Media Landscapes

Belarus

Written by Elena Kononova

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The Republic of Belarus is in Eastern Europe. The country lies at the geographic centre of the European continent. It is the intersection between the Baltic countries and Ukraine, Central Europe and Russia. Belarus has the13th largest landmass in Europe. About 9.7 million inhabitants live in Belarus which is home to people of various nationalities and religion. Ten percent of citizens are agricultural workers; 42 percent are employed in industry, construction, transport and communication. Belarus is a presidential republic and is classed in its constitution as a unitary democratic social lawful state. There are 6 regions with center-towns: Minsk, Brest, Grodno, Vitebsk, Mogilev, Gomel. The capital of the country is Minsk.

The contemporary media landscape in Belarus was transformed after it became independent in 1991. It has undergone more positive changes in the past 15 years. There were 650 periodicals on offer in 1995. This quantity has since doubled more than two times.

But according to the oft-cited Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index 2008, Belarus rates No. 154 of 173 countries the World.

This abysmal ranking demands corresponding substantiation. Therefore this entry tries to clarify media situation in Belarus.

In Belarus registered print media: newspapers, magazines, bulletins, etc., have a variety of ownership structures. Their quantitative-qualitative structure is presented in the following table, culled from the Belarusian Ministry of Information:

August, 2009

 

Altogether

State

Free

Newspapers

663

218

445

Magazines

594

179

415

Bulletins

42

16

26

Catalogs

6

0

6

Media agencies

9

1

8

In total

1314

414

900

Print media publish in Belarusian, Russian, English, German, Ukrainian, Polish and others. The majority of media printed for popular consumption is published in Russian – 572 tombes as compared to 71 in Belarusian. On file are 357 certificates of registration for printed mass media printing in “Russian and others.”  There are 299 publications claiming to publish in “Belarus language and others.” The general single circulation of national political newspapers is more than 650,000 copies .The state regional press circulates more than 880,000 copies.

There are 158 programmes broadcasting in Belarus, including 137 registered as state-owned and 21 registered as commercial, as of February, 2009.

At present there are 23 radio stations broadcast on the FM frequency. Oldest among them are «Беларусь» (Belarus), «Рокс» (Roks), «Радио Мир» (Radio the World), «Альфа радио» (Alpha radio), Авторадио (Autoradio), Би-Эй (B-A). These have been on the air for 90 years and broadcast beyond Minsk. Other radio stations are the product of a new century. They began broadcasts after 2000. The majority of radio stations are located in the capital of Belarus. 

Several new commercial radio stations have come on the scene in small cities of Belarus: «Свое радио» (My radio), «Нелли-инфо» (Nelly-info), «Ретро ФМ» (Retro FM), «Европа Плюс» (Europe Plus). Some are the products of convergence. For example «Свое радио» (My radio) is a product of local media holding «Варяг» (Varjag) which owns a TV channel, newspaper, radio station and advertising agency in Pinsk.

The radio station «Юнистар» (Unystar) was created in 2000 at the oldest university in Belarus. It covers youth life.  «Новое радио» (New radio) was founded in 2004 by the state trade unions of Belarus. It works in close contact with journalists from Federations of Trade Unions of Belarus. The new radio station «Радио ОНТ» (Radio ONT) was created to be the first radio station created exclusively for men. It broadcasts online for subscribers of mobile networks.  Some radio stations air on the Internet in addition to broadcasting on the FM side of the dial. Forms of broadcast are typically listed on the websites of radio stations.

«Радио Мир» (Radio the World) was the first satellite radio of Belarus, satellite ABS-1 75º E. The station is a part of Representation of the Interstate Broadcasting Company, The World (Belarus-Russia). It has branches in two regional centres of the country.

There are 71 programmes telecasting in Belarus, including 30 registered under state ownership and 41 listed as commercial (as of February, 2009).

National Television Companies:

  • «A National State Broadcasting Company of Belarus» is the largest media holding in Belarus. It broadcasts on its own TV channels: a national channel «The first national channel», a TV-channel «ЛАД» («LAD») and one satellite TV channel «Belarus-TV». This company also airs the Russian TV-channel «NTV» (The Independent TV). It fills the channel «NTV-Belarus» with mixed-language programming. The version of the original NTV has since April, 2009, been accessible just on cable networks of Belarus. The company also broadcasts on a national radio station «The First National Сhannel of the Belarus  radio», a radio channel «A Culture», radio stations «Belarus», «The Capital», «Радиус-FM» (Radius-FM). Also it provides activity of five regional broadcasting companies («Brest», «Vitebsk», «Gomel», «Grodno», «Мogilev»). Staff of company has nearly 1000 person employees.
  • «The second national TV-channel»  broadcasts over one channel «ОНТ» (National TV). It represents the Russian channel of ORT with mixed-language programming. Licensed production is combined with a local television product.
  • «TV of Capital» provides broadcast materials for one TV channel, «СТВ» which reaches all territories of Belarus. At first it was developed as the formatted Russian channel «Ren-TV» with news from Belarus. As declared in its concept, «TV of Capital» is focused on an active part of the population, aged between 20 and 49 years.
  • TV-radio association of the Allied state (Belarus and Russia). Allied TV and radio has functioned since 1998. Its structure includes: a Russian-Belarus satellite TV channel, news and information on analytical broadcasts to Radio of Russia and video productions.

Commercial TV:

  • «8-th channel» is an independent mass media offering. It was registered in 1996 and now produces documentary films, presentation video, television programmes and reports that are transmitted to other TV channels in the country.
  • «The first musical channel» has been functioning since 2002. In two years it became the first Belarus interactive satellite TV channel. Now the TV channel is accessible to viewers in more than 80 countries.

Cable Televisions:

  • There are three operators of cable television in Minsk, one of which transmits IPTV. Cable television is accessible in many cities of Belarus. There are about 100 broadcast channels available.

Satellite TV:

  • «Belarus-TV» is an round-the-clock state non-commercial satellite TV channel. It was registered in February, 2005. The channel is included in the structure of the National State Broadcasting Company of Belarus.  It is destined to provide communication for and about Belarusian people. It is telecast in the Belarus and Russian languages. The channel has treaties on relaying with cable operators in 12 other countries. The total audience of the TV channel is nearly 4.5 million viewers.

The Republican Unitary Enterprise, A Film Studio “Беларусьфильм, (Belarus Film) is in a stage of modernisation and reform. Film production should be self-supporting after the end of modernization. Belarus Film produced national films as of 1997. The film studio was capable of making 10 feature films and four animation films per year.

Blossoming of the Belarus cinema took place between 1960-80. In 2009 the Department of cinematography at the Ministry of culture to Belarus declared itself open to the reception of creative applications for creation of feature films with the status “National”.

Part of the Belarusian population utilise the telecommunication services on offer. Twelve percent of city inhabitants (the population is more than 100,000) use Internet daily. In Minsk the similar parameter makes 31 percent. The stationary telephone system in Belarus has 3.7 million subscribers including subscribers in the countryside (0.8 million).

There are 8.7 million subscribers registered with mobile communication providers in Belarus. According to the information of the Ministry of Communications of Belarus, for the first three months of 2009, there were 400,000 new user contracts.  There are 8,300 base mobile stations in the country. People use one of three operators of mobile communication by standard GSM («МТС», «Velcom»,«Life:)») and one operator of standard CDMA, («Diallog»).

The Austrian international telecommunication company Kapsch CarrierCom AG is a partner of the Belarus market. In March, 2009, it it opened an affiliated company in Belarus. They took on tasks such as construction and development of a network of mobile operators, providers, and decisions on the basis of technology GSM-R for the Belarus railway.

According to the Ministry of Communications and Information of Belarus there are about 180 operators of telecommunication rendering services of access to Internet.

In spring, 2009, there were 3.1 million Internet users in Belarus. Among the general quantity of users, broadband Internet access is nearly 470,000.

Only one company in the country, State Enterprise Beltelekom has a monopoly on granting access to the international digital streams (a line of telecommunication). Beltelecom ensures the functioning of operators of mobile communication in the Republic including their connection to the international station. It also gives regional and international roaming capabilities.

There are several commercial telecommunication companies. Beltelecom often provides wireless Internet, according to a statistical report of the national operator. There totalled 3,900 unique users of Wi-Fi. Wireless Internet connection is used more often at educational institutions. Throughout the country there totalled not less 240 points of access to the Internet technology Wi-Fi.

Service of wireless access to the Internet has (the entering traffic is on the satellite channel, the proceeding traffic is on networks of mobile communication) transpired on conditions of distribution the company Solo.

These statistics were pronounced by the representative of Ministry of Communications of Belarus at plenary session of the Congress on Technologies of an Information Society which passed at the international IT forum "ТIBO" in Minsk in April, 2009.

Use of a terrestrial digital television transmission is an important factor of development for Belarus as a state. Demand is caused by social inquiries of the society requiring qualitatively new infrastructure of telecommunications, the tendency to introduce uniformity to pan-European and the world standards of telecasting. New digital television (DVB-T) in Belarus has a deficiency of radio frequency channels for television, sound announcement and absence of corresponding equipment.

Results of trial experiences have shown an opportunity for acceptance of the digital software package that includes TV broadcasting within the limits of capital of Belarus and some areas. Since July, 2005, there has been constant broadcasting in a digital format of a package of television and broadcasting programmes for national media (The First Channel, Channel Lad, National TV, Capital TV, The First National Channel of the Belarus Radio).

The State Programme of Introduction Digital TV-Broadcasting has been enacted in Belarus until 2015. Realisation of plan for terrestrial digital television at working radio-television stations should increase users to 75 percent. Viewership is now at 51 percent.

As the list of radio-television transferring stations that translate television programmes in a digital format is carried out, the territory zone of digital standard DVB-T testifies to positive dynamics of performance of this programme.

There are nine news agencies in Belarus (state ownership - 1, commercial - 8):

  1. «БелТА» Белорусское телеграфное агентство (BelTA, The Belarus Telegraph Agency) — is the largest news agency of Belarus. For nearly 90 years it has had official status as the state news agency of the country. It remains the most authoritative source of the operative information on activity of authority of Belarus.
  2. «Агентство Владимира Гревцова» (Vladimir Grevtsov's Agency);
  3. «Минск-Новости» (Minsk-news);
  4. «БелаПАН» (BelaPAN);
  5. «Ньюс-Релиз» (The News-release);
  6. «ПРАЙМ-ТАСС» (The PRIME-TASS);
  7. «Союз-инфо» (The Union-info);
  8. «ЭКОПРЕСС» (Ecopress);
  9. «Интерфакс-Запад» (The Interfax-West) - the company is the part of the structure of international information group Interfax Information Services. It has worked in the Belarus information market since 1994.  Subscribers to Interfax-West are practically all in the central and regional mass media market of Belarus, which uses messages of the agency for informing society on the major events in a political, economic, social and cultural life of the country.

In 2004 the Belarus bureau began realisation of the unique project of not having analogue signals in the «post-Soviet space», as well as the creation of national directory the Internet portal Interfax.by. Two years later there was a new project of agency on the Internet: a specialised resource devoted to an agricultural-industrial complex of the country, Agrobel.by.

There are two trade unions for workers of mass media in Belarus:

  1. Public organisation «Белорусский союз журналистов» (Belarus Union of Journalists, BUJ) — the creative, professional organisation independent of political parties which unites workers of mass media in the primary and regional journalistic organizations, and also in professional clubs. It was created in 1958.
  2. Public organisation "Беларуская асацыяцыя журналістаў" (Belarus Association of Journalists, BAJ) is a voluntary, nongovernmental, non-party association of citizens engaged in professional journalistic activity or promote its development. BAJ has existed since autumn of 1995 (in 1999 had the state re-registration). It was created as alternative to the existing journalist's trade union to tackle the new issues generated by new media.

The specialised "Union of Publishers and Distributors of a Press" (SIRP) was created in December, 2006. SIRP is a non-commercial organisation founded by legal persons. The basic purpose is assistance in the creation of the civilized market of the printed matter considering modern lines and technologies.

Thousands of foreign mass media have spread throughout Belarus. Proliferation has occurred according to the Instruction of the Ministry of the Information on Distribution. Now it is according to the new Law of Belarus about Media.

It is a good opportunity to receive from neighbour countries the Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian and Latvian TV programmes. Practically all operators of cable TV in Belarus include programmes of the Russian, Polish, Ukrainian and Western European channels. The population has an opportunity to use individual devices for reception of satellite channels.

The legal basis of activity of mass media in the country comes from the Constitution of Belarus, the Law of Belarus about Media, corresponding international obligations and treaties and normative legal certificates of Belarus.

The Law of Belarus about Media entered into force in February, 2009. As one of several new norms the law on mass media provides a re-registration of mass media in connection with necessity of entering of information about mass media in the state register of mass media.  Mass media is given the opportunity to lead a procedure of re-registration during a year from coming into force of the above-named law till February, 2010.

Mass media must be responsible for providing feedback for people. Mass media are a major component of a civil society. The Belarus journalists in their work use ethical codes: «Кодекс профессиональной этики журналиста» (The Code of Professional Etiquette of the Journalist of the Belarus Union of Journalists) and «Кодекс журналистской этики» (The Code of Journalistic Ethics of the Belarus Association of the Journalists), both accepted in 1995. The regulating document for all the mass media of Belarus is Закон Республики Беларусь «О средствах массовой информации» (the Law of Belarus about Media).

The population of Belarus has trust (73.7 percent) in state media. This is central to the argument resulting from a social research project from Information-analytical Centre at Administration of the President of Belarus in 2008.  

At the same time the Belarus Association of Journalists BAJ researched about changes in the legislation in the new Law of Belarus about Media, and also about breaking the rights of mass-media and journalists, conflicts in sphere of mass-media. The Basic remarks to the law have contained at least 17 concrete positions under clauses of the law. As it follows from this research, some positions of the law can limit considerably constitutional rights of citizens of Belarus regarding freedom of speech, worsening conditions of activity of mass media and journalists and also contradict laws of Belarus. The basic source of information for the population is TV. In opinion of oppositionists and some foreign observers, that the main TV channels are under the control of the state is an information policy incompatible with pluralism. From 1997-2009 in Belarus, eight newspapers were deprived of a license.  The chronology of infringements is outlined in a Wikipedia article The freedom of speech in Belarus.

In 2001 the government of Belarus approved regulations concerning the Ministry of the information of Belarus. Duties of the Ministry are reforming and are part of dynamic development of mass media in Belarus.

There are public associations (NGOs) such as "The Belarus Association of nongovernmental TV" and "The Belarus Association of Sports Press".

In February, 2009, the government of Belarus approved the structure of the Public Coordination Council in Sphere of the Mass Information. The primary goals of Public Council are: co-ordination of interaction of state management, public associations and other organisations carrying out activities in the sphere of mass information; maintenance of correct application of the law on mass media and other legislation in sphere of mass information; consideration of the questions as issues from applications to the law on mass media.

The centre of learning for mass media, training and retraining of journalists on all specialities in Belarus is the Institute of Journalism of the Belarus State University (Minsk). In the country there are state and commercial organisations — and faculties at universities where they are trained in these separate branches of mass media. About 300 journalists graduate annually in Belarus.
 
The Institute of Journalism devotes attention to educational projects inside of the country and abroad. Annually professors and research staff organise conferences and seminars that make the scientific publications about theories and practice of mass media. Partners in studying modern lines of media were educational institutions and public associations from Germany, Sweden, Spain, the Great Britain, France, Russia, Ukraine and Lithuania. So, within 15 years, the Institute successfully realises a long-term programme with the Institute of Improvement of Professional Skill of Journalists (FOJO) from Sweden. The project was co-ordinated together with the public organisation — Central Bureau of Belarus Association of Journalists BAJ.

Objectively, development of mass media of Belarus follows world tendencies of information globalisation. The communication policy of the state is characterised by qualitative development of the Belarusian mass media, perfection of new technologies, participations in this process of the public and professional organisations and studying of opinion of the society. Dynamics of the development of mass media are positive despite crisis economic conditions. There is a clear presence of opposition and criticism in the country which reflect cardinal changes of state policy and ways of regulation of mass media. Subjective positions of the parties should be considered in realisation of the general concept of development of media in Belarus.

The nongovernmental organisation Freedom House compiles a report devoted to Freedom of Press. In its report, it made a global rating of the countries on a level of freedom of mass media. After the research that prefaced the results of 2008, there are 195 countries and territories. Belarus rates No. 188 place on this rating.

The position of each country in this rating depends on expert estimations. The report defines three groups of parameters: legal regulation of mass media, political and economic conditions in the country. It follows that improvement regarding these parameters in Belarus will be the basis for change of the status and a placement of mass media freedom among the countries of Europe and the World.

Elena Kononova
Ph.D., associate professor
Institute of Journalism of the Belarus State University (BSU)
9-234, Kalvariyskaya av, Minsk, 220050, Belarus
Tel: + 375 17 259 74 00
E-mail:kononovaelena@mail.ru