Written by Jakub Przetacznik with Linda Tothova.
The media situation in Belarus has never been easy. With Aliaksandr Lukashenka being elected president of the country for the first time in 1994, the necessary reforms to provide media freedom have never materialised. Instead, over the years various laws have lessened the rights of independent journalists and imposed limits on both traditional and electronic media.
Following the August 2020 presidential election, which ignited a brutal crackdown against the democratic opposition, the situation has worsened. Harassment, a hijacking, and politically motivated jail terms, both short and long, intimidate Belarusians who want to exchange ideas, report wrongdoing or fight for freedom of expression and freedom for the country. In January 2022, the Belarusian Association of Journalists confirmed the presence of at least 32 journalists in Belarusian jails. On the positive side, new electronic media cannot be banned effectively and absolutely. While the regime slowly expands its presence on the internet, Belarusians trust independent media more and use it more eagerly. However, society’s distancing of itself from traditional state-controlled media is increasingly met with an angry reaction from the state apparatus, which in turn further tightens related laws.
The European Union, and the European Parliament in particular, actively support independent media and civil society in Belarus, and the Council of the EU and the Parliament both address the challenges to media freedom in the country. Financial help is also provided to Belarus and was even increased at the end of 2021, with priority areas of support including ‘systematically repressed’ independent media.
Read the complete briefing on ‘Media environment in Belarus‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.