Belarusian Authorities Continue Assault on Independent Press
On 12 October the subscription campaign started in Belarus. However, the leading non-state social and political newspapers weren’t included in the subscription catalog of the state monopolist Belposhta (Belarusian Post). Belposhta refused to cooperate with the national non-state newspapers Narodnaia volia, Nasha niva, Tovarishch, SNplus. Svobodnye novosti plus. About a dozen of regional independent media have been excluded from the catalog as well: Brestskiy kurier, Vitsebski kuryer, Borisovskie novosti, Gazeta slonimskaya, Baranavichy newspaper Intex-press, Liakhavitski chas, Volnaie Hlybokaie, Hantsavitski chas, Pinsk weekly Miastsovy chas. Thus, these non-state editions lost the possibility of distribution by subscription and their readers can no more take them out of their postboxes.
The administration of Belposhta insistently answers to requests of editorial boards and readers to return the newspapers to the catalogue that ‘as far as the obligation to include printed editions into the catalog in not provided by any law, it is the right of the Republican Unitarian enterprise Belposhta to chose the printed editions for forming the catalog and their distribution by subscription’. Some editorial boards still haven’t received any answer from Belposhta.
We should remind that a year ago during the forming of the subscription catalog for 2006 Belposhta also refused to include in it a number of non-state newspapers and in the beginning of 2006 broke the agreements with those to which the subscription continued.
In July the chief editors of a number of non-state newspapers sent an open letter to the country’s president and asked him to foster solving of the problem of their printing and distribution. The answer was signed by the deputy information minister Liliia Ananich, who stated that the Ministry of Information had no right to interfere with the activity of independent subject of economy and force them to conclude any agreements.
Meanwhile, the law On post communication provides that any newspaper that is issued on the territory of Belarus and is registered by the Ministry of Information has the right to be placed in the Catalog for organization of subscription and delivery to the addressee by the universal postal services. Articles 12, 14 and 26 of the law On post communication guarantee equal access for all users of postal services.
Mikhail Pastukhou, the chair of the center of legal aid to mass media of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, commented the refusal of Belposhta to include the newspapers in the subscription catalog to www.spring96:
‘We have observed such practice since October 2005 and it is a real discrimination of mass media, for political reasons first of all. To my mind, such position of Belposhta contradicts not only to the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus, but to other legal acts of the Republic of Belarus as well. Article 13 of the Constitution provides that all subjects of economy have equal opportunities for their activity and enjoy equal state defense in all fields of this activity. It means that Belposhta as a Republican Unitarian enterprise that deals with subscription to printed mass media and their distribution is to accept applications irrespective of the newspaper’s being a state or a non-state one.
Besides, according to the law On post communication the postal services belong to a services of general use and every edition that has been registered on the territory of the Republic of Belarus has the right to be included in the subscription catalog and to be distributed on general conditions all over the country, it is necessary only to send an application for it. That’s why the refusal to include a mass media into the catalog is a violation of the rights of the economic subjects, editorial boards of the editions. It is also a violation of the law On counteraction to monopolistic activity and development of concurrence, article 14.1 of which prohibits any actions that are aimed at violation of the rights and legal interests of consumers. Non-inclusion of concrete mass media in this catalog is a manifestation of monopolistic activity of Belposhta. It is disrespect to the rights of non-state editions and other legal norms that concern subjects of economy and all citizens of the Republic of Belarus.’