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  • E‑NEWSLETTER: MASS MEDIA IN BELARUS Bulletin #2(48). Mass Media on the Eve of Parliamentary Elections – 2016. (April – June 2016)

    Mass Media on the Eve of Parliamentary Elections – 2016


    Accord­ing to the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus, 1592 print­ed peri­od­i­cal edi­tions were offi­cial­ly reg­is­tered in the coun­try as of July 1, 2016. 437 of them are owned by the state.

    Bas­ing on the sta­tis­tics, the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Belaru­sian author­i­ties note that the non-state media pre­vail in the coun­try.

    How­ev­er, accord­ing to the con­duct­ed analy­sis of the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists, the major­i­ty of pri­vate news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines are pure­ly com­mer­cial projects, deal­ing with adver­tis­ing, cross­words, fash­ion, gar­den­ing etc. There­fore, they do not cov­er social­ly impor­tant issues.

    Social and polit­i­cal issues are cov­ered by less than 30 reg­is­tered pri­vate peri­od­i­cals (fur­ther – inde­pen­dent mass media). Most of them suf­fer from eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal, and legal dis­crim­i­na­tion. In par­tic­u­lar, near­ly one third of inde­pen­dent mass media have been oust­ed from the state-owned ‘Bel­posh­ta’ or/and ‘Sayuz­druk’ press dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tems that deal with the press dis­tri­b­u­tion by sub­scrip­tion and through news-stalls since 10 years already. All of them face prob­lems with access to infor­ma­tion and suf­fer from pres­sure on the part of the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus and the local author­i­ties at that.

    Prac­ti­cal­ly all inde­pen­dent peri­od­i­cals are week­lies, while the major­i­ty of state-owned news­pa­pers appear on the dai­ly basis. The cumu­la­tive week­ly cir­cu­la­tion of inde­pen­dent print media is small­er than the dai­ly cir­cu­la­tion of ‘Sovi­et­skaya Byelorus­sia’ (‘SB Today’) news­pa­per, pub­lished by the Pres­i­den­tial Admin­is­tra­tion.

    The sit­u­a­tion is even worse in the TV-radio broad­cast­ing field. Even sta­tis­ti­cal­ly, the state-owned media pre­vail in the field – 190 inde­pen­dent broad­cast media vs. 273 state-owned broad­cast media. In this respect, it is worth men­tion­ing that TV is the most pop­u­lar chan­nel for receiv­ing news updates in Belarus, and it exerts the most sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence on the pub­lic opin­ion in the coun­try. Thus, accord­ing to the SATIO com­pa­ny group’s research, the num­ber of peo­ple in Belarus, who received infor­ma­tion from TV, totaled 84.7% in 2015. The Belarus res­i­dents addressed more rarely to such infor­ma­tion sources as the Inter­net (63.8% of users), news­pa­pers (40.9% of users), and radio (34.3% of users) at that.

    All reg­is­tered TV and radio broad­cast­ing mass media are total­ly con­trolled by the nation­al and region­al author­i­ties (reg­is­tra­tion, licens­ing of broad­cast­ing activ­i­ty, allo­ca­tion of broad­cast fre­quen­cies etc). Accord­ing to the Belarus Mass Media law, the broad­cast­ing com­pa­ny pro­duc­tion can be ter­mi­nat­ed by court deci­sion even after a sin­gle vio­la­tion of broad­cast­ing rules. More­over, the Min­istry  of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus is autho­rized to deprive a com­pa­ny of its right to broad­cast­ing activ­i­ty out of court, as it hap­pened to ‘Autora­dio’ FM radio sta­tion in 2011.

    The func­tions of inde­pen­dent broad­cast­ing in Belarus are per­formed by sev­er­al for­eign mass media, which focus their atten­tion on Belarus. The list includes ‘Bel­sat’ TV chan­nel, ‘Radio Racy­ja’, and ‘Euro­pean Radio for Belarus’ radio sta­tions (all reg­is­tered in Poland), as well as ‘Radio Lib­er­ty’. The legal sta­tus has been grant­ed only to the ‘Euro­pean Radio for Belarus’ and ‘Radio Lib­er­ty’ in the coun­try. The num­ber of accred­it­ed cor­re­spon­dents is lim­it­ed at that. The ‘Bel­sat’ and ‘Radio Racy­ja’ cor­re­spon­dents don’t have the legal sta­tus that pro­vokes the author­i­ties to oppress them by means of impos­ing fines for work with­out accred­i­ta­tion etc. (See more infor­ma­tion in The Main Events in Mass Media Field in April – June 2016).

    Since July 2015, there has been intro­duced oblig­a­tory state reg­is­tra­tion of print, TV and radio broad­cast­ing media dis­trib­u­tors in Belarus. The Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion was autho­rized to ban the press dis­trib­u­tors’ activ­i­ty at that. The new reg­u­la­tion led to tougher state con­trol over the TV and radio broad­cast­ing and aggra­vat­ed the eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion of inde­pen­dent print media in the coun­try. It should be tak­en into con­sid­er­a­tion that the major part of non-state press is dis­trib­uted through pri­vate stores and indi­vid­ual entre­pre­neurs’ out­lets. Quite a few of them refused to apply for the addi­tion­al license from the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus, feel­ing reluc­tant to get anoth­er con­trol­ling author­i­ty.  Con­se­quent­ly, the num­ber of sales out­lets of inde­pen­dent news­pa­pers reduced that led to the decrease of their cir­cu­la­tions in the final run.

    The sit­u­a­tion is espe­cial­ly tough for the print media, which have been oust­ed from the state monop­o­list press dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tems. It is worth men­tion­ing in this respect that new refusals to include peri­od­i­cals into the ‘Bel­posh­ta’ sub­scrip­tion cat­a­logues were received by ‘Intex-press’ news­pa­per (Baranavichy, Brest region), ‘Gaze­ta Slonim­skaya’ and ‘Otdushi­na’ week­lies (Slonim, Hrod­na region) in May — June 2016.

    More­over, ‘Gaze­ta Slonim­skaya’ and ‘Otdushi­na’ received refusals from the ‘Sayuz­druk’ state-owned press dis­trib­u­tor to sell the peri­od­i­cals through the state monopolist’s retail enter­pris­es. A sim­i­lar refusal was received by ‘Borisovskiye novosti’ (Barysau, Min­sk region) news­pa­per edi­to­r­i­al from ‘Minablsayuz­druk’ enter­prise.

    The Inter­net remains to be the only media sec­tor in Belarus, where non-state news resources have preva­lence over the state-owned media. Con­se­quent­ly, the Belaru­sian state author­i­ties intend to spread the area of their con­trol on the Web, too. Thus, the Pres­i­dent of Belarus issued decree No. 60 “On Mea­sures to Improve the Use of the Nation­al Seg­ment of the Inter­net” in 2010.

    The Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus was autho­rized to con­trol Web-resources and apply sanc­tions against them in case of need, accord­ing to the changes into the Belaru­sian Law ‘On Mass Media’, adopt­ed at the end of 2014.

    Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus has broad sanc­tion­ing author­i­ty. In par­tic­u­lar, the Min­istry can issue warn­ings to media out­lets, appeal to courts with claims to ter­mi­nate mass media pro­duc­tion, dis­able access to Web-resources with­out court deci­sions, ban dis­tri­b­u­tion of books and mass media pro­duc­tion, can­cel licens­es etc. The Min­istry issued 12 offi­cial warn­ings to 8 media out­lets and 4 news Web-resources with­in the peri­od since the begin­ning of Jan­u­ary till the end of June 2016.

    It is worth men­tion­ing that the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus hasn’t applied its author­i­ty to ini­ti­ate the clo­sure of tra­di­tion­al media since 2011, when the ‘Autora­dio’ broad­cast­ing was ter­mi­nat­ed and claims on the clo­sure of ‘Nasha Niva’ and ‘Nar­o­d­naya Vola’ news­pa­pers were filed to court. (They were with­drawn by the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion lat­er on.) How­ev­er, the mere pres­ence of such pro­vi­sions in the leg­is­la­tion com­bined with the repres­sive law enforce­ment prac­tices has a ‘chill­ing’ effect on the media in Belarus.



    Prosecution of journalists

    The Belaru­sian jour­nal­ists were pros­e­cut­ed on admin­is­tra­tive charges for their coop­er­a­tion with for­eign media with­out accred­i­ta­tion three times in April – June 2016. The fines were imposed on two jour­nal­ists – Larysa Shchyrako­va and Kanstantsin Zhuk­ous­ki – by courts in Homiel region, like in all oth­er sim­i­lar cas­es since the begin­ning of 2016. The sums of fines totaled 25–35 base amounts (approx. 250 – 350 EUR) in each case. As before, the pros­e­cu­tion wasn’t con­nect­ed with the con­tent of jour­nal­ist mate­ri­als. It was ground­ed only on the fact of their broad­cast­ing by ‘Bel­sat’ TV chan­nel

    Kas­tus Zhuk­ous­ki became a kind of a record hold­er. The reporter was fined sev­en times for his coop­er­a­tion with ‘Bel­sat’ for the total sum of 53,550,000 Br (more than 2,500 EUR) since the begin­ning of 2016. Three oth­er fines were imposed by courts on his local col­league Larysa Shchyrako­va.

    On April 17, 2016, the ‘Reporters with­out Bor­ders’ not­ed that Homiel had become a lab­o­ra­to­ry for elab­o­ra­tion of new meth­ods of per­se­cu­tion of jour­nal­ists and called upon the Euro­pean Union “to con­di­tion its rap­proche­ment with Belarus on spe­cif­ic progress in respect for media free­dom”.

    There weren’t reg­is­tered any new tri­als of jour­nal­ists for their coop­er­a­tion with for­eign mass media in the fol­low­ing months. How­ev­er, police offi­cers from Loyeu (Homiel region) made six reports in a row in rela­tion to the pros­e­cut­ed jour­nal­ists on June 28, 2016. Four of them con­cerned the free­lance reporter Kas­tus Zhuk­ous­ki, men­tioned above. Two oth­er reports were made in rela­tion to Ms Zhukouski’s col­league, Ali­ak­sei Atroshchanka.

    The media work­ers were accused of insult­ing offi­cials, resist­ing police offi­cers and pet­ty hooli­gan­ism. Both jour­nal­ists had been detained in Loyeu on June 21, 2016, when they were going to make a video footage of one local enter­prise. Accord­ing to Mr. Zhuk­ous­ki, he was beat­en by Loyeu police then.  The reporter doc­u­ment­ed the injuries and addressed to the Inves­ti­ga­tion Com­mit­tee.

    On June 22, 2016, the Min­is­ter of Inte­ri­or of Belarus Ihar Shunevich promised jour­nal­ists to check the infor­ma­tion. The police reports in rela­tion to the above­men­tioned media work­ers from Homiel appeared six day after the Minister’s promise.

    It is easy to pre­dict the results of the promised Minister’s check. A jour­nal­ist Pavel Dabravol­s­ki, TUT.BY appeared in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion at the begin­ning of the year. He was detained and beat­en in the Frun­zen­s­ki City Dis­trict Court of Min­sk. The jour­nal­ist was fined by the judge of the court some time lat­er. On April 25, 2016, the Inves­ti­ga­tion Com­mit­tee refused to ini­ti­ate a crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion into the beat­ing of Pavel Dabravol­s­ki, stat­ing that the police act­ed law­ful­ly in that case.


    Obstruction of journalistic activities

    There were reg­is­tered sev­er­al cas­es of inter­fer­ence with jour­nal­is­tic activ­i­ties on the part of secu­ri­ty ser­vices of sev­er­al enter­pris­es in April – June 2016.

    Thus, the jour­nal­ists Han­na Niezhavi­ets and Ali­ak­san­dr Masal­s­ki were detained twice in two dif­fer­ent towns of Stoubt­sy and Slut­sk (Min­sk region) on April 7, 2016.  The cor­re­spon­dents were released from cus­tody with­out police reports. How­ev­er, they couldn’t pro­duce the planned video-reports because of the inci­dents.

    Secu­ri­ty offi­cers of open joint-stock com­pa­ny from Homiel attacked jour­nal­ists of Bela­PAN News Agency, while the lat­ter were try­ing to make a video-footage of a fire on the ter­ri­to­ry of the enter­prise through a fence on April 12, 2016.


    The case of Eduard Palchys

    Ivan Nask­ievich, the Chair­per­son of Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee of Belarus announced pre­sen­ta­tion of charges to Eduard Palchys, the founder of http://1863x.com/ Web-site, on June 22, 2016. Mr Palchys was accused of incit­ing hatred on grounds of race, nation­al­i­ty, reli­gion, lan­guage, or oth­er social affil­i­a­tion (Art. 1, Art. 130 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus), as well as pro­duc­ing and dis­trib­ut­ing porno­graph­ic mate­ri­als or porno­graph­ic items (Art. 343 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus).

    The Web-site was cre­at­ed around two years ago. Its own­er admin­is­tered the Web-resource on terms of com­plete anonymi­ty, hid­ing under the nick­name of Jhon Sil­ver. The Web-site own­er crit­i­cized severe­ly the Belaru­sian author­i­ties and the Russ­ian author­i­ties, first of all.

    Crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings against Mr Palchys were ini­ti­at­ed last year. He had to flee Belarus after­wards.

    The http://1863x.com/ Web-site own­er was detained in Rus­sia in Jan­u­ary 2016. He was extra­dit­ed to Belarus in May 2016.

    The Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee rep­re­sen­ta­tives report­ed that the indict­ment con­cerned “nine pub­li­ca­tions on arti­cle 130 as well as dis­tri­b­u­tion of two porn-col­lages on the Web”

    It isn’t known what pub­li­ca­tions have caused the crim­i­nal charges yet. Present­ly, Mr. Palchys is kept in the pre-tri­al deten­tion cell of prison No.8 in Zhodz­i­na, Min­sk region.

    The case of Eduard Palchys has aroused great pub­lic atten­tionA pub­lic com­mit­tee for the release of Eduard Palchys was found­ed in Min­sk in April 2016. More than 10 peo­ple entered the com­mit­tee, includ­ing such famous Belaru­sian politi­cians as Pavel Seviarynets, Dzmit­ry Dashkievich, and Andrei Dzmit­ryeu.



    Sev­er­al dif­fer­ent orga­ni­za­tions pre­sent­ed the results of their stud­ies on the sit­u­a­tion with media free­dom in mod­ern world in April 2016.

    Accord­ing to the Free­dom House’s report, Belarus slight­ly improved its posi­tions in the Free­dom of the Press 2016 Table of Scores. Thus, the coun­try moved up from the 194th to the 192nd posi­tion in the rat­ing list. How­ev­er, it remained to be among ten coun­tries with the worst sit­u­a­tion with free­dom of the media in the world.  The fact that Belarus appeared in the low­er posi­tion than ‘Syr­ia, Iran, almost all African states, Chi­na, Azer­bai­jan, Kaza­khstan and many oth­er coun­tries with polit­i­cal regimes in pow­er that can hard­ly be regard­ed as milder in com­par­i­son with the incum­bent regime in Belarus’ led to dis­cus­sions in the Belaru­sian jour­nal­is­tic com­mu­ni­ty as for the objec­tiv­i­ty of the rat­ing list. 

    Also, the Reporters with­out Bor­ders didn’t reg­is­ter any improve­ment of sit­u­a­tion with mass media free­dom in Belarus in their 2016 World Press Free­dom Index. Just like in the pre­vi­ous years of 2014 and 2015, Belarus held the 157th posi­tion in the list of 180 coun­tries of the world. More­over, the absolute index of the press free­dom aggra­vat­ed in the coun­try. “…Aside from the release of lead­ing polit­i­cal pris­on­ers, noth­ing has changed. Free­lance jour­nal­ists can­not get accred­i­ta­tion and are harassed by the judi­cial author­i­ties. The infor­ma­tion min­istry has stepped up its con­trol over print media dis­tri­b­u­tion net­works and the Inter­net, and has banned the soft­ware used to cir­cum­vent online cen­sor­ship,” not­ed the RSF ana­lysts.

    Sim­i­lar con­clu­sions were drawn by IREX in their annu­al Media Sus­tain­abil­i­ty Index (MSI) for Europe and Eura­sia – 2016. Accord­ing to the IREX ana­lysts’ find­ings, the sit­u­a­tion in Belarus mass media field some­what improved in 2015. How­ev­er, it dete­ri­o­rat­ed again in the year of 2016, return­ing to its posi­tions in the years of 2013–2014. On the one hand seri­ous changes took place in the coun­try. They were con­nect­ed with the Russ­ian-Ukrain­ian con­flict, the eco­nom­ic cri­sis and the warm­ing of rela­tions with the West. On the oth­er hand, it became even sim­pler for the state to keep con­trol over the civ­il soci­ety and inde­pen­dent mass media, since for­eign fund­ing sig­nif­i­cant­ly decreased in con­nec­tion with bud­getary restric­tions, intro­duced by donor states. The lat­ter changed their pri­or­i­ties for the Mid­dle East. Also, they were flat­tered by Lukashenka’s peace-mak­ing ini­tia­tives, since the lat­ter start­ed play­ing pro­fes­sion­al­ly the role of medi­a­tor in the con­flict between Rus­sia and Ukraine. At the same time, the Belaru­sian gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to apply its ordi­nary restric­tion tools in rela­tion to the tra­di­tion­al media and con­tin­ues to tight­en con­trol over the Inter­net.

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