In October, MYMEDIA is sending five Ukrainian journalists for internships in Belarus as a part of the Exchange Program between the Newsrooms organized by Media Development Foundation.
We talked with the Belarusian media experts Yuliya Slutskaya and Andrey Alyaksandrov about the things that foreign journalists should expect in Belarus, and how the work of the local media is different from the Ukrainian ones.
1. Freelancers are not recognized
The state does not recognize the freelancers and does not give them the official right to work. In order to get it, the journalist is obliged to be a part of some newsroom. The accreditation of Ukrainian or foreign media gives the same rights as Belarusian one, and without it, the journalists are outside of the legal field. This can result in fines or more serious problems, especially during the coverage.
"If you have problems, I advise you to contact the legal service "Belarusian Association of Journalists," suggests Andrey Alyaksandrov.
2. The police do not spare journalists
"If there is a military operation, the fact that you a journalist won’t help you,” says Yuliya Slutskaya, "In Belarus, the repressive apparatus has been developing and strengthening for twenty years. In 2010, during the clearing-off the square, Belarusian law enforcers did not respond to journalists' cards. The journalists were simply beaten and thrown into a paddy wagon. Then, the police let them out, but most of the times, with broken noses and limbs. "
3. Journalists can be imprisoned
Editor of the online platform "Charter 97" Nataliya Radina, who supported the campaign of an alternative candidate Andrei Sannikov, was imprisoned for about six months. When she was released under house arrest, she fled to Warsaw. The journalist Irina Khalip was imprisoned because she was married to the abovementioned candidate. Andrzej Poczobut, a correspondent for Polish Gazeta Wyborcza was released after serving a serious term only because of the international pressure.
"Now is such a time, when the economy is still very bad and there is a sense of threat to the country’s independence. That is the reason that recently, the authorities released all the political prisoners who were on international lists," says Yuliya Slutskaya.
4. The value of human rights is underdeveloped
"Belarus is some sort of “Soviet-resort”. The society is largely preserved in the Soviet system, so the values of human rights are still not developed. And the authorities are pretending that there is no civil society and human rights in the country at all," says Andrey Alyaksandrov.
5. Censorship in Belarusian format
If a newspaper or a site receives two warnings from the Ministry of information, it can be closed on a legal basis. In case the authorities consider the content of a particular website as something that contradicts Belarus’ national interests, they can block it. At the same time, these national interests are not registered anywhere.
In order not to get into trouble, the journalists avoid covering certain topics. First of all, they often ignore the topic about the family of President Lukashenko, and they also ignore writing about the corruption of the authorities.
6. Internet and television are state-owned
The websites of the officially registered media should be placed on the servers inside the country. This way, the authorities physically control the media so they can block any website whenever they want.
It happened with the Internet platform Naviny.by (its edition will take Ukrainian interns. - Ed.). It was blocked last December without an explanation. "Our service provider said that the blockage took place on the level of the national telecommunications company. We bought new IP addresses, but we were blocked again. It happened several times. And after 10 days, they unexpectedly brought us back into the web," says Andrew Alyaksandrov. Although the platform appealed to the Ministry of Information, it did not receive any official response about the people and reasons for blocking the website.
7. There are no oligarchic media
Belarusian media are divided into three camps; the first one includes the state-owned media that serve only the interests of the authorities. There are non-state owned media as well; they comply with the standards of independent journalism, but they are out of the market (for example, the print media are limited in circulation, and the advertisers do not place their ads there because they are afraid of tax audits). Thirdly, there are commercial media which do not write about the social and political events, but only about the entertainment and other light topics.
8. Independent media are valued, but people are not ready to fight for them
"Independent media are popular at times of tension in the country,” says Andrey Alyaksandrov, "If you look at the statistics of independent online resources in December 2014, when the ruble was devalued, you will see a serious increase of the visitors of these websites.
When there are problems in the country, the people feel the value of the independent media. But will they be ready to fight for those media in the time of need? This is a big question. "
9. International reportage journalism is not developed
"The events in Ukraine gave a huge push for Belarusian journalism. For the first time, our journalists started to travel abroad regularly; they went to Ukraine to get their own reportages from there instead of simply rewriting somebody else’s stories. International reportage journalism began to develop," says Yuliya Slutskaya.