The Norwegian government has recently promised Belsat TV to support it financially. It is a nice gift on the fourth anniversary of the channel. What can you say about the current financial position of Belsat?
Our main financial source is the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I hope that this year we will get the amount of money equal to that of the previous year. Initially we did count upon a larger amount than a necessary minimum but it seems to be unreal. Another source is Telewisia Polska, but it is going through financial difficulties as well. That is why it is difficult to count on more than 4.5-5 mln $ annually. There are also foreign sponsors which the development of our channel depends on. The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Telewisia Polska provide a necessary minimum for our survival and I hope that this will have happened in the current year. Foreign sponsors give us opportunities for growth, and as you know, one who does not grow actually reverts.
Overlooking Internet resources one can not help paying attention to the opinions of some experts from Belarus who are constantly criticizing the channel for inaccessibility, low-level journalism and cultural projects amateurism.
I am aware of these points of view. They were sounded more than three years ago, i.e. soon after our start. I can not say that they were fully wrong although they stemmed from exceedingly high expectations and impatience. Nowadays these opinions have lost their relevance completely. Let us start with our accessibility. When we started in 2007 our programs were transmitted via only one satellite («Astra 1KR»). … As a matter of fact, this satellite was not very popular in Belarus. After the surveys carried out in mid 2008 we started transmitting via «Astra 4» («Sirius»), one of the most popular satellites in Belarus. For the recent 3.5 years our viewership has increased greatly. the survey of ecember 2011 revealed that every second owner of a satellite dish watches Belsat. 20 % of the Belarusian population possess satellite dishes.
Such growth might well not be kept in next years taking into account a certain limit of satellite dishes number in Belarus. Along with a rapid growth of their amount we were also developing rapidly. And when this rate falls it will hit us but we are not going to sit twiddling our thumbs. I would like to mention that we do not have an opportunity of advertising in Belarus. Only «when three know it, all know it», as the saying goes. Nevertheless, more than 8 % of adult Belarusians (more than 900,000) watch us regularly, other 4 % state that they view our programs from time to time. We know that aiming at watching Belsat TV people of small localities often gather at a satellite dish owner’s place …
Sometimes the Belarusian authorities advertise you by means of abuse.
You are quite right, it happened. As for criticizing the channel’s level, these critical remarks were initially justified to some extent. We started from nothing. Our team consisted of newspaper- and radiojournalists, not TV workers. Often they were young people just beginning their career in mass media. They needed time to learn how to work on television and in journalism on the whole.
What way do you work if in Belarus your employees are persecuted and sometimes fall victims to repressions?
No doubt that this problem still exists. Mainly the policy of intimidation is used. Our reporters have still not been accredited, what causes problems with the legality of their working activity. We decided that the channel would not have foreign workers – journalists in Belarus: only contributors would be. They are stringers whom we buy information at. It is the way that we work though it is sure to be lax.
Are you able to guarantee their security and protection?
It depends on the extent of repressions. The Belarusian authorities have still not dared mass repressions of our journalists and we aim to support those who suffered due to their work. We try to compensate financial losses to their families and provide legal assistance to our journalists themselves if they are in need. We consider it as our duty. Moreover, they take risks consciously. They are adults who work for their country’s benefit of their own free will. Unfortunately one can imagine a more repressive regime policy because we know that such kind of authority is able to apply tougher measures of persecution. But I hope that it will not happen. Furthermore, Belsat TV is not so easy to be disposed of since a lot of people cooperate with us in terms of projects onnected not only to politics but also different cultural and educational programs, etc. I doubt that the Belarusian authorities will make an attack on us. It would draw great public attention in the country and abroad.
And finally, the main thing is that being located in Poland our office is beyond the reach of the Belarusian authorities. Even if all our partners in Belarus were detained it would not mean stopping our activity. The regime is just persecuting our journalists so far. Recently one of them has been sentenced to 11 days of arrest for filming a protest action in front of the KGB headquarters. As our contributors are mainly young people the regime tres to daunt their parents. But there are also other signals. Again and again we receive formal responses from Belarusian officials what seldom happened before.
What should one wish the channel in the fifth year of its activity?
First of all, we need more foreign sponsors so that our initiative would not be a burden for Poland. Maybe one can wish us not to humdrum but constantly have new ideas and the people able to put them into life. Thirdly, good managers, apparents ought to be trained because I am not going to be a lifelong «Belarusian» journalist: in a few years I might be eager to go my own way. And then Belsat should have its feet on the ground. It is not a part-time project, but for years to come…