“If something happens, get the media”: on mass media in Belarus

In September, the Committee to protect journalists has included Belarus in top 10 countries with the most rigid censorship. According to the Committee, “the authorities in Belarus are almost completely controlled by the media and the few independent journalists and bloggers are harassed and detained”.

In Belarus, ranked in ninth place of the list Committee, “the state has systematically pressuring influential media and individuals, often in public, arresting journalists, making raids on the wording and initiating criminal investigations of those who cover events.”

According to the report “press Freedom” non-governmental organization Freedom House, the Belarusian government has the authority to oversee Internet service providers (ISPS) to set the information security standards, conduct digital surveillance of citizens and control the top level domains in Belarus.

Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian Association of journalists Barys Haretski in an interview with RFI notes that so-called case of the Learned, instituted in 2018, when a number of Belarusian mass media was accused of unauthorized access to actually open the news feed of the state Agency, will long remind yourself.

Barys Haretski: Very much on the assessment of the Committee to protect journalists has affected business Learned. In fact, we analyzed the period from August last year to August this year, just for this period and got the main events that you can consider including as censorship, because it was inspired by BelTA state agencies to get independent journalists to make a move back to loosen them, lose confidence, lose sources of information that used to a greater extent worked with the independent media.

Thing Learned just well demonstrated our media space: in some months we can talk about liberalization, about the fact that no major incident occurs, and then starts a criminal case and in a jiffy detained dozens of journalists in dozens of apartments being searched, 15 people are accused, and all this translates into a huge criminal case. To say that in the Belarusian media have become much freer or were free — absolutely not necessary.

Just recently at a meeting with U.S. Deputy Secretary of state (September 17, Minsk was visited by the U.S. Undersecretary of state for political Affairs David Hale, his meeting with Alexander Lukashenko made the decision on restoration of diplomatic missions on the ambassadorial level — RFI) I talked about the fact that it is possible to state some, for example, short-term improvement, but after a week or two, these improvements can, here as in the previous year, to end the case Learned, just when all the efforts and changes in attitudes of collapse one more criminal case, and people go to jail.

RFI: Many analysts, experts, when talking about the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, noted that, most likely, we should expect “crackdown”, including on media space. Your opinion about this?

Always election campaigns in varying degrees, hit the journalists. Unfortunately, our Belarusian reality, our system works so that if something happens, you very often get journalists — whether it’s some street action or the coverage of some topics.

As for future campaigns, it is significant that in future the Belarusian Parliament has already stated its intention to get more odious media persons, who until recently were considered enemies of freedom of speech in Belarus, such as Gennady Davydko, the recent head of the BTRC, the recent Minister of information of Belarus Liliya Ananich, with a name which generally involves a huge number of alerts, different repressive measures. Most likely, they will be in this Parliament, and if they worked in the media, it is likely that they will be just the same in the Commission on media. If any laws, changes in legislation will be held during the next Parliament, all of these approvals will be held in the Commission — among these odious people. And it is clear that any liberalization of some normal spirit do not have to talk. Here is a recent interview of Gennady Davydko, in which people in 2019 declares that the Internet should be let by fingerprints.

Perhaps the crackdown, including the fact that now sound rhetoric of rapprochement with Russia, and it is clear that a certain part of society will oppose this, and doubt that the media will widely receive information about this: some of the protest opinion, the opposition is preparing a series of actions against these integration processes — so just power can once again see the enemy in the media that will cover this sharp, sore, unpleasant for Belarusians subject. And just, I think, the Belarusian society will actively speak on this occasion. It is already clear that after the first information people are very alarmed about that.

The look in recent months, the repressive context?

Here again it is necessary to note the positive. Despite the fact that we were in the top ten countries with the most rigid censorship, the last three months really marked a minimum number of incidents with journalists. Perhaps this had to do with host the Second European games, which probably created some kind of non-confrontational environments. Perhaps with the advent of the new Minister of internal Affairs of Belarus, but really until may, we had steadily a great number of courts, detentions. In principle, the statistics were, as last year every week we had a trial of one or another journalist who cooperates with foreign media. In may of these cases stopped, we have such a lull, it’s very nice. If this continues, although the illusions it is not necessary here to feed, because ahead parliamentary campaign and the parliamentary campaign is someone went off to the polling station, he was hit on the camera, a police officer, not knowing the law, someone is expelled, just the law enforcement agencies in such campaigns, in such moments, unable to react inappropriately, so to speak. But the last three months, it should be noted, was quiet.


At the same time, the work of Belarusian journalists of the two media — Belsat TV channel and radio station radio Racyja, which broadcasts from the territory of Poland, — Belarus remains outside the law. Regularly submitted applications for accreditation were not approved by the Belarusian Ministry of foreign Affairs.
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