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  • Coverage of the 2020 Presidential Elections in Belarusian Media. Final Report

    The Belarusian Association of Journalists

    Monitoring: The 2020 Presidential Election Coverage in the Belarusian Media

     Final Report

    (25 May – 20 August 2020)


    The report sum­maris­es the find­ings of the mon­i­tor­ing of the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cov­er­age in the Belaru­sian media.

    1. Intro­duc­tion

    2. Sum­ma­ry

    3. Key find­ings

    Nom­i­nees, can­di­dates and spe­cif­ic fea­tures of the elec­tion cov­er­age

    3.1 State-run media

    3.2 Direct access

    3.3 The elec­torate, inde­pen­dent media and their posi­tion­ing

    3.4 Inde­pen­dent media

    4. Assess­ments of the elec­tion in the media

    5. Con­clu­sions


    1. Introduction

    The mon­i­tor­ing was based on qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive analy­ses[1] of elec­tion-relat­ed con­tri­bu­tions to state-run and inde­pen­dent media.[2] Its goal was to pro­mote high pro­fes­sion­al stan­dards and objec­tiv­i­ty in elec­tion cov­er­age.

    It also aimed to draw the jour­nal­ist community’s atten­tion to the fact that it is jour­nal­ists’ and media’s pro­fes­sion­al duty to give vot­ers com­pre­hen­sive and unbi­ased infor­ma­tion about the elec­tion process, the can­di­dates’ agen­das and present a full range of their sup­port­ers’ and oppo­nents’ opin­ions.


    1. Summary

    •  The 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was marked by excep­tion­al­ly high vot­er engage­ment, which became clear in the ear­ly stages of sig­na­ture col­lec­tion for the nom­i­na­tion of some oppo­nents of the (no longer legit­i­mate) incum­bent.

    • The gov­ern­ment respond­ed to this engage­ment by arbi­trar­i­ly detain­ing and arrest­ing lots of cam­paign­ers, pub­lic activists and oppo­si­tion fig­ures. The high­est point prob­a­bly was the arrest of the most pop­u­lar pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Vik­tar Babary­ka and his son Eduard, who was in charge of his cam­paign. Crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings have been ini­ti­at­ed against anoth­er run­ner for pres­i­den­cy, Mr Valery Cap­kała.

    • The state-run media, in their turn, tried to shift the focus from the elec­tion, at the same time smear­ing its main actors, such as the oppo­nents of the incum­bent and their numer­ous sup­port­ers.

    • The Belaru­sian TV and radio news pro­grammes sel­dom high­light­ed elec­tion-relat­ed items. Their pri­or­i­ty was Pres­i­dent Lukašenka’s vis­its to dif­fer­ent places, his meet­ings with employ­ees of state-owned enter­pris­es, the mil­i­tary and law enforce­ment, and his speech­es to region­al author­i­ties, etc. It was only dur­ing the ear­ly vot­ing, i.e. at the final stage of the cam­paign, when the elec­tion became the dom­i­nant sub­ject.

    • The back­ground for elec­tion cov­er­age was Belarus’ achieve­ments thanks to the tal­ent of the pres­i­dent and the Belaru­sian peo­ple.

    • Apart from the achieve­ments in econ­o­my, social wel­fare, med­i­cine, and cul­ture, elec­tion cov­er­age in the state-run media was shaped by cer­tain pro­pa­gan­da clichés. For exam­ple, they pre­sent­ed the incumbent’s oppo­nents as a destruc­tive force, claimed that Belarus saw a well-orches­trat­ed cam­paign that aimed to bring the gov­ern­ment into dis­re­pute, and argued that Belarus risked los­ing its state sov­er­eign­ty.

    • Allu­sions to con­spir­a­cies were quite com­mon. For instance, the oppo­nents of the regime were viewed as plot­ters and dum­mies guid­ed by ‘pup­peteers’ from the East and the West through pop­u­lar video blogs and streams. The state-run media instilled fear of for­eign inter­fer­ence and par­ti­tion of the state into the elec­torate, pre­sent­ing these sce­nar­ios as inevitable in case the oppo­nents of the regime rose to pow­er.

    • The reg­is­tered can­di­dates were enti­tled to direct access to state-run media. The incum­bent, who was at the same time seek­ing re-elec­tion, how­ev­er, refused to address the elec­torate or par­tic­i­pate in debates. Instead, he gave his State of the Nation address to the Nation­al Assem­bly (Belaru­sian par­lia­ment [translator’s note]) dur­ing the ear­ly vot­ing. It was actu­al­ly a pre­sen­ta­tion of his agen­da.

    • As for the oth­er can­di­dates’ media appear­ances, they went on air at off-peak slots. Fur­ther­more, their sup­port­ers and oppo­nents were not giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­cuss their mes­sages in the state-run broad­cast media.

    • The can­di­dates’ media appear­ances were not pub­li­cised in advance. The TV and radio guides did not give their names. There was no infor­ma­tion about the exact time when each can­di­date was to go on air. The TV and radio guides sim­ply said, ‘Address­es of pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates’.

    • In con­trast to state-run media, their inde­pen­dent coun­ter­parts focussed on the key elec­tion actors, elec­tion dynam­ics and vot­ers’ active engage­ment. They also turned the spot­light on each of the can­di­dates and their polit­i­cal agen­das.

    • Oth­er impor­tant sub­jects also includ­ed pub­lic ini­tia­tives to mon­i­tor the vot­ing pro­ce­dure and vote count, as well as arbi­trary deten­tions of peace­ful pro­test­ers and inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists.

    • The assess­ments of the elec­tion giv­en by the state-run and inde­pen­dent media fol­low­ing the vot­ing day were polar oppo­sites. More­over, the ways in which they cov­ered the cam­paign, the vot­ing, its results, and the mass protests, when vot­ers took to the streets, out­raged by the lack of trans­paren­cy in vote count and elec­toral fraud, revealed an enor­mous divide in Belarus’ media com­mu­ni­ty.

    What fol­lows are actu­al facts and fig­ures that give an insight into the spe­cif­ic fea­tures and trends of the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cov­er­age.


    3. Key findings

    Cer­tain deci­sive events and devel­op­ments undoubt­ed­ly attract­ed plen­ty of pub­lic atten­tion to the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. In par­tic­u­lar, a num­ber of pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls with­out links to the tra­di­tion­al oppo­si­tion came to the fore and some of them rapid­ly rose to promi­nence. In addi­tion, part of urban pop­u­la­tion that was until recent­ly indif­fer­ent to pol­i­tics has dra­mat­i­cal­ly become politi­cised. Anoth­er impor­tant change is con­nect­ed with major shifts in the chan­nels and media that the elec­torate is now using to get infor­ma­tion. Last but not least, there were a lot of dras­tic events such as cam­paign­ers’ arrests, crim­i­nal cas­es opened against two lead­ing pres­i­den­tial con­tenders, with one of them, Mr Babary­ka, being arrest­ed, and deten­tions and arrests of pop­u­lar video blog­gers, civ­il soci­ety activists and polit­i­cal fig­ures.

    Nom­i­nees, can­di­dates, and spe­cif­ic fea­tures of elec­tion cov­er­age

    3.1 State-run media

    Unlike the pre­vi­ous pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, where the focus of media atten­tion had been on Lidz­i­ja Jar­mošy­na, the Chair­per­son of the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, this time it was Mr Lukašen­ka who made the most star­tling state­ments.

    To give just one exam­ple, the fol­low­ing quote offers an insight into the atmos­phere of the government’s harsh con­fronta­tion with some of its oppo­nents: ‘Some nom­i­na­tion seek­ers’ cam­paign­ers are abus­ing the right to cam­paign in order to knock the soci­ety off-bal­ance and desta­bilise the social and polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion; then they will form guer­ril­la groups and we can­not rule out the pos­si­bil­i­ty that they are will­ing to stage a brawl in the square.’ (Panara­ma, Belarus 1, 09/06/2020)

    In one of the Panara­ma news broad­casts, the pres­i­dent actu­al­ly said that force would be used to crack down on active mass protests: ‘We will bring back every­one to their sens­es in the right place at the right time. There will be no pow­er change in this coun­try, to say noth­ing of a Maid­an [a ref­er­ence to the wave of protests in Kyiv, Ukraine in 2013–14, when Vik­tor Yanukovich was oust­ed – translator’s note]!’ (Panara­ma, Belarus 1, 10/06/202010)

    The state-run media reg­u­lar­ly repeat­ed the accu­sa­tion that cer­tain con­tenders alleged­ly act­ed on orders of some HQs abroad. As the stage of col­lect­ing sig­na­tures for pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion was near­ly over, with one of the con­tenders already behind the bars, BelTA quot­ed the pres­i­dent as say­ing: ‘Masks have been torn off not only some dum­mies we had here, but also some pup­peteers sit­ting out­side Belarus.’ (https://www.belta.by/president/view/net-bolshej-tsennosti-chem-suverennaja-i-nezavisimaja-belarus-lukashenko-niko)

    Anoth­er spe­cif­ic fea­ture was the over­all emo­tion­al charge, which some­times bor­dered on apoc­a­lyp­tic visions. ‘This sum­mer the gov­ern­ment is going to take a hard exam­i­na­tion,’ said the Kon­tu­ry host in the open­ing remarks to one of his shows. ‘Peace, state sov­er­eign­ty and the future are at stake.’ (Kon­tu­ry, ONT, 07/06/2020)

    It may sound like a para­dox, but even though ten­sions ran high in the run-up to the elec­tion, the state-run media did not delib­er­ate­ly bring into focus elec­tion-relat­ed issues. As a rule, there were no spe­cial high­lights in the news on the radio and TV, the print media do not have rel­e­vant sec­tions, pub­lish­ing just some spo­radic con­tri­bu­tions. When elec­tion-relat­ed events were men­tioned, they were often placed in the con­text of the incumbent’s dec­la­ra­tions or referred to indi­rect­ly.

    The charts drawn as part of the mon­i­tor­ing illus­trate cer­tain spe­cif­ic fea­tures of the 2020 elec­tion cov­er­age.

    Focus on the ‘main’ can­di­date. The charts of the cov­er­age giv­en to the elec­tion actors show that Mr Lukašen­ka, who was at the time pres­i­dent seek­ing re-elec­tion, was in the lime­light in all the state-run media. For exam­ple, from 25 May to 8 August 2020 Nashi Novosti and Panara­ma news allo­cat­ed to him in total 75% of the air­time giv­en to all the elec­tion actors, while the cor­re­spond­ing fig­ure for Radyjo­fakt between 25 May and 8 August 2020 was 73%.

    The remain­ing state-run media, both elec­tron­ic and print, showed a sim­i­lar pic­ture. The small­er share of Mr Lukašenka’s media pres­ence was found only in the mon­i­tored region­al media.

    Ignor­ing or smear­ing the oppo­nents. The above­men­tioned trend was in stark con­trast with how the state-run media pre­sent­ed the oth­er pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls. They were some­times just men­tioned in pass­ing, i.e. when these media pub­lished or broad­cast infor­ma­tion about the reg­is­tra­tion of pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates. For exam­ple, the same per­cent­age (0.019%) of the con­tenders’ media pres­ence in the Mahiloŭska­ja Praŭ­da chart means that their names were just men­tioned in the infor­ma­tion pro­vid­ed by the CEC.

    At the same time, those state-run media that did give some cov­er­age to the con­tenders pre­sent­ed them in a neg­a­tive or high­ly neg­a­tive light. (This is visu­al­ized by the red bars in the charts for the state-run media.) 

    This type of assess­ment con­trast­ed with the pre­sen­ta­tion of the ‘main’ pres­i­den­tial run­ner, who received high­ly pos­i­tive, pos­i­tive or neu­tral cov­er­age (visu­alised by the green and white bars, respec­tive­ly).

    Low pri­or­i­ty of the elec­tion-relat­ed issues. Para­dox­i­cal­ly enough, the state-run media gave the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion low-key cov­er­age, at least for most of the cam­paign. How­ev­er, that was the fact, and the state-run media did so with good rea­son. The pres­i­den­tial elec­tion became a top pri­or­i­ty only dur­ing the ear­ly vot­ing, i.e. five days before the vot­ing day on 9 August. It was the time when the state-run media did not only try to mobilise the elec­torate to vote ear­ly, but also overt­ly and covert­ly cam­paigned for the incum­bent, who gave his State of the Nation address when ear­ly vot­ing was already under way.

    Here are a few exam­ples of such cam­paign­ing. ‘Vot­ers can sup­port their can­di­date dur­ing ear­ly vot­ing up to 8 August. You only need to show your ID,’ said the Panara­ma pre­sen­ter on 5 August 2020. ‘Polling sta­tions are busy today, among oth­er things because of the State of the Nation address the Pres­i­dent gave yes­ter­day, which has strong­ly res­onat­ed with vot­ers.’ (Panora­ma, Belarus 1, 05/08/2020)

    Here is anoth­er state­ment mod­elled on the same pro­pa­gan­da pat­tern: ‘Belaru­sians have been active­ly express­ing their posi­tion as cit­i­zens for three days already by going to the polls to cast a bal­lot for their can­di­date. It is con­cern for this country’s future that brings togeth­er all and every­one. The president’s State of the Nation address is still fresh in their mind, as his sin­cere words have got to the hearts of Belaru­sians.’ (Panara­ma, Belarus 1, 06/08/2020)

    This type of cov­er­age con­sid­er­ably increased the air­time and space giv­en to elec­tion-relat­ed issues in the state-run elec­tron­ic and print media.

    Com­pared to the pre­vi­ous stage between 5 July and 2 August, when the upcom­ing elec­tion received just 3.38% of air­time in Radyjo­fakt on the First Nation­al Chan­nel of the Belaru­sian Radio, the share of elec­tion-relat­ed issues soared to 30% dur­ing the ear­ly vot­ing, to give just one exam­ple.

    3.2 Direct access

    Can­di­dates’ media appear­ances and debates are the most cru­cial part of cam­paign­ing. The Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion (CEC) oblig­ed the state media to pro­vide the can­di­dates with direct access to their audi­ences.

    Com­pared to the 2015 pres­i­den­tial race, these broad­casts went on air at worse time slots. While the can­di­dates’ media appear­ances began to be broad­cast at 19.30 in 2015 and at 19.00 in 2010, this time they went on air start­ing from 17.00.  A large pro­por­tion of work­ing pop­u­la­tion was undoubt­ed­ly deprived of the oppor­tu­ni­ty to watch them at this time.

    Mean­while, the state-run print and elec­tron­ic media did not adver­tise in advance the can­di­dates’ TV and radio address­es. The TV and radio guides did not give their names. There was no infor­ma­tion about the order and exact time when each of the can­di­dates was to go on air.

    Belarus 1 also broad­cast the can­di­dates’ debates at off-peak slots, start­ing at 17.00.

    The state-run media tech­ni­cal­ly grant­ed direct access to all the pres­i­den­tial run­ners. How­ev­er, by broad­cast­ing their media address­es and debates at worse time slots these media brought down the voter’s atten­tion to them.

    The can­di­dates’ media appear­ances were not uploaded to the web­site of the Belaru­sian TV and Radio Com­pa­ny. Search­es for ‘pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates’ media appear­ances’ led to the 2015 spoil­er can­di­dates’ video address­es. (https://www.tvr.by/videogallery/informatsionno-analiticheskie/vystupleniya-kandidatov-v-prezidenty/).

    As for the con­tents of the con­tenders’ media address­es, it was Head of the Belaru­sian TV and Radio Com­pa­ny Ejs­mant who aired the state-employed jour­nal­ists and the state media’s opin­ion, ‘Some can­di­dates’ cam­paign­ing speech­es are just lie-sod­den, which we have demon­strat­ed more than once in our shows.’ (Pony­at­naya poli­ti­ka [Pol­i­tics Made Clear], Belarus 1, 29/07/2020) It goes with­out say­ing that the can­di­dates were not invit­ed to the shows that Mr Ejs­mant meant, so they were deprived of the right to rebut.

    Apart from direct access, the con­tenders’ pres­ence in the state-run media was not just low but mea­gre, which is evi­dent from the quan­ti­ta­tive data cit­ed above, e.g. 0.019% of the con­tenders’ media pres­ence in the Mahiloŭska­ja Praŭ­da.

    As we have already said, the incum­bent refused to appear on the radio and TV at the time set by the CEC. How­ev­er, when ear­ly vot­ing was already under way, he gave his annu­al State of the Nation address to the Nation­al Assem­bly and the Belaru­sian peo­ple. That was undoubt­ed­ly his elec­tion agen­da, as it repeat­ed a num­ber of his ear­li­er state­ments. Its final sen­tences brought to mind his ear­li­er dec­la­ra­tions about stay­ing in pow­er by force: ‘And remem­ber, we have the police, the army and the secu­ri­ty forces. They are the chil­dren of those who you want to har­ness in a wag­on and whip. Peo­ple wear­ing the uni­forms, they won’t let you do this! […] You are a quar­ter of a cen­tu­ry late. We now firm­ly hold the future in our hands. The future of our inde­pen­dent Belarus. We won’t give you the coun­try.’ (https://www.sb.by/articles/prezident-nezavisimost-stoit-dorogo-no-ona-stoit-togo-chtoby-ee-sokhranit-i-peredat-budushchim-pokol.html)

    The Sate of the Nation address went on air live and was repeat­ed in the evening at prime time by all the state-run TV and radio sta­tions. The sum total of the air­time giv­en to the address of the pres­i­dent who was seek­ing re-elec­tion made up about 24 hours.

    For pur­pos­es of com­par­i­son: in accor­dance with the pro­ce­dure out­lined by the CEC, each can­di­date was enti­tled to two thir­ty-minute address­es to the elec­torate on TV and two thir­ty-minute appear­ances on the radio at off-peak slots.


    3.3 The electorate, independent media and their positioning

    Through­out the pres­i­den­tial race, the state-run media tend­ed to por­tray the oppo­nents of the regime, e.g. sup­port­ers of some con­tenders, as crim­i­nals. For instance, when inter­viewed by Glavny Efir on Belarus 1 on 31 May 2020, First Deputy Min­is­ter of the Inter­nal Hien­adź Kaza­kievič claimed, ‘Heads of the polling sta­tion boards and elec­tion com­mis­sions who were in charge of the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions have been recent­ly receiv­ing threats. In oth­er words, polling sta­tion boards and elec­tion com­mis­sions for this elec­tion have not yet been formed, but these peo­ple and their fam­i­lies are already being jeop­ar­dised.’

    Two weeks lat­er, on 13 June 2020, Nashi Novosti on Sat­ur­day claimed that the wife of a police­man involved in detain­ing a coor­di­na­tor of Mrs Cichanoŭskaja’s cam­paign had been men­aced. ‘Anoth­er thing is that the spouse has been receiv­ing threats, she is this policeman’s spouse,’ said the Min­is­ter of Inter­nal Affairs Jury Kara­jeŭ. ‘Well, nat­u­ral­ly, we will find them.’ (Nashi Novosti, ONT, 13/06/2020)

    ‘There are some oth­er exam­ples as well. Crim­i­nals, no doubt about it,’ a jour­nal­ist com­ment­ed on the Minister’s accu­sa­tion.

    Pic­tured in a high­ly neg­a­tive light, vot­ers who sup­port­ed the con­tenders were con­spic­u­ous by their absence in per­son from the state-run media. In gen­er­al, these media gave no voice to any of the incumbent’s oppo­nents, air­ing only ‘pro-Lukašen­ka’ views.

    Such claims were par­tic­u­lar­ly numer­ous dur­ing ear­ly vot­ing. The charts show the voic­es of this seg­ment of vot­ers (see Elec­torate). The pre­dom­i­nant­ly green colour means that the state-run media por­trayed such vot­ers in a pos­i­tive light. The pos­i­tive state­ments were occa­sion­al­ly ‘sub­stan­ti­at­ed’ by the find­ings of opin­ion polls con­duct­ed by unheard of or lit­tle known pro-gov­ern­men­tal cen­tres.

    It was prob­a­bly the first time since Belarus began hold­ing elec­tions that the state-run media had spo­ken of their inde­pen­dent coun­ter­parts as a threat to sta­bil­i­ty in soci­ety, claim­ing that the lat­ter alleged­ly used new tech­nolo­gies to co-ordi­nate protests. In par­tic­u­lar, they pinned the blame on some Telegram chan­nels and the RFE/RL.

    ‘If you watch care­ful­ly these bizarre streams of cam­paign­ing for nom­i­na­tion turned pub­lic gath­er­ings, which is proven by head­lines in inde­pen­dent media, you will of course see tech­nolo­gies behind them,’  claimed Mr Ivan Ejs­mant, the Chair­per­son of the Belaru­sian TV and Radio in the Klub Redak­torov (Edi­tors’ Club) week­ly show on Belarus 1. ‘”Why are you here?” “I’m dis­sat­is­fied.” “Who are you going to vote for?” “I am going to vote against.” “Who is going to win?” “We prob­a­bly won’t win.” “So what are you going to do on 9 August?”…’ https://www.svaboda.org/a/30692928.html

    Soon after­wards the Belaru­sian inde­pen­dent media were accused of stir­ring a con­flict, too. ‘Some media that are quite pop­u­lar have open­ly tak­en an anti-gov­ern­men­tal stance,’ said Mr Ivan Ejs­mant, the Chair­per­son of the Belaru­sian TV and Radio in the Klub Redak­torov (Edi­tors’ Club) week­ly show on Belarus 1. ‘They are prepar­ing a coup,’ clar­i­fied Mr Žuk, the Edi­tor-in-Chief of SB. Belarus Segod­nya.

    ‘The non-state media are wag­ing a war against dif­fer­ent opin­ions,’ the show summed up what Mr Žuk had said. Final­ly, an inter­est­ing detail: dur­ing the dis­cus­sion of inde­pen­dent media and jour­nal­ists, ser­vice car­tridges or a grenade and a pen fea­tured in the back­ground of the news­room inte­ri­or. (Klub Redak­torov, Belarus 1, 24/07/2020)


    3.4 Independent media

    The mon­i­tored inde­pen­dent media includ­ed www.naviny.by as well as the Nar­o­d­na­ja Vola and the Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da v Belorus­sii print media.

    They focussed their atten­tion on the key elec­tion actors, such as the can­di­dates, their cam­paigns, the CEC and the oppo­si­tion. In addi­tion, they offered quite exten­sive cov­er­age of cam­paign ral­lies attend­ed by vot­ers, first and fore­most led by Mrs Cichanoŭska­ja, the most pop­u­lar can­di­date who was either ignored or por­trayed in a neg­a­tive light by the state-run media.

    At the ini­tial stage of the elec­tion a lot of cov­er­age was giv­en to the detained pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Mr Babary­ka, Mrs Cichanoŭskaja’s hus­band and head of her cam­paign Siarhiej Cichanoŭs­ki, the arbi­trar­i­ly arrest­ed blog­gers and activists, and detained jour­nal­ists.

    www.naviny.by  pub­lished elec­tion-relat­ed items in a spe­cial sec­tion, rank­ing them as a top pri­or­i­ty. The cov­er­age con­tained both infor­ma­tion and analy­sis. The online resource also held debates between some of the con­tenders.

    The items were bal­anced, which is sup­port­ed by the assess­ments of the actors and the per­cent­age of cov­er­age they received. www.naviny.by fea­tured a wider range of actors than the state-run media. The spot­light was on the pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls, with quite dif­fer­ent shares of cov­er­age as com­pared to the state-run media.

    The Nar­o­d­na­ja Vola pri­mar­i­ly focused its atten­tion on the con­tenders, speak­ing of them main­ly in a neu­tral or neu­tral and pos­i­tive tone. At the same time it was crit­i­cal of the incum­bent, the CEC, the gov­ern­ment, and local author­i­ties or gave them neu­tral cov­er­age.

    Just like the Nar­o­d­na­ja Vola, the Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da v Belorus­sii typ­i­cal­ly offered neu­tral cov­er­age, being occa­sion­al­ly crit­i­cal of the incum­bent, the CEC, and the gov­ern­ment.

    Unlike the state-run media, the mon­i­tored inde­pen­dent ones avoid­ed refer­ring to the actors in an anony­mous and deper­son­alised man­ner. They also gave for­mal names of NGOs, move­ments, and polit­i­cal par­ties.


    1. Assessments of the election in the media

    The state-run media stuck to their tra­di­tion­al rhetoric in their assess­ments of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. In oth­er words, they spoke of the vot­ing day as a cel­e­bra­tion.

    BelTA quot­ed Mr Lukašen­ka, ‘You see it’s a cel­e­bra­tion.’ (https://www.belta.by/president/view/lukashenko-vybory-proshli-kak-prazdnik-no-te-kto-zahotel-ego-isportit-zasvetilis-esche-jarche-402288–2020/ ) ‘It is actu­al­ly a cel­e­bra­tion,’ said the head of a munic­i­pal exec­u­tive com­mit­tee in Mahiloŭ region. ‘For our town and our coun­try as a whole.’  (Naviny-rehi­jon, Mahiloŭ TV and Radio Com­pa­ny, Belarus 4, 09/08/2020)

    As ear­ly as the evening of the vot­ing day state TV claimed that the incum­bent had won the elec­tion. For exam­ple, Nashi Novosti on ONT announced on 9 August 2020, ‘Lukašen­ka is lead­ing.’ The same report said that 93.71% of vot­ers at the polling sta­tions with restrict­ed access (in mil­i­tary units, etc.) had vot­ed for him.

    The next day the state-run media broad­cast a state­ment of the CIS Observ­er Mis­sion, which claimed that the elec­tion had been valid, mean­ing­ful and and trans­par­ent. BelTA quot­ed Mr Lebe­dev, the Head of the CIS Observ­er mis­sion: ‘The CIS Mis­sion did not wit­ness any facts that could ques­tion the legit­i­ma­cy of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Belarus. […] The CIS Mis­sion has arrived at the con­clu­sion that the elec­tion on 9 August was held in com­pli­ance with the Con­sti­tu­tion and the Elec­tion Code of Belarus. It was open and mean­ing­ful and grant­ed the cit­i­zens of Belarus free and unfet­tered expres­sion.’ (https://www.belta.by/politics/view/missija-sng-ne-obnaruzhila-faktov-stavivshih-pod-somnenie-ligitimnost-vyborov-prezidenta-belarusi-402256–2020/).

    In addi­tion, all the state-run media pub­lished con­grat­u­la­to­ry mes­sages that Mr Lukašen­ka had received from high-rank­ing offi­cials who praised his elec­toral ‘vic­to­ry’.

    By con­trast, on the eve of the vot­ing day inde­pen­dent www.naviny.by uploaded a video that exposed fraud tech­niques (https://naviny.by/node/416163). On the vot­ing day and after­wards they informed the audi­ence how inde­pen­dent observers had been expelled from the polling sta­tions and detained, and also report­ed on instances of rigged vote count, fraud­u­lent polling sta­tion boards’ min­utes and oth­er breach­es of the law.

    Those instances when votes were count­ed cor­rect­ly and hon­est­ly and vot­ers were able to read the polling sta­tion boards’ min­utes clear­ly demon­strat­ed that a vast major­i­ty had vot­ed against the incum­bent.

    On 14 August 2020 the Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da v Belorus­sii  wrote: ‘”About 10.50 p.m. a police offi­cer came out [of the polling sta­tion] and said he would lead a rep­re­sen­ta­tive [of the vot­ers] inside to take a pho­to­graph of the min­utes,” said Hieorhi. “There were 1,869 bal­lots for Cichanoŭska­ja and only 705 ones for Lukašen­ka at polling sta­tion 8 .”’

    Here is anoth­er quote from the same report under the head­line At some polling sta­tions in Min­sk Cichanoŭska­ja gets sev­er­al times more votes than Lukašen­ka: ‘Cichanoŭska­ja won in a land­slide at polling sta­tion 11 in Lias­ny near Min­sk. She got more than five times more votes. Lukašen­ka received only 178 bal­lots here, while 947 ones were cast for Cichanoŭska­ja.

    Polling sta­tion 27 in the vil­lage of Kopišča near Nova­ja Bar­ava­ja bor­ough prob­a­bly set a record: Cichanoŭska­ja got here fif­teen times more votes than Lukašen­ka! Accord­ing to the polling sta­tion board’s min­utes, 83 vot­ers cast their bal­lots for the incum­bent and 1,248 vot­ed for Cichanoŭska­ja.’ (https://www.kp.by/daily/217167/4267621/).


    Oth­er inde­pen­dent print media report­ed on elec­toral fraud, too. For exam­ple, on 14 August the Nar­o­d­na­ja Vola pub­lished Valer Karbalevič’s con­tri­bu­tion: ‘Reports of elec­toral fraud at the sixth pres­i­den­tial elec­tion have been com­ing in from a vast vari­ety of regions. There are even audio record­ings uploaded on the inter­net where office hold­ers of local admin­is­tra­tions can be clear­ly heard giv­ing instruc­tions to rig the min­utes in Lukašenka’s favour.’ (Valer Kar­bale­vič. The peo­ple will pre­vail. Nar­o­d­na­ja Vola, 14/08/2020)  

    One of the fac­tors that made this elec­tion stand out was long queues of vot­ers who wait­ed to be admit­ted to the polling sta­tions right until they closed. Many of the vot­ers then stayed to wait for the polling sta­tion boards’ min­utes. As ear­ly as mid­day there were already prob­lems with the inter­net con­nec­tion, as the web­sites of inde­pen­dent media that had been giv­ing exten­sive cov­er­age of the elec­tion became inac­ces­si­ble every now and then. This made the ten­sion even more tan­gi­ble.

    After the polling sta­tions had closed, vot­ers spon­ta­neous­ly took to the streets in large num­bers.

    1. Conclusions

    The state-run media in fact cam­paigned for one can­di­date, name­ly Mr Lukašen­ka. Direct access through TV and radio address­es did not change the fact that these media kept the con­tenders out of the lime­light.

    Nor did they func­tion as a plat­form for air­ing crit­i­cal views or dis­cussing the country’s present con­di­tion and prospects for future devel­op­ment.

    The state-run media’s assess­ments of Pres­i­dent Lukašenka’s many years in office prompt­ed the con­clu­sion that there was no alter­na­tive to him and if he was not re-elect­ed it would be the worst-case sce­nario, with chaos, par­ti­tion of Belarus and a loss of inde­pen­dence.

    It was clear from the very start of the elec­tion that the incum­bent was prepar­ing to use bru­tal force in order to stay in pow­er.

    As for the inde­pen­dent media, they focussed on pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion in their elec­tion cov­er­age, clear­ly defined each candidate’s posi­tions and treat­ed them either neu­tral­ly, pos­i­tive­ly or crit­i­cal­ly. They also pre­sent­ed opin­ions of dif­fer­ent par­tic­i­pants in the elec­tion process. Expert analy­ses and opin­ions also made up an essen­tial part of their elec­tion cov­er­age.

    Dur­ing all the pre­ced­ing elec­tions, both par­lia­men­tary and pres­i­den­tial, the state-run media had a deci­sive impact on the elec­tion process. How­ev­er, this pres­i­den­tial race has made it obvi­ous that they have lost some of their influ­ence. This is sub­stan­ti­at­ed by the num­bers of views and com­ments on YouTube media prod­ucts owned by the state-run TV sta­tions. We can speak of a new bal­ance between trust and dis­trust that the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion has revealed.

    Anoth­er rea­son why the elec­torate has been turn­ing away from the state-run media is that nowa­days the Belaru­sian media field offers a wide range of alter­na­tive sources of infor­ma­tion with a much more up-to-date and dynam­ic con­tent. They were eas­i­ly acces­si­ble via mobile inter­net through­out the pres­i­den­tial race.

    Fur­ther­more, the assess­ments the state-run media gave the elec­tion, as well as their cov­er­age of the cam­paign, the elec­tion results and the mass protests, when they turned their back on numer­ous deten­tions, bru­tal beat­ings and tor­tures of peace­ful pro­test­ers and oth­er regime’s atroc­i­ties, give grounds to speak of a pro­found cri­sis of gov­ern­men­tal jour­nal­ism.

    Last but not least, the 2020 elec­tion has revealed a real demand for uncen­sored hor­i­zon­tal chan­nels of infor­ma­tion in soci­ety. The unremit­ting deten­tions of inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists attempt to crush these chan­nels of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.


    [1] The doc­u­ments that form the basis for the qual­i­ta­tive analy­sis are The Code of Ethics in Jour­nal­ism (adopt­ed at the BAJ Con­gress in 2006); The Dec­la­ra­tion of Prin­ci­ples of Pro­fes­sion­al Ethics in Jour­nal­ism; Elec­tion Cov­er­age in Media (Belarus), 2016 edi­tion; and Inter­na­tion­al stan­dards of elec­tion cov­er­age in media (Legal and eth­i­cal stan­dards, rec­om­men­da­tions to media and indi­vid­ual reporters).

    The quan­ti­ta­tive analy­sis is based on mea­sur­ing the time or space giv­en to elec­tion cov­er­age and its key actors. The report has a num­ber of appen­dices in the form of sum­maris­ing charts that show the quan­ti­ta­tive data and the way each of the actors has been pre­sent­ed.

    [2] The elec­tron­ic media include the Panara­ma news pro­gramme on Belarus 1 TV sta­tion, the Nashi Novosti news on ONT, the Glavny Efir week­ly pro­gramme on Belarus 1, the Kon­tu­ry week­ly pro­gramme on ONT; the Radyjo­fakt radio pro­gramme on the First Nation­al Chan­nel of the Belaru­sian Radio, and Naviny-rehi­jon, broad­cast by Mahiloŭ TV and Radio Com­pa­ny. The online resources include www.tut.by and www.belta.by. The print media are the SB. Belarus Segod­nia, the Nar­o­d­na­ja Vola, the Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da v Belorus­sii, the Zvi­az­da, the Min­ska­ja Praŭ­da, and the Mahiloŭska­ja Praŭ­da.

    More illustrations and methodology — in the attached files:




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