Belarusian information officials are happy with Russian media domination in Belarus

May 26, 2016 18:26

Ideology officials agree with the dominance of Russian media products in the Belarusian information space. They are happy to receive substantial state funding and use media products produced in Russia. So far, the authorities believe they have sufficient control mechanisms in the information field in the case relations with Russia deteriorate. The Belarusian authorities do not plan to counterbalance Russian media presence neither by expanding foreign broadcasting, nor by improving environment for the independent media.

On May 12th, 2016, in Mogilev,  the Information Ministry of Belarus and the Communications and Media Ministry of Russiasigned an action plan aiming to create a common information space of the Union State in 2016-2017.

There are many Russian TV Channels and other media in Belarus. Belarusian cable networks offer most Russian channels, and Belarusian TV channels use content of main Russian TV channels and only add own newscasts and analytical programmes.

The Belarusian media authorities do not make particular efforts to control the domestic information space. In most cases, consumers watch news, educational, analytical and entertainment programmes produced in Russia.

Independent experts mark, that Russian media shape the opinions of the majority of Belarusians. For instance, the Belarusian state media and ideologists were unable to influence public opinion in Belarus regarding the events in Ukraine, which would reflect the authorities’ position. The majority of Belarusians support the Kremlin’s position regarding the conflict in the Donbas region and the annexation of Crimea, in contrast to the Minsk’s official peacekeeping rhetoric.

Nevertheless, the authorities have taken some measures allowing blocking the external influences on the Belarusian information space, should a critical situation occur. For example, the last version of the military doctrine has envisaged measures to counter the information war. In the past, when Russo-Belarusian relations deteriorated, the Belarusian authorities would cut out some information programmes about events in Belarus from the Russian TV channels.

Broadcasting capacities and, most importantly, the impact of the Belarusian media on the Russian media space is negligible due to small resources. The Belarusian authorities have direct contacts with the Russian regional media, which help creating a positive image of the Belarusian authorities in the Russian hinterland. From time to time, the Belarusian authorities organize press tours to Belarus and press conferences with the president for the Russian regional media.

Despite the fact that the state spends significant amounts on the state media and the ideological network (direct expenditure on the state media in 2016 circa BYR 0.9 trillion, which is about the same as on the customs), the state media do not even try to produce quality content for the domestic market. If necessary, the Belarusian media are able to provide only Belarusian-made news content, but they will be unable to compete with the Russian media in producing high quality analytical, educational and entertainment products for replacement. Information Minister Lilia Ananich said in Mogilev in this regard, “... our main task is to mainly focus on creating national content. The national information space is only fulfilling its task when people trust the national media”.

In the near future, the Belarusian authorities are unlikely to attempt to counterbalance the Russian media presence with the Ukrainian or alternative foreign broadcast. Domestic media market is likely to remain closed for independent Belarusian media projects.

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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.