KaliLaska, Minsk Branding, Green Initiatives – Civil Society Digest
Belarus remains the last country in Europe which keeps capital punishment. Activists of campaign “Possessed. Against the Death Penalty” produced a clip and explained why it should be changed. Apart from "green" events, Belarusian activists launched social campaigns including Belarus Days in Sweden with roundtable on media in Belarus.
BelNetwork anti-AIDS issues annual report. Everyone who wants to learn Belarusian language has a chance to participate in the project “Mova ci kava”. Budzma became the partner of that initiative. From April 2013 Belarusian elderly in Minsk for the first time will have an opportunity to become the students of the Third Age University.
KaliLaska opens. On 5 April, the first charity store KaliLaska will be opened in Minsk and aimed to help the homeless, children's homes, large families, shelters for animals. The shop takes second-hand things from population: about 20% of them are sold for money then; the bulk goes to vulnerable groups for free. Team of KaliLaska is an association of friends “who have decided to move from words to action: do something useful for the world”.
Minsk Branding Team held public hearings. On 25 March, the public initiative Minsk Branding Team held open public hearings at live TV.TUT.BY. The meeting included presentations of research results of opinions of citizens on the Minsk brand (according to Group SATIO), the best submitted concepts, as well as an open discussion among professionals, the media and indifferent Minsk residents.
Possessed. Against the Death Penalty. The campaign against the death penalty produced a video to the first anniversary of the execution of Uladzislau Kavaliou and Dzmitry Kanavalau, sentenced to death on charges of terrorism. The story tells why the Belarusian human rights activists oppose the death penalty, and what everyone should do to change the situation.
BISS on tut.by’s Amplituda show. On 20 March BISS analysts Elena Artemenko and Andrei Eliseev were invited experts of a television TUT.by program Amplituda on the topic Migration of Belarusians. The experts told where, when and why Belarusians are leaving the country, as well as explained the migration impact on the demographic situation in Belarus. The material caused heated discussion of readers and collected more than 1,000 comments.
Third Age University in Minsk. From April 2013, the first department of the Minsk City University of the Third Age is to be launched. Elderly people will be trained on computer skills under the faculty Information and Communication Technologies. The project aims to create conditions for further education of elderly and is implemented by Belarusian Association of Social Workers, supported by German Foundation Memory, Responsibility and Future.
ICT study visit. E-Governance Academy (Tallinn) and Pact, Inc announce a call for participants for a study visit Public-Private Partnership for Development of E-governance. The visit is to take place on 28 April – 4 May 2013, in Tallinn and continues a series of events for the Belarusian participants to introducing to the experience of the Estonian ICT sector.
Mova ci kava continues its regular lessons. Every Monday the Minsk residents have an opportunity to gather at the Gallery Ў to study Belarusian in an amusing and relaxed way. On 18 March more than 80 persons attended a lesson on the topic World through Belarusians’ View. The campaign Budzma is a partner of the initiative.
REC recruits trainers. The Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC), with the support of Sida, announces a call for trainers/facilitators to assist the REC in organisational viability support work for the he project “Supporting Environmental Civil Society Organisations" (SECTOR). A group of ten trainers will be trained, and it is expected that four or five of them will be contracted under the project to provide support to CSOs to carry out self-assessments and draft organisational development plans.
Economic and Business Education Abroad. On 7 April, Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC) together with IPM Business School organise the conference Economic and Business Education Abroad, which will present opportunities for economic and business education in Europe and the U.S. The conference will present the programmes of leading educational institutions of Ukraine, Hungary, Poland and Lithuania.
Earth Hour in Belarus. Earth Hour 2013 was held on 23 March at 8:30pm-9:30pm. Belarus joined the global campaign for the fifth time. The Green Alliance appealed to heads of the ministries and large industrial enterprises with a request to turn off the lights on billboards, and other communal property, where the blackout is not critical. Center for Environmental Solutions offers a series of related events for school pupils, including participation in the creation of the video "60 seconds for the Earth."
International Day of Sparrow. On 30 March BirdLife Belarus invited to celebrate the Day of Sparrow in Baranovichi (Brest region). During the day, a series of events is to be conducted – putting up birds houses in the park, quiz "What bird am I?", master-class on making birds out of unconventional materials, lotteries, sale of souvenirs and gifts from the test with the image of birds.
Capacity development for environmental CSOs. The Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) announces a call for environmental CSOs which are interested to get support in their capacity development. The organizers are to provide ongoing support of a facilitator during all the process. CSOs that will design a long-term development plan successfully are eligible to receive a grant of up to 8,000 euro to improve their capacity.
Update From Belarus. On 12 April, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Washington, DC) hosts a discussion of the current situation in Belarus with a delegation of professional and CSO Belarusian leaders. Speakers will include Yury Chavusau, the Assembly of Pro-Democractic NGOs, Janna Grinyuk, the Center of System Business Technologies, and Yury Zisser, creator and founder of TUT.BY. Travel for this delegation is supported by USAID and Pact.
Belarus Days in Sweden. On 19-21 March “Belarus Days” were celebrated in Sweden. The agenda included a round-table discussion Media under pressure with the participation of Zhanna Litvina, BAJ, Yuliya Slutskaya, Solidarity with Belarus Information Office, etc. Also several other events were held with the participation of the Belarusian and Swedish human rights defenders, representatives of Amnesty International, Belarusian musician Liavon Volski.
Belarus in Focus: International journalists awarded in Warsaw. Winners of the international journalism competition ‘Belarus in Focus 2012’ were awarded on 15 March in Warsaw. The competition received 60 articles from 36 journalists from 16 countries all over the world. The most articles were sent by journalists from Belarus, the United Kingdom, and Poland.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.
Barricade Journalism in Belarus
The Belarusian media more and more look like barricade journalism. The state media fiercely fight their non-state colleagues and vice versa. Endless clichés, mutual accusations and the language of hatred often leave little space for decent journalism.
The lack of professional ethics on the two sides of the barricades makes the situation more complicated. Outright propaganda campaigns, conspiracy theories and plagiarism undermine the public discourse and make the public opinion vulnerable to all sorts of manipulation. Non-state media sometimes try to outperform their state-paid salaries in the art of manipulation.
Confrontation between the media that represent opposite political views is a typical phenomenon in the world. And the more tense the relations between political opponents in a country the more uncompromising the media become in treating one another.
In Belarus this confrontation has been brought to an extreme level. According to the well-known Belarusian journalist and media expert Aliaksandr Klaskouski, the media sector in the country reminds barricades. The majority of journalists think in the categories of “us” and “them”. On the one side of the barricades is the pro-governmental Belarusian Union of Journalists (BUJ). And on the other side – the independent Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ).
Generally, this situation does not surprise. In a repressive authoritarian state that still allows some space for independent activities this is inevitable. As the experts of the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS) point out, Belarus remains a politically deeply divided country. The media reflect such divisions and sustain them by a constant flow of behind-the-barricades reporting.
In February the Liberal Club think tank held a round-table discussion "How to Overcome Barricade Thinking in the Belarusian Media". The event sparked huge interest among journalists and the general public. Representatives of the two conflicting media associations took part in it.
In the opinion of the majority of the speakers, the media barricades will last as long as the incumbent political regime. The authorities have no interest in easing their firm control of the media while only demonopolisation and unrestricted market competition can solve the barricade problem. Free competition will expand the Belarusian media market from the current small volume of USD 70 million and stimulate an inflow of serious investment and ideas. Journalists will then have to produce high-quality product that will satisfy different categories of consumers.
But before that happens the Belarusian media will continue to look like a barricade. And this confrontation would not be as noteworthy if it were not for the impact it makes on the whole of society.
The issue of professional ethics among the journalist community comes to the spotlight.
With the state media everything is clear. One can watch news on state TV channels or read politically-sensitive materials in government-owned newspapers and see that professional ethics remains an unknown animal there. Black PR and badly researched materials dominate the political agenda of the state media.
But what about the independent media, who normally claim to be promoting European values through their work?
Unfortunately, it looks like they fail to differ a lot. According to Aliaksandr Klaskouski, there are multiple examples when independent media degrade to the level of “oppositional primitivism”. They produce the same poor propaganda instead of quality journalism.
Moreover, sometimes it looks like some non-state media try to outperform their government-owned counterparts in violating the norms of professional ethics. Two recent scandals that both involved Charter'97, a popular independent Internet resource, serve as good examples.
The first scandal developed around the issue of plagiarism. A group of Belarusian journalists and analysts accused Charter'97 of reposting their publications without naming the authors at all. In other cases editors of Charter'97 kept the names of the authors but changed the contents of the original articles.
The other scandal broke out at an OSCE-organised event in Vienna. The editor of Charter'97 publicly accused the owner of another popular non-state Internet portal TUT.BY of cooperating with the Belarusian KGB. The representative of Charter97 concluded that TUT.BY helped to undermine democracy in Belarus.
These two scandals reflect the atmosphere in the independent media sector. Despite declarations of moral superiority to the state media many independent journalists demonstrate complete ignorance of the basics of professional ethics.
This problem of poor professional ethics in the non-state media sector tops the agenda of the newly established media watchdog Mediakritika.by.
Arguments of the Conflicting Sides
According to some observers, the barricade situation can only improve if the two journalists associations get together and agree to establish a code of conduct. But such a scenario looks hardly possible. The level of mistrust between the official BUJ and the independent BAJ is enormous.
The argument of independent journalists in this confrontation goes that the state media enjoy total protection from the government and receive generous funding from the national budget. For example, in 2013 the national budget allocates about USD 77 million for all the state media. Independent journalists rightly point out that this violates the principles of fair competition because independent media are not subject to such funding schemes.
The state media, in their turn, normally accuse their independent counterparts of living exclusively on foreign grants. As a result, they say, non-state media totally depend on external “masters” and, therefore, represent the interests of foreigners rather than of the Belarusian people.
Pro-governmental journalists claim that without foreign grants the independent media will quickly become insolvent as they do not enjoy popularity among the people. To support the claim they refer to various public opinion polls, particularly conducted by the Information and Analytical Centre of the Presidential Administration (which, of course, has questionable credibility).
In 2012 the Centre studied what newspapers the Belarusians trust most of all. Their research revealed that the leading state-owned newspapers (Respublika, Sovetskaya Belarus, Narodnaya Gazeta, Zvyazda) enjoyed much higher levels of trust among their readers than the leading papers in the other camp (BelGazeta, Svobodnye Novosti, Narodnaya Volya).
Interestingly, the latest survey by the IISEPS showed equally low public trust in both state and independent Belarusian media: only about 28% .
Impact on Society
Unfortunately, the media confrontation and lack of professional ethics among journalists on both sides of the barricades shape the public opinion in Belarus. The latter has become divided, poorly informed, prejudiced and extremely biassed. It perceives the complex Belarusian reality purely in “black” or “white” terms.
If a society that lives in such a black-and-white world suddenly faces serious challenges and has to make important historic decisions, there is almost a guarantee that these decisions will be painful and wrong. And both the state and non-state media camps will be responsible for it.