LRT chief talks achievements, challenges
In an interview for the EBU, Monika Garbačiauskaitė-Budrienė, Director-General of LRT, talked about some of the recent achievements and challenges facing the Lithuanian pubcaster.
“In 2018, LRT embarked on a complex and comprehensive reform aiming at offering high-quality, competitive content, adapting to new digital trends and extending our online presence. When I joined LRT as a CEO, its web portal had been totally abandoned and ranked number 16 in the market, which was a shameful position for a public service broadcaster.
Today, LRT is among the top four most popular web portals in Lithuania with more than 1.22 million real users per month at the end of last year. We achieved this goal with a strategy built on quality, integration of content from all LRT platforms on the web and providing access to LRT’s extensive digital archives, not with clickbait. In addition, a new online news service LRT ENGLISH has been launched and the web service in Russian has been improved. From 2020, LRT has also operated an online platform dedicated to Lithuania’s diaspora.
LRT’s news services were restructured, and we continue to invest in their development, with greater integration of news services and training reporters to work for all platforms. In 2021 we also opened a correspondents’ bureau in Brussels to offer Lithuanian audiences a better understanding of what is going on in Europe and the world.
We have also established an investigative journalism unit and a solutions journalism project, using the EBU’s know-how. LRT has been running projects to combat disinformation and promote media literacy, as well as other initiatives that contribute to a more mature and democratic society. Recently we introduced a new project “LRT is listening”, which aims to engage better with our audience and build proximity.
Through all these efforts, LRT has transformed into one of Lithuania’s market leaders in terms of content and audience engagement. In 2020, our main TV channel LRT TELEVIZIJA ranked second in terms of audience share for the first time since ratings began. According to public opinion polls in 2020 LRT received the highest evaluation of the country’s seven media groups in all the characteristics assessed: promotion of culture, education of audiences, reliability, efficacy, objectivity and modernity,” Garbačiauskaitė-Budrienė described some of LRT’s achievements.
About the challenges for LRT: “Apart from the ongoing pandemic that we have to live with, I think that many of our challenges are also playing out across Europe. We live in turbulent times with social media that can be divisive, political extremists, and populists splitting society and instigating anti-media sentiment. We saw this in August during the anti-vaccination protests in Vilnius. Trust in mainstream journalism is decreasing and journalists are increasingly perceived as enemies of the people and the target of assaults: from the streets of Vilnius to Paris and Amsterdam. As a result, media freedom is becoming more vulnerable, and so are our democracies.
In such an environment, it is very important that all media, in particular PSM, demonstrate the greatest possible honesty, transparency, and impartiality, keep the closest possible contact with their audiences and leverage their capacity to enhance cohesion and unity.
Beyond these societal issues, we face many challenges related to changing consumer habits, technology disruptions, big international competition and new players in the market. We need to compete for audience attention with an ever-growing number of news channels, and to attract and engage with our future audiences - kids and young adults -who look elsewhere for entertainment and news. This is a challenge for all media, including public service media (PSM).
To summarize, our biggest challenges are fighting fake news, maintaining trust in media, engaging with audiences, raising standards, showing that we are impartial and charting a course in an environment of growing fragmentation and competition. Last but not least, we need to face the increasing costs of content development and acquisition due to the impact of tech giants and international media players.”
The LRT chief also commented on the conflict with the Lithuanian commercial media: “Leading commercial media outlets filed a complaint with the EU Commission over our funding arrangements and raised questions about LRT’s public service remit on the internet. However, our remit is defined by our mission. We do not work for a profit. Our goal is to fulfil our mission and operate exclusively in the public interest. A public service broadcaster must reach out to various groups of society and people of different ages, nationalities and convictions through a plurality of topics and channels.
LRT has to adapt as consumer habits change and more people look for news in the digital space and on social networks. We must be where our current and future viewers, listeners, and readers are and ensure public access to information through the channels and platforms used by our audience.
We will lose future audiences if LRT is prevented from being on the Internet and platforms. It is a very dangerous path and I hope that the European Commission understands this and will take into account the broader context of digital transformation and changed habits of information usage. Lithuania is a small country and a young democracy, making the role of LRT particularly important. Thus, if we limit our presence and remit on digital platforms and the Internet there will be very negative consequences for the whole of society. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) urges media to be more present online to tackle fake news, provide quality information and be a high-quality alternative. PSM have proven their indispensable role during Covid. I hope that we will not go back as society has changed and their needs have changed.”
Monika Garbačiauskaitė-Budrienė also said she is satisfied with the funding model of LRT: “I think that we have a good model. Most of our income comes from State budget revenues from taxes. We do not need to go to Parliament every year to confirm our budget and expose ourselves to possible political interference. LRT’s budget is automatically calculated as a fixed share of taxes collected by the State and it guarantees our independence. We receive only a small share of income from sponsorship. Our content is not loaded with any advertising and this distinguishes us in the media landscape. I believe that it is important to have a clean environment without commercial messages. Our audience loves it!
On the other hand, it makes us dependent on a single source of funding. But if the government does not try to limit the allocations from the State budget then the model is good although it is criticized by commercial media as our budget has increased in recent years due to economic growth and increased tax collection.
However, LRT remains underfunded compared to other EBU Members. We are at the bottom of the EBU PSM funding scale. We have been underfunded for many years and you can see this from the high number of repeats we still have to show, especially in the summer. We have expanded our online activities and therefore need more resources. What annoys commercial media the most is that audiences like LRT because of the quality of the content and the lack of commercial messages.”
About the COVID crisis she commented: “Every crisis is a good opportunity. The pandemic has been the most serious real-time exercise for testing a public broadcaster’s ability to adapt and operate in extreme and unpredictable crisis conditions. It required the efforts of the entire LRT team and we passed this test with distinction.
We used the time to focus on things we wanted but had no time for, including our online presence, packaging our archives and more. Covid showed that we were well prepared to work remotely. Some of our journalists were already working remotely, so it was a smooth transition for everyone including managers. The issue of paramount importance was the safety of our people. I am pleased that 90% of our people got vaccinated overnight, which is one of the highest rates in Lithuania.
The Covid crisis has shown that there is a great need for LRT content and that we are indispensable. We had to replace schools and the church, inform, entertain and educate people. The pandemic has also highlighted the value of public service broadcasters around the world as a trusted source of news. I am delighted that the public also considers LRT as the most objective and reliable source of information.”
The full interview is available at https://www.ebu.ch/news