New collaboration seeks to counter disinformation in the media

Expression

As part of efforts to combat the problem of disinformation, Lithuanian news outlets have now formed a joint platform Demaskuok.lt or debunk.eu in English. The platform has been created in the context of rising concerns about the extent and impact of Russian-sponsored disinformation campaigns through media in the Baltic states. The initiative brings together Lithuania's Military Strategic Communications (STRATCOM), the seven largest media outlets in the country as well as Lithuanian civil society actors. The platform functions through algorithms flagging potential disinformation, volunteers reading and rating the potential threat and sending flagged information to journalists along with their comments.

Deutsche Welle reports that there has been some concerns about the initiative’s work. In an article published at the end of September 2018, DW said:

“The platform has "debunked" controversial topics, such as Lithuania's complicity in the Holocaust, which were ultimately labelled as disinformation and dismissed as false. Such incidents could force journalists to censor themselves and stop questioning confirmed historic narratives or controversial events to avoid the disinformation tag.”

In a separate development, in November 2018, Lithuania's public broadcaster refused to air a music video of a well-known Lithuanian pop-rock band Skamp.  The video portrayed couples, including same-sex couples, showing affection. In Lithuania, a law (adopted in 2010) prohibits "any public information which encourages a concept of marriage and family other than the one stipulated in the Constitution of Lithuania". A spokesperson for the national LGBTI rights organisation LGL said it was a “shame” the Skamp’s video was banned. They said:

“The refusal to broadcast Skamp’s music video is… an institutional dread over a possible violation of the law.”

Peaceful Assembly

On 9th December 2018, 6,000 people marched through Lithuania's capital Vilnius to show solidarity with more than a thousand teachers currently striking for higher wages. The teachers’ strike lasted for weeks during late 2018. Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis blamed the strikes on the Kremlin and on the opposition. On 11th December the parliament approved a 2019 budget that does not meet demands of the teachers. Inga Aksamitauskaite, Project Coordinator at NGO Information and Support Center, told the CIVICUS Monitor that there was no police aggression reported against the striking teachers or the protesters. In fact, the freedom of peaceful assembly is adequately ensured in Lithuania, both in theory and in practice. Many feel, however, that the current government is not responding to the demands of protestors and is not engaging in a conversation with people demonstrating their dissatisfaction on the streets.

Association

Lithuanian civil society continue to enjoy good support from the government. On 5th December 2018, International Volunteers Day, the Lithuanian parliament housed a forum on volunteering during which the speaker publicly praised the indispensable role of non-profit organisations in Lithuanian society. In our last report on Lithuania, the CIVICUS Monitor had reported about a proposed new funding initiative for civil society. The NGO Information and Support Center (Nevyriausybinių organizacijų informacijos ir paramos centras) recently told the CIVICUS Monitor that, as of late 2018, the initiative was still under discussion. Under Lithuanian law, people can direct 2% of their income tax to non-profit organisations. However, in 2018, only 38% of taxpayers did so. The NGO Information and Support Center believes that funds from those that do not expressly declare 2% of their taxes for a specific NGO should be used to fund national level NGO networks. This would ensure that less visible causes, as well as research and advocacy, receive adequate funding.