Amy McKinnon, an editor of the single-issue web platform Coda Story, has written an article about Belsat TV, ‘the only Belarusian TV channel that dares to criticize its dictator’, and the problems the station has faced lately.
Denied accreditation and harassed by the Belarusian authorities, Belsat TV reports from Belarus but broadcasts from Warsaw being technically a part of the Polish Public Television, she explains.
The journalist recalls the recent situation of uncertainty, when the Polish Foreign Ministry which accounts for about 80 percent of the channel’s $4.5 million annual budget, announced cancelling its contract with Belsat TV.
“Since it was founded in 2007, Belsat TV has served as the only independent source of news in a country that the Committee to Protect Journalists has described as “one of the world’s most censored.” Through its satellite channel and online broadcasts, Belsat TV has lifted the lid on Belarus’s faltering economy and harassment of opposition politicians,” the article reads.
According to Amy McKinnon, the sad irony of the current situation is that the channel may help president Alyaksandr Lukashenka counter the bigger threat of Russian influence although it is still critical of the Belarusian regime:
“The man called Europe’s last dictator has his own problems with Russia, especially with the impact of Moscow’s growing propaganda machine. And Belsat TV’s independent voice could help the Belarus government in countering it.”
But the prevalence of Russian speakers in Belarus and the availability of Russian TV stations there mean that Vladimir Putin has a lot of tools to undermine Lukashenka, and this is where Belsat comes in, the author quotes Belsat TV information programming director Aleksy Dzikawicki. Belsat TV is doing the job of Belarusian state-run TV stations, he believes.
“Moscow’s voice is certainly a force to contend with in Belarus. Of the basic package of nine TV channels available for free in Belarus, four of them are Russian-produced and people with satellite TV can access the full complement of Russia’s state-owned channels. Belarusian channels struggle to compete with the big budgets and high production values that make their Russian counterparts so popular,” Amy McKinnon stresses.
Because of their popularity, certain Russian worldviews have taken root in Belarus, the reporter says with reference to Michał Janczuk, Belsat’s former representative in Minsk. Although Belarusian TV channels are fairly neutral on the issue of Crimea, 62% of Belarusians do support the view that the annexation of Crimea was ‘an act of historical justice’, which has been vehemently promoted by Russian media.
“That means that Russian TV channels have more influence than Belarusian ones,” said Janczuk.
Drawing the line, the Coda editor suggests that Belsat TV now finds itself as both ‘a pawn and a player’ in an ‘increasingly complex information war for hearts and minds’.
Belsat.eu, following Coda Story