Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy puts cards on the table: what real independence for mass media means, who watch Belsat TV and what may lie ahead.
Belsat now and then
Five years has passed since our first going on the air. Belsat of those days and Belsat nowadays are two different worlds, but it should be noticed that our aims and values remain unchanged. New colleagues have come but among our journalists there are a lot of people who were airing the first program and three-minute newscasts.
“By the moment they have become skilled cameramen but then cameras were shaking in their hands: someone happened to have been filmed, and their ear couldn’t be seen [on the footage]. But it is the same people who are working at the moment! Moreover, the channel has the same good and healthy atmosphere. I am sure that it is the same Belsat TV which we started with,” Mrs Romaszewska said.
Like every grassroots initiative, the idea of creation of independent Belarusian television had to overcome numerous obstacles. However, at that moment a natural need of the entry of a project not connected to any person or political force arose. Also Belsat’s rise was influenced by technological advance and enthusiasm of the small group of people that believed in success of their efforts from the very beginning.
“Of course, serious troubles also happened, but at the same time pulling through them demonstrated the channel’s power. In 2009 the crisis caused by my withdrawal from the channel befell. But almost full Belsat’s staff made a stand for all that had resulted from our combined efforts. I had an unusual feeling because all [colleagues] got together literally within an hour. It proved the fact that we would fight and win,” the Director recalls.
Principles instead of instructions
According to the Director, the main results of five-year work are retaining of the channel’s independence and the lack of its associating with any individuals or political forces in public opinion.
“Firstly, Belsat does not depend on the Belarusian authorities. All that is ignored by state-owned television can be watched here. The channel is also independent with regard to Belarusian political forces. We are financed by the Polish government and other foreign partners. The experience shows that our sponsors do not lay down any special demands to our programs. Once they ask to air the interview with Minister Sikorski – and that’s all. Basing on principles, not instructions, is characteristic for independence. An instruction prescribes the way one should behave in a particular situation. A principle guides your behaviour in general,” Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy stresses.
Why does Poland support Belsat, Radio Racyja and why did the country grant asylum in Warsaw to Charter’97? The answer is that nobody wants to have a neighbouring dictator. Unfortunately, the democratic world’s leverage over Belarus, the authorities of which strive for isolation from western values, is limited. By means of unbiased information independent media appeal to society, not to authorities.
According to Mrs Romaszewska-Guzy, rural population makes a considerable part of our audience. Among our viewers there are intellectuals, small businessmen, the regime’s loyalists and opponents…
“We broadcast our programs for a normal human being – for businessmen, intellectuals, pensioners, for arising middle class, We are a cultural initiative for them,” she says.
Belsat: to be or not to be
Five years of fight for financing, up-bringing of Belarusian professional journalists are behind. What then? For its further development the stabilization of organizing and financing is needed.
“It is such a large and complicated institution, and it cannot work in the circumstances of constant uncertainty. We need steady support, better on the part of the EU, or at least international support, but to a greater extent than we have nowadays. Only after getting it we might dream of further activities, i.e. making series, new films, talk-show. There are a plenty of ideas. But the main task for today is improving our structure and providing serious financial and organisational base,” the Director says.
Interviewed by Siarhei Pieliasa