The International and European Federation of Journalists (IFJ-EFJ) today backed their affiliate in Belarus, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), which has urged Belarusian authorities to suspend the reform of its media law. BAJ representatives visited Brussels yesterday for bilateral meetings with EU officials to draw their attention on the situation in Belarus.
The Belarusian National Assembly passed on 14 June controversial amendments to the country’s media legal framework despite concerns from domestic and international groups that these changes will lead to increased censorship and pressure on media.
In April, Belarusian lawmakers gave a first approval to the reform. The European Parliament reacted with an overwhelmingly approved resolution asking Belarusian authorities to abandon “immediately” the amendments to the Law on the Media, saying they “would threaten freedom of expression”. However, Belarusian parliament finally passed the law arguing that it will enforce citizen’s constitutional right to receive “truthful” information.
Under the new Belarussian law, authors of all posts and comments on online forums, including social-media ones, must be identified. Authorities will also be able to block social networks without court ruling. It also requires media companies to register with the Information Ministry as media outlets in order to operate within the country. Unregistered online news sites will be denied accreditation, denied the right to make audio and video recordings in Belarus and will not enjoy the essential professional right to keep their sources of information secret.
Media organisations have criticised this narrow definition of journalist status that exclude freelancers, who will be systematically barred from journalistic activity in Belarus.
“The newest amendments of 14 June perfectly represent the attitude of government towards the freedom of press and freedom of expression. The current media situation in Belarus is worse than in previous years. Journalists are not being arrested for their content, but for their cooperation with foreign media,” said Andrei Bastunets, BAJ’s Chairman.
“State control over media is unacceptable. Belarus deserves a media law that respects press freedom and ensures media and freelance journalists’ rights,” - said IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger.