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Lithuania: Head Of State Radio, TV Resigns, Cites Political Pressure

  • Valentinas Mite

The head of Lithuania's state radio and television company last week tendered his resignation, saying political pressure from the country's parliament had made his job impossible. But some critics have countered with accusations of their own, saying the official was incompetent and was running the state-owned company like a commercial enterprise.

Prague, 10 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Valentinas Milaknis, the director-general of Lithuanian National Radio and Television (LNRT), said parliamentarians had interfered with his work and prevented him from pushing ahead with key reforms.

Milaknis built a successful career as a businessman before accepting the LNRT post in 2001, where he aimed to reduce the company's enormous debt and make it an efficient news organization.

But from the start, Milaknis met with resistance from the ruling Social Democrats. Andrius Kubilius, the former Lithuanian prime minister and a member of the Conservative Party, said the ruling majority considered Milaknis and his team a political nuisance. "Perhaps his political views were different from the ruling majority, and the ruling majority took the LNRT [under his leadership] to be a kind of political challenge," Kubilius said.

Milaknis told RFE/RL that increasing political pressure from the ruling coalition of Social Democrats and the less influential Social Liberals eventually forced him to resign after just two years in the post. "We felt a growing wish among some members of the now-ruling coalition to put pressure on us. It was permanent. Some concrete, destructive actions were taken to try to change the law on Lithuanian National Radio and Television. These efforts haven't stopped with my resignation and will continue until the composition of the [LNRT governing] council is changed. I have no doubt about it," Milaknis said.

Milaknis said the pressure from officials like Rolandas Pavilionis, the head of the parliamentary Education, Science, and Culture Committee, made his work impossible. He said he spent much of his tenure defending LNRT against numerous attacks, including frequent requests for financial audits and directives about what the national broadcaster should and should not report.

Most recently, Milaknis said, Pavilionis organized a public demonstration against war in Iraq and asked the LNRT to promote the protest. "There was a small rock concert there. There weren't many people. But [Pavilionis] said we didn't [properly] advertise it and that's why so few people had come. He wanted us to promote the event as much as possible. All we reported was that a group [of protesters] had gathered. He was unhappy with us. There were more such incidents. He also rebuked us for not inviting the opposition during televised debate on NATO membership, [which isn't true]," Milaknis said.

Pavilionis admitted that he asked Milaknis to promote the antiwar rally but said he did nothing that could be considered improper. "People are protesting against the war all over the world," he said.

But Milaknis said parliamentarians have no right to interfere with the work of the LNRT. According to Lithuanian law, the director-general of the LNRT reports only to the LNRT council, which consists of 12 members: four selected by the president, four by the parliament, and four by influential civic organizations like the Catholic Church and the Writers Union.

Council members serve a term of six years, which is two years longer than a parliamentary deputy. This means the council and the parliamentary majority are not always in sync politically. Currently, the council and parliament are divided on a number of political issues.

Pavilionis said politics is not to blame for Milaknis's resignation, adding that the former LNRT head simply lacked the competence necessary for the job. He said Milaknis managed the LNRT as though it were a private for-profit company and ignored the broadcaster's deeper mission and cultural aims. "[Milaknis] was appointed to fulfill the mission of National Radio and Television: to give information about culture, politics, the economy; to try to educate the society, not to do business. He took the worst standards from commercial television channels and turned Lithuanian National Radio and Television into one more commercial channel, one, in this case, that was subsidized by the state," Pavilionis said.

Pavilionis admitted that Milaknis has been successful in reducing the LNRT's debt but said the national broadcaster should not put earning money above promoting culture.

Milaknis, for his part, said Pavilionis is using cultural concerns as a pretext for pressuring the company, adding that the broadcaster actively promoted national culture and recently launched a new television channel broadcasting cultural programs exclusively. "The ruling majority is not so concerned about culture or the so-called mission of the LNRT," Milaknis said. "They only want to have a loyalist to lead the company."

Pavilionis said Milaknis's resignation is not enough to force radical change at the LNRT. He said the parliament is now likely to introduce a new law that would allow it to make changes in the composition of LNRT council. He said the council should consist of well-known Lithuanian intellectuals, artists, scientists, and businesspeople.

Kubilius of the Conservative Party said a number of intellectuals already sit on the council but may not be considered sufficiently loyal to the ruling majority. He said Milaknis was doomed because of the reforms he initiated at the LNRT: restructuring the company and reducing staff, many of whom found moral support among the ruling coalition. When the LNRT began to earn money from commercials, private channels likewise took their complaints to the parliament.

Milaknis said Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and parliamentary head Arturas Paulauskas knew the LNRT was coming under fire but refused to step in. "I think the action against us was taken with the silent approval of the ruling majority," he said. "Pavilionis is only their front man."