BAJ Statement on the Situation with the Media and the Freedom of Expression in Belarus
The situation in the media field in Belarus is getting worse despite the declarations about the beginning of a dialogue between the official Minsk and the West.
The authorities continue their policy of control over information field and keep the monopoly on the majority of printed and electronic media as well as on the systems of printing and distribution. The state-owned media have lost their public character and turned into a tool of propaganda of the ruling political group. Besides they are funded from the state and local budgets, and the amount of such financing increases every year.
The policy of the Belarusian authorities in relation to the independent media remains severe. The core of this policy lies in excluding the independent media from the information sector, primarily by economic discrimination and limitation of journalists’ access to the information sources.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists expresses its deep concern with the practice of implementation of the legislation, related to the freedom of expression, including the Law «On Counteraction to Extremism».
The Belarusian Association of Journalists states that a real dialogue either inside the country or on the international level is not possible without ensuring the freedom of expression and the actual improvements of the media situation in Belarus.
The criteria of improvements in the freedom of expression field appear to be as follows:
1. Ensuring equal economic conditions for media outlets with different forms of ownership, and first of all:
• abolishing the prohibition of the independent press distribution through the system of Belsayuzdruk state monopolist enterprises and the return of non-state newspapers to the Belposhta state monopolist’s subscription catalogue;
• permission of Narodnaya Volia, Tovarishch and Vitebsky Kurier-M newspapers’ printing in Belarus.
2. Ensuring real access to information, in particular:
• abolishing articles of the Belarus’ Law «On State Service» and provisions of other legislation acts that limit the journalists’ right to access information about the authorities’ activities;
• guaranteeing the freedom of accreditation of correspondents and the opening of offices of foreign media as well as the introduction of accreditation scheme upon request;
• unacceptability of cases of refusals by state officials to provide journalists with information.
3. Bringing national media legislation in accordance with international standards, in particular:
• bringing the Belarus’ media-related legislation (in particular, the Law «On the Media» and the Law «On Counteraction to Extremism») in line with international standards;
• abrogating five articles of the Criminal Code, specifically Article 367 «Calumny in relation to the President of the Republic of Belarus», Article 368 «Insult of the President of the Republic of Belarus», Article 369 «Insult of the representative of the authorities», Article 369–1 «Discredit of the Republic of Belarus», and Article 193–1 that deals with activities on behalf of non-registered organizations, with further decriminalization of defamation.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists is sure these steps will foster improvement of the current situation with the freedom of expression and independent media in Belarus as necessary conditions for development of a democratic country and foster a fully-fledged dialogue between Belarus and Europe.