Belarusian information officials are happy with Russian media domination in Belarus
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.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.