11 December 2019, Wednesday, 5:33
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Belarusian authorities tighten screws on mass media as “elections” approach

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Coverage of the “election” campaign to local councils in Belarus by independent mass media is hindered by authorities.

Independent journalists believe that they won’t be able this time as well, Deutshe Welle informs.

Events of the last months, such as issuing the official warning to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, detentions of journalists of independent mass media, and search in the largest independent newspaper, “Narodnaya Volya”, when a computer of the well-known journalist Maryna Koktysh was seized, are vivid confirmation to the fact that the Belarusian authorities have started another war against independent mass media for the period of the “elections”.

Back in the beginning of this year the Belarusian Association of Journalists analyzed the situation with independent mass media. The conclusion of analytical reports is disappointing: the situation with independent mass media is developing in such a way that during the election campaign mass media won’t be able to fulfil their duties completely. And specifically, as said by Zhana Litvina, the BAJ chair, to provide comprehensive and reliable information to voters, for them to make informed choice.

Zhana Litvina says with regret that problems related to distribution of a number of independent socio-political newspapers still exist: they are not included in the system of distribution of state-run enterprises “Belposhta” and “Sayuzdruk”. In the period of preparation to the elections the BAJ is also concerned by the problem of access to information.

“Now the institution of journalists’ accrediting is used not only as a mechanism giving a journalist a priority right for obtaining information, but as a mechanism of allowing or a prohibition to practice,” the BAJ leader emphasized.

Zhana Litvina says that the problem of accreditation is felt firstly in the provinces of Belarus, and for those journalists that represent independent mass media, but in general this problem exists all over the country.

Litvina reminded about the presidential decree #65 signed a year ago, which judging by its name is aimed at “facilitating relations between state organs and mass media”.

In reality, as said by the BAJ head, in practice of all the state institutions, agencies, at enterprises a position of a person responsible for contacts with journalists. “Such kind of “facilitation” and “improvement” are viewed by us as additional problems in access to information,” Zhana Litvina said.

Starting with last autumn, authorities started openly hinder work of journalists at mass street rallies. “Unknown people in plainclothes start to shield lenses as soon as they see a journalist with a camera or with a video camera, they prevent them from shooting,” Litvina said.

Meanwhile, Article 34 of the Law “On Mass Media” is in force in Belarus. It guarantees journalists a right to be present in areas of military operations, as well as places were mass rallies and other socially important events are held. And not only be present there, but pass information from there, the expert underlines. “It is a right of a journalist is trampled upon in our country today,” the BAJ chairman said.

Zhana Litvina has no illusions that the situation I the area of independent mass media would improve in the near future, while the “election campaign” to local councils is taking place in the country, and the most important election, the presidential election, is approaching.