We are greatly astounded and disappointed having read the quarterly Belarusian media monitoring report developed by Press Club Belarus.
This report, allegedly based on the criteria of objectivity and credibility (based on the Press Club Belarus claim), has ranked our station below the Belarusian state TV channels and even below the Russian Sputnik Belarus, equating those simple tools of authoritarian regimes’ propaganda with regular media outlets, thus actually granting legitimacy to the former as credible broadcasters.
We have not reacted so far hoping that Press Club Belarus will notice its mistake and amend what we believe to be a defective methodology and composition of the research group. Sadly, this has not happened. This explains the timing of our present response. We cannot remain silent and ignore this manipulation that affects the good reputation and positive perception of Belsat and undermines its strong position in Belarus.
Strangely enough, the findings of the monitoring report have been published while the station’s ratings are rapidly growing. Latest studies show that 13 per cent of adult Belarusians watch the channel. The viewership and confidence data point to an amazing disconnect between the ratings and expectations of the viewers and the evaluation presented in the Press Club Belarus monitoring reports.
Regarding the substance of the report findings, we believe that:
1. The inclusion of Belarusian and Russian state media in the same scoring alongside independent media is a mistake that as such it must be rectified. The former are solely institutions of propaganda that are controlled by state administration both in terms of ad hoc interventions and a general editorial policy. Belsat has always been and will continue to be free of any political influence.
2. It is equally wrong to apply the same evaluation criteria to media that are radically different in nature and format, e.g. television channels and news agencies. Those two types of media convey their content in very different ways and in certain situations they are subject to very different formal requirements. It is utterly unreasonable and contrary to the art of journalism to demand stating the sources in nearly every line of the TV presenters script, including the sources of commonly known facts or non exclusive agency news.
3. The said monitoring exercise appears to fully disregard the nature of the reporter’s job in an authoritarian regime, where media have an inherently limited access to information. Our long established practice at Belsat has demonstrated more than enough that Belarusian government officials consistently and ostentatiously refuse to reply to our reporters’ questions while explaining that these journalists are not formally accredited. Meanwhile, authorities have consistently turned down our accreditation applications.
4. The monitoring exercise appears to confuse opinion with generalized presentation of commonly known and obvious facts. For example a sentence such as: “Deteriorating weather conditions may discourage potential travelers” could be censored as a journalist’s statement of opinion. Should this approach be applied to all news programs it would force newsrooms to write their material only using excessively short affirmative statements in each case followed by a reference to the source.
5. Finally, the methodology of this media ranking project is fundamentally flawed because – while analyzing and evaluating specific samples of media content – the monitors fail to consider the entirety of news and information presented in a given media outlet. The report does not reflect the due diligence and objectivity of the overall presentation by each evaluated media outlet of all major news of the day as opposed to omitting some of them; neither does the report adjust for the different formal requirements that must be satisfied by a given program – e.g., a prime-time television news program.
Ever since Belsat was launched, we have been committed to developing quality independent media in Belarus as a matter of public interest. We accept criticism and do not shirk our responsibility for any actual mistakes, which we try to correct. But we cannot agree with the media monitoring report of Press Club Belarus, which is flawed and unjustly damaging to our media channel’s reputation.
Director, Editor-in-Chief of Belsat TV