On April 25 during the IX Congress of BAJ Zhanna Litvina, who had performed the functions of the head of organization for almost 20 years, resigned from this position to be changed with Andrei Bastunets, who has been working as the deputy chair of BAJ for a long time.
People say that “a new broom sweeps clean”. Is the new chair of BAJ going to change the course of organization, its strategy, and the tactics of action? How independent press is going to answer new challenges and threats, first of all those on the part of the “Russian World”?
The guest of the “EuroBelarus” Information Service is the BAJ leader Andrei Bastunets.
- Will BAJ policy change after your appointment?
- Obviously, no. Neither the policy nor the direction of work will change. Before the elections I was among the managers of the organization and a deputy chair and, accordingly, was responsible for the work of BAJ that was performed earlier.
- What does independent journalism look like today? How do you see situation in independent journalism from the inside – is it a sad or a positive sight?
I wouldn’t use term “sight” in reference to the independent journalism.
What is independent journalism? It is responsible journalism that adheres to the standards of journalist work and performs the mission of media: informing people, providing the platform for expressing opinions of publicly important issues, controlling the actions of the authorities…
Obviously, today’s situation in Belarus is unfavorable for performing these functions of media. But I think that independent media work in this situation with dignity.
- The relations of independent media with the state cannot be called unclouded. But what are the principles that these mutual relations are based at?
- Independent journalism is the general term. And it is clear that every media and every journalist build the relations with the state and with the authorities in their own specific way.
But if we talk in general, the state makes every effort to drive the independent journalism into ghetto; and not only traditional mass media, but also Internet, whereas media community is opposing this pressure.
- On the eve of the professional journalistic holiday the Information Minister announced that the ministry prepared draft changes to the decree that presupposes responsibility of Internet owners for the information disposed at their media. And it looks like it is not the last crackdown on the threshold of the presidential campaign in Belarus.
- Both me and other experts have already noted that the introduction of changes to the law on mass media aroused conflict between the two legal norms. The law on media stipulated liability for the owners of Internet resources for comments that are displaced at their media, whereas the president Decree No.60 said that the responsibility is on those persons that displaced their comments in the Internet.
When there is a conflict between the two norms in Belarus, the authorities prefer to use the tougher one, and that is what the changes to the President Decree are supposed to be about. Though let me note that according to the legislative rules such conflict of norms shouldn’t have appeared. Before taking another norm we should have first abolished the first one. But not so that deputies vote for the norm that contradicts the Presidential Decree, while later he signs the law that contradicts the decree he has signed himself earlier.
I think that now all legal possibilities based on any little reason to stop any traditional media from publishing or blocking any Internet resource are created. We shouldn’t expect new changes to the legislation on mass media, though at the level of law enforcement we can always expect some unpleasant innovations.
- Russia-Ukraine war has created new challenges for the Belarusan journalism, i.e. to withstand aggressive Russian propaganda. Is Belarusan journalism ready to react to the threats of the “Russian World”?
- Few days ago the awarding ceremony of the creative contest for journalists Volnaye Slova (Free Word) took place in BAJ. Yuras Karmanau, president of the jury, noted that almost third part of the works that were sent to the competition and even won prizes were dedicated to the military conflict at the east of Ukraine and were written by independent journalists. It is independent media that formulate Belarusan stance in relation to the Russia-Ukraine war duly. State press, I think, demonstrates complete uncertainty and inability to oppose the Russian propaganda.
Besides, numerous official media were created mainly at the Russian program production. Formally and judicially performing as the Belarusan media, in reality they promote Kremlin’s position. For out of eight Belarusan TV-channels that are a part of the obligatory commonly available package four are using Russian information production.
- The Information Minister called upon Belarusan TV-channels to work for the development of the national information area. One of the creators of the state propaganda – Belarus based Aliaksandr Zimouski – is convinced that Belarus doesn’t have any resources for opposing the Russian propaganda. How grounded are such statements?
- In late May presentation of the work of a group of media experts that study the problem of defending Belarusan national information area will take place. This work is done within the frames of “Reforum” project by BISS aimed at modernization of the Belarusan legislation. The conclusions of the experts haven’t been formed yet, but I can take the liberty of saying that although the system of control over the media sphere is able to block distribution of any information it turns out to be absolutely powerless in the face of total Russian propaganda. Out TV has mastered the art of blocking concrete topics directed against the highest official in the country; but when it faces the ideology of the “Russian World”, even though this ideology might disrupt Belarusan statehood, it is helpless. And that is not surprising, since the whole system of Belarus’ national security is built for being in one bundle with Russia.
- State media are consonant with the Russian propaganda; at least they don’t make any attempts to step out of the Russian information captivity. What goals does independent journalism have in the face of the threat from the “Russian World”?
- We do follow and analyze the situation; we will direct our conclusions and suggestions to the state bodies and voice them publicly, both inside and outside Belarus.
Last year BAJ refused to take part in the Congress organized by the European Federation of Journalists that took place in Moscow. We found it impossible to participate at the time when the information war against Ukraine was launched by numerous Russian media.
BAJ adheres to the very clear position that is not political, but originates from the journalistic standards. We don’t want to support something that has nothing to do with journalism, even if indirectly.