Television programs are expensive to produce, but if employed properly, they can be effective instruments of Russian information warfare. Moscow uses such entertainment products to promote a Russian point of view on particular issues, advertise a sometimes idealized view of Russia, or evoke nostalgia for Soviet times.
The Lithuanian Radio and Television Commission (LRTC) analyzed the country’s 11 main TV channels between 6-12 March in order to establish where their programs were originating from. The LRTC calculated their transmission time after excluding the time devoted to news, sporting events, game shows and advertising. It found that that two well-established commercial channels, Lietuvos Rytas TV and BTV allocated on average more than 35 percent of their airtime to Russian entertainment shows. On 6 March, that ratio reached 44 to 49 percent. The other TV channels aired programming from the following: Russia (0-7 percent); Europe (23-51 percent); Lithuania (21-100 percent) and the United States and elsewhere (16-60 percent).
According to a Lithuanian law, Provision of Information to the Public, “TV broadcasters must, where practicable, reserve at least 50 percent of their transmission time, excluding the time appointed to news, sports events, games, advertising, teletext services and teleshopping, for European works.” The clause “where practicable” allows the TV channels flexibility in following this law. Experts note
that it is morally and ethically up to those TV channels where they source their programming, and whether they prefer to keep their viewers in the “Russian information colony.”
When journalists asked
those two commercial TV channels about their policies, the management of Lietuvos Rytas TV refused to respond. BTV explained that Russian-made content is much cheaper than Western information products. Since their production is subsidized by the Russian government, these can be considered the products of Russian state-owned channels. In addition, Lithuanian viewers want Russian programming. Baltnews.lt
, a Russian-language propaganda website in Lithuania, asked why Lithuania’s main TV channels have become “loudspeakers of the Kremlin and Putin’s propaganda.” The site noted that the amount of transmission time those TV channels devotes to Russian programs has doubled over the past 10 years.
Conservative Party members of the Lithuanian Parliament, who initiated this analysis of Lithuanian TV programming, also claim that in recent years, the country’s TV channels have significantly increased the airing of Russian pop culture products. As a result, Parliament plans to tighten the law’s language by removing the clause “where practicable” and oblige TV networks to devote at least 50 percent of their transmission time to European programming. The lawmakers also may consider making the nation’s commercial TV channels produce a certain amount of programming by themselves.
The current case poses the question of whether Lithuania’s huge amount of Russian TV programming results from a Kremlin policy of expanding Russian influence in the country, or is a market response to consumer demand, or perhaps both. A more definitive answer depends on evidence about viewers’ preferences—especially when given other choices—and the impact this programming has on viewers’ political views.