What are reasons for new amendments to the law on mass media?
Ready, steady, go. As we told before, after the blocking of Charter-97 and belaruspartisan.org, criminal cases against bloggers, "screws" would be tightened. It would seem it is not possible.
The television was captured in 1994, there are no public and political FM stations for more than 20 years, only few independent newspapers remained after mass clean-up in the early 2000s, the key independent political resource Charter97.org had to move abroad after the murder of its founder, arrests of journalists, initiation of criminal cases and the trashing of offices. It would seem all the remained were subdued.
No way, it's still scary. Tighten more! Crash everything!
Charter survived and started gaining popularity, the number of unique readers equals to 2.5 million monthly. To block it. New young and talented bloggers appeared with thousands of subscribers. To open criminal cases for "slander". Belsat journalists travel around the regions and told about poverty there. To pursue legal action against them for work without accreditation, not possible to get even with genuine desire.
But it's not enough. Amendments to the "draconian" law on mass media are required to level everything to the ground. To leave only Sovetskaya Belorussia with a real zero audience and public TV with its poor propaganda.
In fact, all Belarusian sites will be subject to mandatory registration. The law says "voluntary". But if you do not register, you'll face everything Charter experienced when it worked in Minsk - trashing of offices, arrests during demonstrations, hearings for work without accreditation, criminal cases along with opposition activists. In 2010 I was shocked with an official charge "organization of mass protests", but as soon as I managed to calm down, I understood that lawlessness took the floor, when they felt scared.
If you register (which is also challenging), it entails a complete control: financing (independent media usually turns to international funds, as they can't survive on their own) and the content. As for me, the paragraph in these amendments I liked the most: "mandatory identification of persons posting materials on Internet-resources (not only in online publications), on forums is introduced."
That is, the editorial staff should prepare a "firing list" of their readers for the punitive bodies, if the authorities do not like something. Here are the name, passport data and the address of an offender. Of course, the level of self-censorship among journalists will hit the ceiling. I'm not going to throw stones at anybody in this situation, because I experienced it in 2010 and took the Criminal Code with me trying to understand what article I might violate. It did not save me.
I have nothing to say about registration of commentators. It's obvious that the authorities fear of people's indignation on the Internet and are ready to do everything including the blocking of social networks. It is also stipulated by new amendments.
But I say it's nonsense. It's throe. It will cause uprising even among the most obedient.
A month ago, we tried to appeal to officials' reason after the blocking of Charter. Our graphs proved that the blocking of the largest independent site completely undermined the information safety of Belarus. Now Belarusians do not watch Lukashenka's BT TV channel, but propaganda Russian ones. After the close-down of the most popular independent newspapers, they read Russian Komsomolka and AiF (Arguments and Facts). After the blocking of Charter, Belarusians have turned to Russian segment of the Internet and the popularity of SovBel has dropped.
Now I see that explanations make no sense. The locomotive of Lukashenka is rushing to the abyss. They do not care that the "Russian world" can swallow not only Belarus, but the entire brainless "top". They do not even care about the High-Tech Park and the Council for Development of the Digital Economy, because it goes down in flames as soon as the free Internet is ruined.
I'd like to appeal to the reason of fellow journalists. It's not a secret that many were glad to learn about the blocking of Charter. We warned their turn would also come. Fortunately, all of them has realized the problem. Even the head of tut.by Zisser said that after the adoption of these amendments, the Belarusians will turn to the Russian segment of the Internet, although it has already happened after the blocking of Charter.
It will take little time to smash them one by one. Colleagues, you want to fight together, don't you?
Dear readers, we also count on your support. Independent media helped everyone in troubles caused by the regime. It's time for us all to stand for freedom of speech, regardless political views and personal preferences. Otherwise, there will be no one to protect you.
Western politicians, diplomats and analysts should stop indulging in illusions that Lukashenka has almost become a "democrat" and a "patriot". In fact, today he heads the "Russian world" in Belarus.
The history has precedents when people came together and took the last stand. And then went on the offensive.
Why is Lukashenka so afraid of independent media? Because 80% of the population hates him. His propaganda resources on the Internet and social networks are ten times less popular than independent media. Lukashenka knows all the Internet laughs at him and his officials.
Let's prove we are strong together.
For our and your freedom!
Natallia Radzina, editor-in-chief of Charter97.org