Audrius Matonis
© DELFI / Domantas Pipas

The head of the LRT Television news service Audrius Matonis admits – earlier even heads of state and partners abroad ridiculed the supposedly excessive attention to information warfare and Russian distributed disinformation. But now, he says, both the Lithuanian public and politicians have reached an understanding. Furthermore professionals from the West refer to the Lithuanians for advice.

A Delfi interview with A. Matonis – on information warfare, youth in LRT broadcasts, Lithuanian news media and the Panorama trademark.

Matonis is noted for being a long term head of the news service, which had a frequent rotation of leadership, until his now 8 year long term. Today the LRT news service has a staff of 100, with offices around Lithuania. The service produces a total of 12 different shows per day, amounting to 7 hours of content every workday, making LRT the channel broadcasting the most news coverage in Lithuania and the Baltics.

Moving on to the topic of censorship, propaganda and fake news, the head of the LRT news service explains that such matters are daily routine. The service has looked into the processes behind the three phenomenon in an attempt to deconstruct them and reveal the mechanisms creating them. Matonis stresses that this was begun well before it entered the discourse of Lithuanian politicians and heads of state, with some in fact ridiculing the news service supposedly excessively featuring discussions of information warfare and Russian disinformation.

In the present, Matonis points out, it would be laughable to deny or doubt the reality of information attacks on Lithuania and the rest of the free world. He explains that it took the Russian aggression on Ukraine for many politicians to realise how serious the situation was, that the country and its people are targets of information attacks. Equally Western partners needed to be convinced that Lithuania is not paranoid, Rusophobic or entrenched in painful historical trauma. Now, however, professionals from the West are left needing to ask their Lithuanian counterparts to share experience on coping with the situation at hand.

The interview also focuses on the topic of funding, with the news service being heavily hit by government spending cuts during the financial crisis, ranging from a loss of staff, many of whom departed to the private sector to the need to shut down the service’s office in Brussels, which was chosen over shutting down regional offices. Regarding this, Matonis notes that the service managed to cope, especially given that the flow of information from Brussels is abundant, with the service receiving information from major global news agencies and actively participating in the European Broadcasting Union’s exchange programme.

The financial situation has been gradually improving, with a number of staff returning to the news service, but the service’s head notes that while there would be those who would celebrate the reopening of the Brussels office, particularly diplomats and state institutions, at this point the funding can be better spent on gathering information from further afield, given the advantages of widespread rapid, wireless internet and reduced travel prices. “Be it US elections, a terror act in Paris, the Brexit referendum in Britain or war in Ukraine, we have been in all these places,” Matonis summarised, explaining that in the end his service is used to bare minimum financing, among the lowest in the EU.

Another topic discussed is the future of the media, both overall and in Lithuania. Matonis points out that there is little need to be concerned with the declining viewership of television news because according to him the broadcasting platform is unimportant and there is little difference in his eyes whether people watch Panorama on a black and white TV, a large LCD screen, a tablet or a smartphone because they are still going to be watching the same content prepared by the news service.

“We sometimes do not realise that the revolution has already happened. And it happened without any dramatic or tragic shocks. I myself have long noticed that I no longer watch live broadcasts – digital television allows me to rewind and watch news shows and movies at a convenient time. Is this more television or computer? Does this mean I no longer watch television?” he said.
Finally the interview concludes with a discussion of the development of Lithuanian news media, with A. Matonis also being one of the founders of the Baltic News Service news agency in 1992, currently the largest in the Baltic States.

Matonis cites vast improvements in all facets – journalists’ technological prowess and universality, their capacity for self-expression, as well as the technology available. He points out that only the core remains the same, the mandatory good virtues of a journalist – conscience, hard work and curiosity. What matters, according to him, is what you focus on – ridicule and negativity or the opposite – motivation and positivity, both in terms of staffing and in the content broadcast. Matonis stresses the need to focus on the future and progress, expecting positive change.

He points out that while the LRT may only have the third most popular news broadcast in Lithuania, he is certain it is of the highest quality and when key events happen, audiences tune in to specifically LRT news. The head of LRT news adds that pop music concerts may gather greater crowds than those of classical music, but that does not mean classical music is of lower quality or less necessary.

“Panorama is a well-known, valuable and respected “trademark”. “Trademarks” of such weight sometimes begin an independent life. In the recent Vilnius book fair there was opportunity for self-ridicule that such a “trademark” would only need to release a roll of toilet paper or record a washing machine on vinyl – it would still be bought out and autographs would be requested. But only once. Such a trick would not work for a second time. I do not want such a fate to befall the Panorama “trademark”. And this keeps me on my toes to not rest on my laurels, to strengthen the reputation of a modern, reliable, fair and objective broadcaster, to be open to novelty and help it become a part of daily life for the benefit of the country and the people,” Matonis concluded.

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