Continuing the blog posts on the importance of media freedom in preserving democracy (or the lack supporting non-democracy), here is one student’s write-up on Belarus.
Americans do not realize the impact of having a free press in this country. Anytime a politician steps out of line, news casters, reporters, and local journalists pounce on the story immediately as if it were the end of the world. Now imagine how different life would be without all of those people standing by waiting to criticize every move a politician makes. I’m not just talking about turning on Fox News and listening to them rant on the latest “latte salute” by President Obama. I’m talking about real, hard-hitting, impact reporting.
Belarus is a prime example of media repression. Reporters without Borders have ranked Belarus 157th on its 2013 World Press Freedoms Index, and this country is often grouped with the likes of Turkmenistan, Iran, and North Korea in terms of its media freedom. This is a slight improvement over Belarus’ 168th ranking the year before; however, this “improvement” is probably more likely that some of the other nations experienced harsher media repression more so than more media freedom in Belarus. It is a criminal offense to speak out against the government. There is no such thing as freedom of expression in Belarus as journalist Andrzej Poczobut discovered when he wrote an article critical of President Lukashenko.
In Freedom House’s 2014 report, Belarus received a score of 93 on its press freedom scale, and they emphasize the problems associated with the state’s media monopoly. To summarize this control over the various types of media:
- The state controls some 68% of television and radio stations. The state also makes it incredibly difficult for foreign news sources to report within Belarus.
- The state not only has a monopoly on broadcast media; it also holds major influence over newspapers and print journalism. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, there are only about 30 print sources that report actual news in the entire country. Many of the executives of these news outlets report that it is much costlier for them to print than their state controlled competitors which have created a huge monopoly of readership for the state.
- Online bloggers and social media used to be free of government censorship, but now, all of that has dramatically shifted. In 2013, internet penetration by the KGB (Belarus’ security force) reached 54% of the country’s population.
It wasn’t always supposed to be this way. Belarus has provisions written in its Constitution guaranteeing the rights of Freedom of the Press, but throughout Lukashenko’s time in power, media freedom in Belarus has progressively gotten worse and worse. Although in recent years, no major events have sprung up in Belarus, media repression has risen substantially. Outside media sources point to Lukashenko’s paranoia over the events in Ukraine and his own population’s support of creating closer ties with Europe as the reasoning behind the growing media repression.
Lukashenko is an effective dictator; he has been able to maintain his power since he was first elected President in 1994. A major part of Lukashenko’s ability to consolidate his control on the government is his control over the media, which allows him to control the population. Through this media control, Belarus, and specifically Lukashenko, is trying to prevent any uprising against the state. Media repression is definitely on the rise in the nation of Belarus, but until Lukashenko is removed from power, I’m afraid there is no going back.
- 2013 World Press Freedom Index: Dashed Hopes After Spring. (2014). Retrieved October 5, 2014, from Reporters Without Borders: http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2013,1054.html
- Aliaksandrau, A., & Bastunets, A. (2014, February 11). Belarus: A Distorted Media Market Strangles Independent Voices. Retrieved October 4, 2014, from X Index: http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/02/belarus-distorted-media-market-strangles-independent-voices/
- Balay, S. (Photographer). (2010). Protest March [Photograph], Retrieved October 8,2014, from: http://www.mediasupport.org/no-clear-skies-ahead-for-free-press-in-belarus/
- Balay, S. (Photographer). (2013). Press Freedom [Photograph], Retrieved October 8,2014, from: http://www.belaruspressfreedom.org/
- Belarus- Freedom of Expression. (2013). Retrieved October 3, 2014, from Amnesty International: http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/belarus/report-2012#section-13-5
- Belarus- Freedom of the Press 2014. (2014). Retrieved October 2, 2014, from Freedom House: http://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2014/belarus#.VDXZq890zrd
- Munro, N. (2014, September 23). Obama uses coffee cup to salute Marines. Retrieved October 2, 2014, from Fox News: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/09/23/obama-uses-coffee-cup-to-salute-marines/
- Turkmenistan, Iran ‘Among Worst’ Countries For Media Freedom. (2012, January 25). Retrieved October 3, 2014, from Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty: http://www.rferl.org/content/turkmenistan_worst_country_for_media_freedom/24462798.html