On October 25th, 2014 the national LGBT* rights organization LGL applied to the European Commission (EC) under the European Union (EU) directive infringement process. A formal complaint, prepared in collaboration with the European LGBTI organization “ILGA-Europe”, states that the Lithuanian authorities have violated the EU Treaty, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) while disproportionately limiting the LGBT* community’s right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression. This right is guaranteed to every European citizen, regardless of, inter alia, sexual orientation, and the protection of minors cannot constitute a disproportionate infringement of this principle.
A number of legislative restrictions have contributed to LGL’s decision to address the European Commission (EC). Two Lithuanian commercial channels refused to air a video clip, produced by LGL, which is a part of a social campaign “Change It”. This video aims at challenging negative attitudes towards the local LGBT* community. On September 15th, 2014 the experts of the Lithuanian Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics decided that the video has detrimental effect on minors. The Lithuanian television channels thus concluded that the social video can only be broadcasted after 11 PM marked with “S” symbol (i.e. “adult content”).
On October 23rd, 2014 LGL appealed to Vilnius Regional Administrative Court, requesting to revoke the decision by the Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics that social video on LGBT* issues should be restricted under the controversial Lithuanian Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effects of Public Information. On October 27th, 2014 Lithuanian news agency “BNS” reported that the court had decided to dismiss the LGL’s appeal on the grounds that the document, issued by the Office of the Inspector of Journalist Ethics‘, is just a recommendation and do not cause any rights or obligations. LGL will appeal Vilnius Regional Administrative Court’s judgment to Supreme Administrative Court Of Lithuania.
Guided by the relevant provisions of the Treaty of the European Union, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, in accordance with international human rights obligations and, in this case, the Directive 2010/13/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council (Audiovisual Media Services Directive), the EU is committed to respecting, protecting and promoting the freedom of opinion and expression within its borders. The Audiovisual Services directive establishes the duty to ensure appropriate protection of minors in Article 27, and Recital 60 indicates that this must be balanced with freedom of expression.
In addition to implementing their duties under the scope of the Article 27 of the Directive 2010/13/EU, the Lithuanian authorities need to comply with the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the implementation of the EU law as well. The broadcasting restrictions of the above mentioned video are excessively restrictive, i.e. contrary to the Articles 11 and 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
According to the Executive Director of LGL Vladimir Simonko, freedom of opinion and expression are fundamental rights of every European citizen: “Indispensable for individual dignity and fulfilment, these rights also constitute essential foundation for democracy, sustainable inclusive development and participation in public affairs. All member states of the European Union, including Lithuania, have an obligation to respect, protect and promote the rights to freedom of opinion and expression.”
The censorship of the above mentioned video is only the latest instance of similar decisions, which severely limit the freedom of expression for LGBT* community in Lithuania. Under Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the European Commission has the power to take legal action against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations under the Community law.