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Three months of tragedy: An overview of the Belarusian media landscape

Media have been a major target of state violence and intimidation since protests started this August

Editor’s note: This article expands on an earlier article by Olga Khvoin of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, published in The Lede, incorporating the latest information and republished with their permission. You can find the original version here (in Ukrainian). 

It has been three months of tragedy for Belarusian society, as well as for the media sector specifically. The number of cases of abuse, censorship, intimidation and outright violence against journalists in the country is staggering. 

This article looks at what has happened in the country’s media landscape and where to look for reliable information about the events taking place.

Since the start of the 2020 political campaign, the number of cases of persecution and violations of journalists’ rights grew significantly. After election day on Aug. 9 it rose to an unprecedented level. 

Last Sunday marked the 100th day of the protest. The Belarusian Association of Journalists has created a table that is constantly updated. As of [Nov. 16 – Editor] Belarusian journalists have spent close to 700 combined days in prison, following 360 arrests. A total 23 are in prison at the moment, facing sentences of 3 days to 3 years.

Perhaps the biggest symbol of the protests is what is now the single largest Cyrillic Telegram channel – NEXTALive (t.me/nexta_live). NEXTALive has 1.9 million subscribers and publishes compact updates about the events in Belarus. On October 20, the site was ruled “extremist” by a court decision, which means almost two million people were automatically labeled as extremists.

Journalists’ work in Belarus has become dangerous: at least three journalists were shot during street protests in August [rubber bullet wounds are gunshot wounds, such injuries heal very poorly damaging nearby tissues – Editor]. 

The number of detentions of journalists is counted in hundreds, which dozens have faced violence, including severe injuries – knocked out teeth, broken bones, bruises of internal organs. 

To this can be added numerous facts of equipment seizure “for examination” and incidents that can be classified as “torture”. Stories of eyewitnesses and victims can also be read here, here, here, here. [All links in Russian/ Belarusian. For a comprehensive overview in English see the recent OSCE report – Editor].

Various persecution tactics were used against journalists and the media. Detentions, beatings, mass deprivation of journalists of foreign media accreditation (according to Belarusian law, a journalist cannot work for a foreign media outlet unless he received permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), deportations, arrests, blockades. 

However, non-state media continue to work and effectively provide the audience with information about what is happening in the country. In the literal sense, the journalists, leaving the detention centers after their arrest, continue working the next day.

After August 9, the country had almost no access to the Internet for three days which forced everyone to quickly learn to work with applications such as Psiphon and Telegram. Over the past two months, the organic growth of Telegram channels has been very fast. 

On the one hand, it is good there is a tool on which the spread of information cannot be blocked. On the other hand, the authorities are pushing the audience into the gray information zone with their own hands, because not all channels on Telegram are filled with verified information in accordance with professional ethics. 

Belarus market overview: Where to find reliable information? 

Where can you find relevant and verified information about the events in Belarus? First of all, go to media Telegram channels [the most reliable platform, as it is light on data usage and cannot be blocked by government censors – Editor]. They provide the most timely overview of what is happening. Read a few to make the picture fuller and more diverse.

TUT.BY

Internet-portal Tut.by contains massive amounts of Russian-language information. Authorities are currently trying to deprive the channel of the status of “online media” and have already suspended this status, which provides employees with rights, for example, to be present at protests as journalists.

That said, as you may have gathered from the previous paragraphs of this article, a badge and vest with the word “press” now serve more as a target than protection.

Telegram channel: https://t.me/tutby_official 

NAVINY.MEDIA

Belarusian news website Naviny.media (this address is the mirror of the blocked domain) is owned by the information provider BelaPAN. It contains balanced information and analytics.

Telegram channel: https://t.me/naviny_by 

NASHANIVA.BY

Nashaniva.by website (Nasha Niva) is one of the oldest Belarusian weeklies. This domain name is the mirror of the original nn.by domain, which was blocked in August. Belarusian and Russian language versions are available.

Telegram channel: https://t.me/nashaniva  

NOVYCHAS.BY

Novychas.by is the website of Belarusian language newspaper Novy Chas, which appeared on the basis of a closed edition of the Zhoda newspaper. In particular, there are many materials on historical topics.

Telegram channel: https://t.me/novychas 

EURORADIO.PL

Euroradio.pl website (this address is the mirror of the blocked domain). Euroradio media’s main office is located in Warsaw. That’s why it was considered a foreign media and its journalists were deprived of accreditation. Materials and recordings at the studio come out without correspondents in the frame.

Telegram channel: https://t.me/euroradio  

BELSAT.EU

Belsat.eu website. TV channel Belsat broadcasts from Poland but its content is produced by Belarusians. Belsat journalists have been persecuted by the Belarusian authorities for years – they are detained and fined for work without accreditation [the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not issue accreditation – Editor]. Their equipment is regularly confiscated, and their offices are also searched. The media Telegram channel includes news, photos, and videos in Belarusian.

Telegram channel: https://t.me/belsat 

SVABODA.ORG

Svaboda.org is the Belarusian department of RFE/RL. This domain is blocked In Belarus but works using Psiphon. It can be read without problems In Ukraine and outside Belarus.

Telegram channel: https://t.me/radiosvaboda 

Additional six useful resources

For an understanding of the official position of the authorities, you can read Belteleradio company tvr.by website, “Capital’s television” ctv.by, agency BELTAbelta.by. On TV channels’ websites, you can also find numerous videos with confessions of protesters who “repented”. 

This is a trick of the Belarusian MFA: to force people to renounce in public, including after beating and application of tear gas. State TV channels broadcast it. The viewer can draw parallels themself. 

Also, we recommend you to read political observer Oleksandr Klaskovskiy’s Telegram channel https://t.me/klaskouski. He doesn’t spam and writes in easy, evocative language.

As this article is not published in Belarus we can recommend Telegram channels NEXTA (https://t.me/nexta_tv) and NEXTA Live (https://t.me/nexta_live). They fit as a source of photos and videos from places of events [but you need to remember that the author considers it inappropriate to invent nicknames for security officers, make calls for actions, give disappointing epithets, exaggerate, and so on – Editor].

Nowadays, society’s life in Belarus is full of events, adventures, and challenges. In these unstable conditions, journalists have no guarantee that after going to cover protests they will come back home in the evening alive and with their equipment. The nature of authoritarian regimes doesn’t allow anything else because the extremely fast-spreading of information knocks out of control the levers of control over society.

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