We assisted SIA Novadu Ziņas, which publishes the regional newspaper Neatkarīgās Tukuma Ziņas, to address the Competition Council regarding suspicion of a violation of the principle of neutrality in competition in municipal operations and creating advantages for another regional newspaper. The principle of neutrality in competition is a norm that was included in the Competition Law quite recently; it requires public persons not to block free competition and not to grant unreasonable advantages to any person.
Concerns that the municipality imposes restrictions on journalists
Journalists from the newspaper Neatkarīgās Tukuma Ziņas faced restrictions on freely visiting the City Council building and detected that information on municipal activities, which had not been announced publicly, appeared in other publications. As a result, they became suspicious that the municipality had a variable attitude towards different newspapers. So the newspaper asked the Competition Council to become involved.
Conclusions by the Competition Council
In the decision, the Competition Council agreed to the newspaper’s arguments that the mass media is unable to carry out economic activities without access to comprehensive information. If this access to information is restricted without reason, the mass media may be forced to cease economic activities and leave the relevant market.
Having assessed the explanations given by the municipality, the Competition Council did not detect a violation of neutrality in competition in these particular circumstances. However, the Competition Council initiated discussions with the municipality and reminded it about the significance of the mass media in a democratic society and the need to ensure equal competition in the mass media environment, also inviting the municipality to periodically assess the potential risks of infringing neutrality in competition.
This case again proves that potential infringements of neutrality in competition committed by public persons should not be ignored. If private parties take a pro-active stand and do not dodge the opportunity to address the Competition Council, this will increase the possibility that principles of fair competition are applied in areas where activities of public parties are highly significant.