New research from the Global Disinformation Index (GDI) shows how Latvia’s vibrant media market presents a high risk of disinforming their online readers.
These findings are based on analysis of 23 Latvian and Russian-language media sites, including some of the highest-traffic and most used sites in the country (see Figure 1).
GDI conducted this study with the Centre for East European Policy Studies, Austrumeiropas politikas pētījumu centrs (CEEPS – APPC), between March and June 2020.
Figure 1: Media sites assessed in Latvia (in alphabetical order)
Only one site—www.rebaltica.lv—was rated as having a ‘minimum’ disinformation risk. It scores perfectly when it comes to presenting unbiased, neutral and accurately titled articles on the site. The site also has many of the key operational policies in place, including information about its funding and ownership, guidelines for user-generated content, and a statement of editorial independence (although it does lack a clear process for correcting errors). Online users also perceive it to be a fairly accurate source of news and information.
Three sites were rated with a ‘low’ level of disinformation risk, including sites in Russian and/or Latvian. These sites also score well overall for publishing non-sensational content, but they lack a few of the operational checks and balances that are considered critical for running an independent and accountable newsroom.
Risk levels range from 1 (minimum risk) to 5 (maximum risk). The media sites assessed in Latvia tend to either perform very well or very poorly when it comes to combating disinformation risks.
Figure 2: Risk Ratings for Latvian Media Sites
GDI’s study found nearly two-thirds of sites present a high risk of disinforming readers. This high to maximum risk group includes sites that are published in Latvian and Russian. Many of these sites publish biased content, thus creating an opportunity to manipulate their audience. The highest-risk domains within our sample consist largely of sites that score poorly on the credibility of their content. They also entirely fail to meet universal standards for editorial and operational policies. These same sites publish stories not covered by other outlets and often publish in Russian. This practice helps to create informational asymmetries for certain groups in the country.
This is the first report done in Latvia to assess the disinformation risks of its active and bilingual media market. It applies the GDI methodology for assessing disinformation risk in three areas: the reliability of the site’s content, the site’s operational checks and balances, and how informed online readers perceive the overall context of the sites. Only the top performing sites are named in the report.
The overall market risk score across the three pillars for Latvia is 49 (see Figure 3). Latvia is one of 10 countries which GDI is assessing in 2020 using this methodology. Its score is lower by nearly 10 points as compared to the findings just released for Estonia. Additional country risk rating reports will be released by the GDI in the coming weeks and will allow for further comparison with Latvia’s risk assessment.
Figure 3: Average Pillar Score, by Risk Rating
The findings for Latvian media sites show a polarised distribution when it comes to disinformation risks. Some sites show very limited disinformation risks, while many sites face significant challenges.
Many sites in Latvia do not have all of the operational checks and balances in place which are needed to create safeguards against disinformation risks. Other areas for improvement that create common disinformation flags across the sample include the failure to publicly disclose a site’s sources of funding and its owners, as well as the failure to publish statements of editorial independence. Such information helps to establish an editorial buffer between a site’s owners and advertisers, and its content creators.
The report’s findings serve as a roadmap to address the risk areas that were found.
Our assessment of the disinformation risk of news sites in Latvia finds a fairly polarised range of risks. While two-thirds of the sites show high to maximum risk levels, only four sites fall in the mid-range (i.e. medium risk). Despite this, Latvian media sites typically demonstrate low risk in our framework when it comes to indicators that assess the reliability of content. Still, these domains’ overall ratings are brought down by operational shortcomings, especially for transparent information about a site’s true or beneficial owners, its funding, and other operational and editorial policies.
GDI hopes to work with news sites and media bodies in Latvia to put into practice policies and other actions that will help to mitigate the country’s unique disinformation risks.
If you are interested in learning more about this study or GDI’s work, please contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org.