How Belarusian Television Covers Elections - Belarus State TV Digest

Belarusian state television continues to convince its audience that voting matters. It also tries to create an impression that it remains an open platform for all candidates. Yet, at the same time state TV clearly promotes one particular candidate while only briefly covering others.

However, in regards the election campaign, state TV sometimes allows critical comments such as “The ongoing campaign is boring and uninteresting", or "The state machinery works for just one candidate”.

Channel 1 commented on the results of a recent social survey according to which Alexander Lukashenka is highly trusted by Belarusians. All of this and more in this edition of Belarus State TV Digest.

Domestic Affairs 

The head of state shows his humane face. Journalists of Channel 1 briefly reported on the release of all political prisoners including Mikola Statkievich and Mikola Dziadok. Lukashenka did it because of the “principle of humanism”, they explained.

“Dedolarisation” of Belarus. State TV jointly with the Belarusian Ministry of the Economy has launched a project aimed at promoting the concept of paying in Belarusian roubles rather than the US dollar. This will build respect for the national currency, and also strengthen the economy, journalists stated.

Why Belarusians go to another country’s war? Channel 1 covered the death of a young Belarusian, Aleś Cherkashchyn, who had recently been killed while fighting in the war in Ukraine. The reporter a few times repeated that the Ukrainian war remained “foreign” to Belarusians, and “Belarusians should not be there”.

2015 Presidential Elections

Channel 1: the electoral campaign is equal for all candidates. “The first round of the electoral campaign was fair for all competitors”, according to one of the registered candidates, Siarhei Haidukievich, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. In his view, all competitors could freely collect signatures. According to the coverage, giving free time to all candidates on the air both on state Channel 1 and the Belarusian National Radio 1 proves that they treat all candidates equally during the election campaign.

Traditional Belarusian symbols used by pro-Lukashenka campaigners. Belaya Rus”, a state-supported public association, has begun its pre-election agitation campaign for the incumbent head of state. According to coverage on Channel 1 the event’s attractions included Belarusian folk music and free bracelets with a traditional ornament. Belarusians also had the chance to leave their written requests to Lukashenka.

Taciana Karatkievich. Journalists also reported on Tatsiana Karatkievich’s pre-election campaign in the town of Lahojsk, where her team distributed leaflets. They pointed out that Karatkievich directly spoke to people about her political programme.

Who really cares about Belarusians? Channel 1 reports that three fourths of Belarusians trust Lukashenka. This is according to the results of a survey conducted in August by the information-analytical centre. Over 74% of people agreed that the politics of the incumbent president is supportive of ordinary people. According to over 77% of people, Belarus under Lukashenka is going in the right direction.

Lukashenka as a remedy for the corruption and poverty in the early 1990s. Glavnyj Efir in an evening programme on Channel 1, launched a series of documentary movies on how the country has changed over the last 20 years. While speaking of the achievements they mainly emphasise the role of the current head of state, whereas failures are usually assigned either to internal opposition forces or external issues with Russia.

Describing the years 1993-1994, reporters of Glavnyj Efir emphasised the major economic hardships of that time: empty shelves in stores, rising prices, destroyed collective farms, wild privatisation, poverty and mandatory vouchers for food. However, the solution to these difficulties arrived with Alexander Lukashenka stepping into power, as the journalists hinted. The incumbent head of state with his famous anti-corruption speech given in Parliament won Belarusians’ heart and proposed a new quality in politics, reporters emphasised.

Who saved Belarusian independence. Describing the years 2002-2003, reporters mainly focused on the “construction” achievements including the National Library and the first underground shopping centre in Minsk, something that was unbelievable in the early 1990s. Reporters also pointed out that Lukashenka has done a lot to maintain the independence of Belarus by not allowing the country to be transformed to just another Russian region.

Belarusian maidan. Commenting upon the protests following the 2007 presidential elections, journalists stated that “a political minority did not agree with the peoples’ will” which decisively supported Lukashenka.

Participants of Dzielo pryncypa, a talk show hosted by Vadzim Hihin, discussed collecting signatures for the nomination of candidates for the presidential election. Among the participants on the talk show was an MP, an independent political analyst, and also the heads of all candidates’ electoral committees.

The pre-election campaign is colourless? Valery Karbalevych, an independent political analyst, vocally criticised the authorities. He mainly argued that the pre-election campaign was boring and reflected the lack of real political life in the country. In his view, the vast majority of Belarusians remain indifferent towards the election. “The whole state machinery works in favour of just one candidate, the President”, Karbalevych openly said.

The majority of the discussants strongly disagreed with him. “If you think that an interesting pre-election campaign is when the candidates are arguing, when there is blood spilt on the streets, and mass protests are taking place… we do not need such a campaign!”, replied Aleh Haidukievich, who is the head of Siarhei Haidukievich’s electoral team.

Access to state media for all? Andrej Dzmitryjeu, the head of Taciana Karatkievich's electoral team, pointed out that the political debates in Belarus are taking place only during the pre-election campaign rather than as a part of the regular political process. He also noted that his organisation remained unknown to most of Belarusians as it had no access to state TV and radio.

Not so voluntary support for Lukashenka? Karbalevich noted that people working in state enterprises were often forced to sign on to the support lists of Lukashenka. That roused some controversy in the studio.

Conflict and democracy in the opposition? Karbalevych argued that the real political life in Belarus actually takes place amid the opposition, as people argue there which remains a part of a normal political reality.

Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials available on the web site of Belarusian State Television 1 (BT1) and ONT TV. Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.

Paula Borowska is an analyst of the Ostrogorski Centre. Originally from Bialystok, she studied at the University of Gdansk and the University of Bologna.

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