Latvia announced Tuesday it was revoking the license for exiled Russian independent channel Dozhd, or TV Rain, for multiple violations that included showing the annexed Crimean peninsula as part of Russia.
The channel, which moved to Latvia after Russian authorities blocked its broadcasts for critical coverage of the war in Ukraine, dismissed the accusations as “unfair and absurd,” saying that it would remain on YouTube.
“TV Rain will stop broadcasting on December 8,” Ivars Abolins, head of the Latvian National Electronic Mass Media Council said on Twitter.
“The laws of Latvia must be respected by everyone,” Abolins added.
The network, which was founded in 2010 as the main opposition channel in Russia, is also accused of supporting Russian soldiers, which the channel denies, and failing to ensure Latvian language translation, the LETA news agency reported.
“The TV channel will stop broadcasting on cable but will remain on YouTube,” Rain said on Twitter in response. “We continue to work and believe all accusations against us to be unfair and absurd.”
The regulator’s decision can be appealed.
The press advocacy group Reporters without Borders (RSF) condemned Latvia’s decision, saying it was “unworthy of a European country that defends press freedom.”
“Censorship of independent media undermines the struggle against Kremlin propaganda, which is the aim of the Latvian authorities,” RSF said on its website.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “Some always think that there is a better place than home, that there is always more freedom than at home. This is one of the clearest examples that shows that these are wrong illusions.”
Asked about Latvia’s decision, the United States declined to weigh in, but praised its ally’s support for Ukraine.
Latvia has offered “impressive leadership” on Ukraine and in supporting Russian journalists who provide “truthful, independent information about the toll, the scale, the scope of Russia’s brutality inside Ukraine,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
“We think it’s important that Russian audiences inside Russia have access to this type of information,” he told reporters in Washington.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, fear of aggression from Moscow has grown in Latvia, a neighboring Baltic country that spent decades as part of the Soviet Union and where a quarter of the population are Russian speakers.
The Latvian government had offered refuge to TV Rain, and by mid-July, its programs were back up and running, having been blocked in early March in Russia.
The channel’s declared mission was to provide independent information and counter Kremlin propaganda.
Several other newsrooms have also found refuge in the Latvian capital Riga, including Novaya Gazeta Europe and Deutsche Welle’s Moscow branch.
The city has also hosted independent news website Meduza since 2014.
But the Latvian regulator had warned last week that the channel was at risk of losing its license due to “repeated violations.”
Last Friday, TV Rain was fined 10,000 euros ($10,500) for broadcasting a map which showed the Crimean peninsula, annexed from Ukraine, as part of Russia, the National Electronic Mass Media Council said.
The regulator also launched a probe into TV Rain’s call for viewers to provide “equipment to those Russians who are on the frontline,” expressing “hope that we could help with equipment and basic amenities on the front.”
Latvia’s State Security Service said it was investigating the channel.
“Taking into account crimes committed by Russian occupying forces against Ukraine and its people, any material or financial support to the aggressor country is illegal and may lead to criminal liability for financing war and terrorism,” the service said.
TV Rain editor-in-chief Tikhon Dzyadko said at the time that the channel “does not engage in providing any help to the Russian army” and that it was collecting information about Russian war crimes.
Under Latvian legislation TV channels can lose their license if they break the law three times within a year.