On Monday, 12 July, during reconsideration of the Law on Electronic Media, the Saeima changed the rules regarding the use of the official language and the inclusion of European audiovisual works in the broadcasts; the Saeima also specified the amount of commercials acceptable in the public electronic media and in social procurement broadcasts.
The new version of the Law requires not only national but also regional electronic media to make sure that at least 65% of all their programmes are in the official language. These programmes must constitute at least 65% of the broadcast time. This total will not include games, commercials, TV shops, and TV shop windows; however, news programmes will be included in this total.
In accordance with the Law, the national and regional electronic media will have to make sure that at least 40% of broadcast time of European audiovisual works is in the official language. A TV programme in a foreign language is also considered a programme in the official language if it is dubbed or voiced-over in the official language. The time devoted to commercials is not included in the 40%. The transition provisions of the Law stipulate that this provision will come into force as of 1 January 2011.
The Saeima also specified the amount of commercials acceptable on radio and television. During each broadcast hour, the time designated for commercials and TV shops (except TV shop windows) should constitute less than 20% of electronic media broadcasts. During each broadcast hour, the time designated for commercials should constitute less than 10% of the broadcasts of public electronic media and of the broadcasts or programmes created as part of social procurement.
The new Law has been drafted in order to set forth rules and regulations for the functioning of the electronic media under the jurisdiction of Latvia. The new Law includes a number of norms aimed at protecting the public interest and making the national mass media accessible to as many inhabitants as possible.
By ensuring freedom of speech and expression of opinion, as well as general access to information of public importance, the Law will enable all the inhabitants of Latvia to independently form their opinions on the processes taking place in the country. The Law will also help to consolidate society by implementing the provisions of the State Language Law, and it will promote the preservation and use of the Latvian language as the official language of the Republic of Latvia. Concurrently, it allows the mass media to use minority languages and other languages.
Under the Law, electronic media that distribute television broadcasts by means of cable television will have to provide television broadcasts of public media to cable television subscribers. This provision will also apply to television broadcasts of national electronic media which use terrestrial transmission equipment and are available to end users free of charge. The Law also sets forth that at least one channel of Latvian Television should be broadcast free of charge by at least one satellite; this provision will come into force as of 1 January 2012.
In order to make sure that local and regional television media are preserved after the complete switch over to digital broadcasting, the Law sets forth that these television media, using their technical capacity, will be allowed to continue broadcasting in the analogue mode until 31 December 2013, provided that such broadcasting is technically possible in the relevant frequency and does not disrupt television broadcasting in the digital mode.
The Cabinet of Ministers will have to submit to the Saeima a draft law that will regulate digital broadcasting after 1 January 2014. Then the electronic media will have to decide whether to distribute their broadcasts in the digital mode themselves or to choose a merchant to distribute their broadcasts. Lattelecom, Ltd., the merchant chosen by the Cabinet, will broadcast digital television until 31 December 2013.
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