Rehiyanalnaya Hazeta (The Regional Newspaper) Suspended
Rehiyanalnaya Hazeta (The Regional Newspaper), a Belarusian-language independent edition from Maladechna, has been suspended for three months.
Information Minister Uladzimir Rusakevich signed the appropriate order on September 24. On that very day the Ministry of Information issued two notifications to the newspaper founder and the editorial staff. They are accused of breaking several articles of the Belarusian Law "On the Press and Other Mass Media". The periodical editor-in-chief and co-founder Alaksandr Mantsevich considers the Ministry's actions politically motivated and directly connected with the upcoming election and the referendum.
According to the Minister's order, the editorial staff violated Article 9 of the Law on Press, having issued and delivered 9, 100 copies of a non-registered supplement, entitled "TV Week" together with newspaper issue #32 of August 6, 2004.
Also, the editors are accused of violating Art 10 of the Law on Press. The Ministry of Information decided that the newspaper did not observe the terms of its registration. Thus, being registered as "the mass political edition", it represents itself as "the information and advertising periodical" in the data-line. Instead of 7 issues per week, it publishes only one. Besides that, the Information Ministry points out that under the terms of registration the newspaper is to be distributed "in the Republic of Belarus and other countries of the world". However, in reality, it was distributed in only “regionally”, i.e. Maladechna, Vileika, Smarhon, Ashmiany, Valozhyn, Miadzel, Astravets, and Minsk.
The Ministry places similar claims to the newspaper founder. He is accused of failing to inform the Ministry about changes in periodicity of publishing and the distribution area within a month term for "introducing the corresponding changes in the edition's registration certificate". The Ministry of Information treats these facts as violation of Art 11 of the Law on Press and of Council's of Ministers Regulation #727 of May 30, 2003 "On Amounts and Procedure of Registration Charges for Mass Media Registration in the Republic of Belarus".
The newspaper's co-founder and editor-in-chief Alaksandr Mantsevich considers the claims to his periodical to be far-fetched. According to him, the "TV Week" supplement can't be regarded as a separate edition, despite the different paper format, as it has the through pagination with "The Regional Newspaper" brand put on each of the supplement pages. A. Mantsevich especially stresses that a number of state editions issue similar supplements, and change not only the paper format, but the language of the supplements as well (e.g. "Maladechanskaya Hazeta"). Surprisingly, these facts provoke no objections on the part of the Ministry of Information. A. Mantsevich admits the incorrect indication of the periodical theme in the data-line is the publisher's mistake. Nevertheless, in his opinion, suspension of newspaper publishing is a too serious punishment.
According to the publisher, the claims regarding the newspaper's distribution area were absolutely groundless. The Ministry even didn't happen to know either that the edition had a signed contract with "Belposhta" national delivery company about the newspaper distribution and subscription delivery across Belarus or that the periodical was represented in the National Subscription Catalogue. The Ministry's Registration Department admitted its blunder.
A. Mantsevich desired to present his explanation personally to the Information Minister.
Still, on September 28, the Minister's assistant Viktar Kazlow claimed he couldn't arrange an appointment with the Minister and advised the chief editor to follow the ordinary citizens' reception procedure, practised in the Council of Ministers.
Commenting on suspension of his newspaper, A. Mantsevich called it politically motivated. "We aren't engaged by any political forces. Facts are our strength. Thus, it appears they are afraid of facts, "- summarizes the editor-in-chief. The real cause of these punitive actions he sees in the recent coverage of a conflict between parliamentary candidate Uladzislaw Zvernik and Maladechna district administration. A. Mantsevich emphasizes the fact that currently "The Regional Newspaper" remains to be the only totally Belarusian language non-governmental regional edition in the country.