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.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.