Every year State budget grants over EUR 20 million to public media for ensuring the public service remit, while in reality this budget is badly managed and is not based upon comprehensively examined public needs. The aforementioned was established by the State Audit Office during the audit on the implementation of the public service remit.
There is a lack of a common approach in the planning thereof at the National Electronic Mass Media Council (NEPLP), Latvian Television and also Latvian Radio. The State Audit Office believes that the process of planning the public service remit, which is the responsibility of the NEPLP, should be organised as a shared set of activities that primarily must conform to public needs and interests, instead of separate parts according to the organisation of work at Latvian Television (LTV) and Latvian Radio.
The thematic division of broadcasts is based more on historical principles, it has been adjusted to the current public media structure and the staff at LTV and Latvian Radio, instead of comprehensively and professionally examined public needs. The performance audit conducted by the State Audit Office raised doubts about whether such planning is a sufficiently qualitative approach for the public service remit.
Auditor General Elita Krūmiņa emphasises: “In planning the public service remit, currently there is a strong impact of money and traditions. Worldwide practice in planning the public service remit, however, stipulates the requirements to the planner of the public service remit to ensure qualitative examination of the broadest public needs. Thus, the quality of the public service remit is determined by the ability of the NEPLP to examine public needs and values, as well as to study the media capacity to implement and balance them with the State funding opportunities. If the aforementioned is not ensured, part of the population is seeking for and finds other sources of information. No space remains empty.”
The public service remit must conform to the diverse community needs and interests, therefore it is highly important to study these aspects and to go beyond the assessment of the opinions and needs of the current audience as it has been done so far. In the view of experts, the notion ‘public benefit’ is one of the most crucial aspects to understand the meaning of the public service remit and to see how well public media have managed to serve the society in general. This means that the medium must be capable of balancing the duty to fulfil the task of the public service remit by concurrently preserving freedom and responsibility for the creation of such content that is considered by the public as necessary.
The State Audit Office concluded in the audit that currently there is no regular testing of the public benefit in Latvia. Even if such testing is conducted at LTV and Latvian Radio, it is done only partially. The NEPLP has not laid down the procedures by which such tests could be carried out, therefore public media perform the public benefit tests irregularly and in limited extent. The State Audit Office concluded in the audit that already in 2012 the NEPLP had clear understanding based upon the best practice of other countries regarding the approach in organising the public benefit tests, yet currently this approach is neither being developed nor used.
Although the public service remit formally is built in conjunction with the development planning documents established by the NEPLP and public service remit guidelines, fundamentally it is formed by the list of broadcasts grouped according to editorial board, topics and channels. The system established by the NEPLP to monitor the use of funding granted to the public service remit is sufficient to account for the use of the State budget funds according to the codes of economic classification, but it is not sufficient to assess whether the public service remit is implemented economically, because there is no clear and complete information on the use of the State budget funds and costs related to the creation of broadcasts.
Both public media share different understanding about what aspects are to be included in the costs related to the creation of the public service remit broadcast. Moreover, also the NEPLP does not request a common approach in this matter. The financial plan of the public service remit of the radio covers only costs related to the remuneration disbursed to the creators of broadcasts, LTV – remuneration, travel costs, service and material costs, technology costs, etc. This prevents proper assessment of whether the funds granted to public media are used effectively and they are not redirected for other purposes.
The planning of the public service remit, in fact, is conducted by LTV and Latvian Radio individually. Meanwhile part of events of national importance are not covered in the public service remit plan, yet additional funding is granted from other State institutions. In 2016 and 2017, LTV and Latvian Radio this way received EUR 2.2 million. In the opinion of auditors such activities conform to the tasks of the public service remit and therefore ought to be planned in due time and financed within the scope of the public service remit.
The State Audit Office, upon concluding the audit, has submitted certain recommendations to the NEPLP and by implementing the mentioned recommendations it will be possible to improve the administration of the public service remit, examination of the community needs and to develop contemporary pubic media through collaboration with the boards of public media.
In order to ensure the public service remit, funding is granted from the State budget: in 2017, EUR 7.4 million was granted to Latvian Radio, whereas EUR 14.5 million – to Latvian Television.