Ms. Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy, the director of Belsat TV, gave a speech during a conference on Freedom of media in the EU and neighbouring countries held in Cracow on 24th and 25th November, organizaed by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).
Ms. Romaszewska-Guzy was one of the speakers in a panel on patterns of political and business clientalism in media. Her focus were media in Belarus. She gave a broad overview of the political context which shapes the current situation, the needs of Belarusians, and how Belsat TV is addressing them.
She started her diagnosis with presenting ownership structure of media in the country: „three TV channels along with their regional affiliates, radio, the main newspaper and the largest news agency are all owned by government. Those private media that have survived shun politics and increasingly often play the exclusive role of advertising posts.“
The ownership issue translates into the problem of lack of freedom of media in Belarus. „Not one independent daily newspaper is published in Belarus, whereas the circulation of independent press publications that are still left (weekly and monthly magazines) is facing huge problems because the press distribution network, owned by government and unique in the country, refuses to carry them.“ – she noted.
Under this Soviet-style regime, both „nationalistic and counter-nationalistic“, the state owned media hardly ever „refer to anything Belarusian“. Independent journalists, poets, singers performing in Belarusians, certain painters, documentary film makers – they all were banned from the official public realm, noted Ms. Romaszewska-Guzy. And all of those groups, as carriers of the Belarusian culture found space in Belsat TV.
„This is the country [Belarus] with which the European Union shares its eastern border and hence cannot stay indifferent to what is happening there. As a prominent Soviet dissident has said, it is cheaper, safer and wiser to influence the awareness and build institutions than later have to send in B2 bombers – as happened in Serbia. Belsat Television is the result of this philosophy.“ – explained the director of the station.
As it has been proven before, Belsat is for many Belarusians one of the main sources of independent, credible news and the only one next to the Internet. For those living in the country side, with poor Internet access, Belsat is the unique option. Owning to this important role, Belsat has quickly earned a broad recognition among Belarusians.
„Many observers of the Belsat project were skeptical, especially at first, treating it as an initiative meant to serve current political needs. Meanwhile, Belsat TV is creating social awareness and civil society at the most basic level.“ – argued Ms. Romaszewska-Guzy.