participate in all media related events and discussions protecting their interests in the working groups of Latvia’s media policy development.

According to WJS survey data 2021, most local and regional media journalists have temporary job contracts and have access to social security benefits. The average salary of local media professionals is from 700 to 1,100 euros before tax; for about 60% per cent of the local media journalists this is less than the average salary in Latvia in 2021 (1,277 euro), thus the risk for local journalists’ working conditions is assessed as medium.

In a 2018 study journalists working for national, local and regional media complained about a significant part of their income being made by royalty (authorship) payments, which in contrast to a salary do not include full social tax payments and means they are less protected in terms of social security.[2]

SLAPPs are not monitored and analysed in Latvia. No information has been collected regarding court cases against local journalists.

[1] A. Rožukalne and L.  Ozoliņa. ’Complicated shades of contemporary journalism: perception of professional roles of Latvian’s journalists’. The 28th Biennial AABS Conference: Baltic Studies at a Crossroads. 2022-05-27. https://aabs-balticstudies.org/aabs-2022-in-seattle/

[2] I. Šulmane and L. Uzule,  pp.117-135, 2018.

Editorial independence – Medium risk (43%)

General media regulation protects media freedom and editorial independence, applying also to local/regional media. However, the regulatory framework cannot be considered fully effective, as indirect political control still may appear. More specifically, there are two regions in Latvia in which the local press has been indirectly connected with the influence of local and national politicians for some time: Daugavpils (in the East of Latvia), which is the second largest city in Latvia; Ventspils (in the West of Latvia), where the city’s only newspaper has long depended on the political position of the city municipality.

The criteria for direct and indirect state subsidies are clear, and the distribution of this kind of support is evaluated as effective. However, both the definition and the regulation behind state advertising are missing in Latvia, leading to a medium risk assessment. This is accompanied by a lack of data. The issue is actively discussed during meetings of the Ministry of Culture and media organisations on the development of brand-new media policy documents. Still, no decision has been made.

The financial and business environment described above makes local and regional media organisations vulnerable to commercial pressures. In a 2018 study journalists and editors of local media reported cases of major advertisers abandoning further cooperation because the media outlet had published material critical of them. Ivonna Plaude admitted in an interview that the small advertising income means that regional media try to adapt to the needs of commercial clients. There is no regulation, and local media admit sporadic and irregular commercial influence.

It can be stated that most of the local media follow professional standards of independence, fairness, impartiality, and accountability. When describing their degree of freedom while doing their work, local/regional media journalists in the WJS survey[1] show a high level of professional freedom. The Latvian Media Ethics Council rarely receives complaints about the ethical misconduct of local media outlets. Since 2018, when the Council was established, of 58 complaints it has reviewed only 6 cases dealing with the local media. Of these 6 cases, the Council ruled that its Code of Ethics had been violated in only 2 cases.  Also, among audiences, local media are qualitative and trustworthy sources of information.

However, there are some local media outlets with close ties to the local business/political elites and cannot be considered independent, leading to a medium risk rating. In terms of political influence, ties between media and politicians can be explained through ownership; through financing/sponsoring by politically influential persons; and by treating journalists according to their attitude towards local politicians (e.g., information denied in cases of tricky questions).

When specifically considering the action of the media authority vis-à-vis local media, and the independence of PSM at the local level, the situation appears to be a positive one. In the first case, a low risk is selected due to the independent and neutral decision-making practice of the regulatory body, which is applied to all media organisations, including local/regional media. In the second, PSM has a branch only in the eastern region of Latgale, which is deemed as free from the government or other political interference.

Finally, the content diversity of local/regional media can be assessed as average. Local media suffers from a lack of resources and employees, as Ivonna Plaude and Ingemārs Vekteris attest. As representatives of media organisations Plaude and Līcis relate that the quality/diversity of content is influenced by a lack of resources: small number of employees, high workload, difficulties accessing independent experts in a field, and a conflictual relationship with communication staff members/leaders in some local municipalities.

[1] A. Rožukalne and L. Ozoliņa, pp. 11-13, 2022.

Social inclusiveness – Low risk (33%)

Of its 1,875,757 inhabitants, 454,350 people living in Latvia are ethnic Russians, followed by Belarusians (57,319), Ukrainians (41,895) and Polish (36,276)[1]. 37.7% of the Latvian population report using Russian at home[2].

Public and private media provide news in Russian, which is the most common minority language in Latvia. This also includes news on local and regional affairs.

Public radio runs a Russian-language channel, which offers a wide range of content, including news and current affairs. Russian-language newscasts on weekday evenings are available on public television, and the PSM also offers a Russian-language news site. Nevertheless, public media struggles to attract Russian-speaking audiences, i.e., those audiences whose family language is Russian, and PSMs programmes are more popular among the Latvian audiences. Limited content is provided in other minority languages (e.g., Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish) on PSMs’ platforms, which includes news and current affairs, and news on the activities of related NGOs.

However, the kind of representation of minorities, in terms of tone and narratives, is assessed as medium risk.  Many studies show that the representatives of ethnic minorities are not sufficiently represented as sources of information in the content of PSMs and other professional media, thus, minority representation practices lead to evaluating the media content as insufficiently diverse and pluralistic.[3]

Along with national private Russian-language media, there are also private local Russian-language media operating. This is especially the case in the Latgale region, including local Russian-language radio stations, TV offerings, news sites and print media outlets. Some of the local media outlets are bilingual, with editions in Russian and in Latvian. 

Content for and about marginalised groups, such as the LGTBQ community, is offered by national media organisations, including some culture and philosophy-oriented national, niche media outlets aimed specifically at these groups, which reaches local and regional audiences.

Local media usually meet the critical information needs of audiences they serve. However, they often have insufficient financial and human resources to invest in quality, public interest journalism. Local print media outlets offer little news analysis and critical, watchdog type reporting.[4] Grants provided by the government-run Media Support Fund partly compensate this shortage.

Local media engage with their audiences in various ways. Ivonna Plaude listed these activities: local media organise on-site discussions on important local social and political issues; participate in the civic activities aimed at the protection of local nature and the environment; provide support for local culture by publishing books and organising events for local authors. Local media usually lack financial resources to commission large-scale audience research. Instead, they get feedback from their audiences in other ways: e.g., in-person communication or phone conversations, audience commentaries on the media outlet’s news site and social media accounts.[5] In line with a 2022 survey data, 55% of those surveyed say they trust regional media content.[6]

[1] CSB/LETA. Dažādu tautību iedzīvotāju skaits Latvijā 2022.gada sākumā [Number of inhabitants of various nationalities in Latvia at the beginning of 2022]. LETA. https://stor1.leta.lv/za-feb3f20/ig/c/8/6/c869ffe0-f097-4bf7-afed-4292e55cb8e0/index.62974f18f33b4.html

[2] Statistics, Latvia, 2017 data.

[3] S. Kruk and I. Skulte, ‘The Perils of Defense in an Information War: Media, Minorities, and the Threat Next Door’, in J. Chakars and I. Ekmanis, ‘Information Wars in the Baltic States’, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 187 – 204.  2022. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-99987-2; M. Kaprāns and I. Mieriņa, ‘Minority reconsidered: Towards a typology of Latvia’s Russophone identity’. Europe-Asia Studies, 71(1), pp. 24–47, 2019.

[4] For further discussion, see I. Šulmane and L. Uzule, ‘Views of national and regional media journalists’, Diversity of Latvian Media Environment, V. Zelče (ed.), 117-135. Riga: University of Latvia Press, 2018; Uzule 2018.

[5] Uzule, pp. 156-188, 2018.

[6] Kantar, p. 40, 2022.

Best practices and open public sphere

Only a few local media outlets experiment with innovative ways in content production, delivery, and audience engagement. The most common initiatives include participation in media development projects, offering consultancy with and mentoring by experienced national and international editors. This includes experimenting with their management/editorial procedures. Local media journalists often criticise local media managers of being conservative, resistant to change and, instead, preferring established, routinised ways of management. Young local media journalists, for instance, report resistance on the part of their managers to modernise (e.g., develop a web site, introduce new content) to attract young audiences.[1] There have been no citizen or civil society initiatives offering innovative journalism products and services in response to the decline of traditional local media.

[1] I. Šulmane and L. Uzule, 2018.

Map of Local Media Coverage in Latvia

This map shows the local media coverage in Latvia in 2022. You have the option to filter by media format and region. Hover over a region to view its media coverage, including a detailed breakdown of outlets by media format. Clicking on a specific region provides a detailed list of media outlets in the table below the map, complete with information on media format. The original data source for this visualization is Kantar, Pētījums par Latvijas reģionālo mediju tirgu un auditoriju, and can be accessed by clicking here. Additional note: The city of Riga was not covered in the original study of the local media market (only the regions outside Riga). However, it should also be pointed out that, de facto, there are no local media present in Riga.