Belarus attempts to revise its information policy

April 22, 2016 18:52

The Belarusian propaganda machine was unable to effectively neutralise the aggressive propaganda campaign by the Russian media. However, Belarus’ state-run media have started developing mechanisms to counteract information pressure from the Kremlin. Ahead of the 2015 presidential campaign, the Belarusian authorities seek to strengthen information control in Belarus and to reduce the influence of the Russian media in shaping public opinion.

Amid events in Ukraine, the Belarusian authorities seek to increase control over the Belarusian information space. Belarusian media were unprepared to counteract Russian propaganda, and to shape and promote their own position concerning the Russo-Ukrainian crisis.

A statement made by the Russian Ambassador to Belarus, Alexander Surikov, was indicative of this situation. In his opinion, Lukashenko’s position as regards the Russo-Ukrainian crisis differs from that of Belarusian public opinion.

Russia’s anti-Ukrainian propaganda in the media has undoubtedly had a significant influence on Belarusian public opinion, which supports Russian aggression in Ukraine. According to opinion polls survey by IISEPS, in March Lukashenko’s popular rating increased amid events in Ukraine, however, this growth was influenced by euphoria about Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Despite the fact that President Lukashenko has repeatedly voiced his stance on the Russo-Ukrainian crisis, which differs from Russia’s position, the Belarusian state media have been unable to make it dominant in Belarus’ public space.

In addition, the Belarusian authorities are beginning to realise that the Kremlin no longer controls the increasing imperialistic ambitions in Russian society and the growing demand for its expansionist policy, especially with regard to Ukraine. Even the editor of the largest state-run newspaper in Belarus, Pavel Yakubovich, rather sharply commented on the war hysteria stirring up in Russian society, “teach a fool to bow with grace and he would fall flat on his face. Those who had the patience on Tuesday night to watch the Moscow programme ‘Special Correspondent’ with Mamontov to the very end could verify the accuracy of the aphorism”. The voiced criticism of the Russian position on Ukraine in the Belarusian state media was certainly coordinated with the Belarusian authorities.  

Simultaneously, the Belarusian leadership has begun to review the state information policy and is reshuffling information managers. For example, Lukashenko dismissed the Information Minister Proleskovsky and replaced the spokesperson in his Administration.

In addition, state-run media have started a series of publications about Belarus’ long-term development prospects. For example, Presidential Aide Rudy proposed to revise the socio-economic model, which no longer ensured development: “I believe that to advance development, it is important not only to increase competitiveness of old industries, but also to collect fruits from the new ones”.

Ahead of the 2015 Presidential campaign, the Belarusian authorities will attempt to weaken the Russian media’s influence in Belarus and will revise the state media’s information policy, allowing for some pluralism in a public debate about socio-economic development. However, the environment for the independent media will not be mitigated or changed. 

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.