Statement by International Mission to the Republic of Belarus

A group of international media and press freedom organisations today

called upon the Belarus

authorities to bring the country's media environment into accordance with

international standards, following the visit of a joint delegation to Minsk from 20 to 24 September

2009.

The group welcomes recent changes and

recognises that pressure on media and journalists has eased. However, this must

be translated into a lasting commitment to ensure the rights of journalists and

to undertake much needed reforms of the media environment. Such changes need to

be far reaching and irreversible.

The delegation met with media

organisations and with authorities of Belarus

in Minsk to

exchange views and assess the current situation of the media, press freedom,

freedom of expression and access to information.

The participating organisations and

signatories to the present statement will present a full report as a

contribution to the EU-Belarus Human Rights Dialogue and share it with other

international organisations.

The undersigned organisations, consider that:

a)     

Economic conditions for media

outlets are not equal for all. Belsayuzdruk and Belposhta distribution systems

limit access and circulation of non-state newspapers. These  restrictions hinder the  development of an independent and pluralistic

media landscape;

b)     

Non-transparent and arbitrary allocation

of broadcast licences and frequencies hinder the development of independent and

pluralistic broadcasting;

c)     

Access to information is

restricted, in particular because of the adoption and implementation of laws

that limit the journalists' right to information, or discriminate between state

and non-state media in accessing information of public interest;

d)     

Accreditation of journalists

working for Belarus

or foreign media, as well as the registration of offices of media, are

restricted by non-transparent and discriminatory decisions of the authorities;

e)     

Belarus

legislation on defamation and extremism limits press freedom, leads journalists

to self-censorship and is not in line with European and international standards

on press freedom;

f)      

Although

we welcome the new dialogue on ethics and self-regulation, the group highlights

the importance that action on this issue should be driven by the media

community itself.

Recommendations:

The following recommendations made by

the group are aimed at improving and strengthening the media environment in Belarus for

state and non-state media, as well as enhance professionalism, pluralism and

the role of media in a democratic society.

1)     

Editorial independence of state

and non-state media must be respected and they should not be targeted for their

professional activities;

2)     

Non-state media should have the

right and possibility to operate and develop under fair economic conditions,

including the right to be distributed without restriction or discrimination;

3)      Rules and conditions for accreditation of

journalists should be established. They should be transparent, unambiguous and

fair, and seek to allow access for all journalists to information of public

interest;  

4)      Journalists should not be obstructed from reporting

on public events and demonstrations;

5)      The

allocation of broadcasting licenses and frequencies should be defined by  a legislation according to international

standards and overseen by a fully independent regulator to ensure pluralism in

the broadcasting sector; 

6)      The ‘Law on the Media', the ‘Law On

Counteraction to Extremism' and articles of the Criminal Code relating to

defamation, should be reformed to bring them into line with international press

freedom and freedom of expression standards;

7)      Authorities should ensure equal

treatment of organisations representing journalists;

8)      Media, authorities and civil society

should continue the dialogue on improving media policies and practices.

Organisations signing this statement stand ready to

provide expertise and support in assisting the media community and authorities

to realise these recommendations.

Minsk, 24 September 2009

The organisations signing up to this statement include:
1.     

Article 19
2.     

Civil Rights Defenders
3.     

Committee to Protect Journalists
4.     

Danish Union of Journalists
5.     

Index on Censorship
6.     

International/European Federation of Journalists
7.     

International Media Support
8.     

International Publishers' Association
9.     

International Pen
10. 

International Press Institute
11. 

Open Society Institute
12. 

PressNow
13. 

Reporters without Borders
14. 

World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

 

Contact:
Marc Gruber, European/International Federation of Journalists
marc.gruber@ifj.org

++32 2 235 22 00