Independent television is one of the elements in the framework of Belarus’ independent media. It is comprised of about 20 regional television companies, arpund 20 cable television companies, which broadcast in urban residential areas and a few companies, which produce original programmes, but have no access to broadcasting themselves. The average weekly broadcasts of a non-state television company make up 41.2 hours. However, that time is not used up in the best possible way, because of a number of financial, technical and personnel reasons. Movies make up the bulk of local television broadcasts, sometimes occupying up to 40 hours in the broadcast schedule, while original programmes hardly make more than an average of 7 hours a week. This limited time includes news broadcasts, information programmes and analysis, which are a major source of information and social orientation in current events for people. The social role of such programmes does not correspond to the place that they occupy in the schedule of broadcasts. However, local television channels are not able to change the situation all by themselves. From this perspective, the idea of making the new “Economicst” programme, or “Economicst-2”, which could be a news and analysis programme prepared jointly by local television companies and the company “FIT” and broadcast for local audiences, cannot be underestimated. Its implementation let local TV channels improve the standards of economic information for their audiences, and also let the programme “Economicst” enrich the spectrum of issues which it covers, widen the geography and target new audience groups.

New contents of “Economicst”

The transormation of the essence of the new economic programme “Economicst”, which has been under way for the last nine months, is based on four principles, which actually determine its new concept: the change in the role of the host, a dramatic alteration of the spectrum of views presented, modification of themes and re-designing of the programme visual presentation.

Change in the role of the host. It is understood, that television is special in that it is broadcast to homes and therefore has some intimate character. It literally reaches each and everyone, or more precisely, the minimal unit of society (normally, that is a family), which watches television together, because the perception of new information by the viewer largely depends on the group, of which he is a part when he watches a television programme. Families or other groups of people, who watch television together, normally form similar views of a programme, or a problem on which it concentrates. So, it is only when the image of the television host is designed so that he incideously becomes part of the group of viewers, and discusses the things that were shown with that group, and as part of it, that television is able to efficiently influence the minds of the audience. This is the tactic chosen by the host of “Economicst”, L. Zaiko “Now WE are going to see a news broadcast…”, “The stability of national currency is what OUR life depends on” etc. – such tactics help him integrate into the minimal group of viewers – US. At the same time there is a difference between an avegare viewer and the host of “Economicst” – the latter has a lot more knowledge, experience and professionalism in the sphere, on which he comments. If he could pass for a viewer, he would be the most competent of viewers. Being part of a small group and at the same time standing out as a most competent person in it are characteristics of an opinion leader. This is the role chosen by the host of “Economicst”, which reconstructs another important element of mass communication (it is known, that such communitation has a double nature: people get information from an opinion leader, whose authority is beyond doubt, and who is seen as a model in choosing and estimating informa-tion). That creates favourable conditions for influencing the audience.

The next mission, chosen by the host is “agenda-setting”. “Economicst-1” as it used to be in the past, was a mixture or a mosaic structurally, which made up the whole thing, but could be varied in the layout of elements (news broadcasts) in the frame of an individual programme. The layout of “Economicst-2” became stricter, and the order of broadcasts became dependent on the course of the host’s speach. In the beginnig of the programme the host sets out the most important issue, and then explains its short-term and long term outcomes and illustrates them by news stories. He also gives examples of different models of behavior in the situation. Such classification of news by its importance, which rates news stories in broadcasts has a large influence on the audience’s attitudes to the events, under way in the country. And the less known and less clear the situation is, the more people tend to trust the media and assign importance to the news and events, chosen for coverage. By describing a presidential decree on privatization or ruble rate fluctuations as the most important event in current economic life, the host of “Economicst-2” teaches his audience to notice market elements in economy-related events.

Change in the choice of opinion agents. As seen from Table 1, “Economicst-2” makes a big difference from “Economicst-1” in the choice of opinions presented. During the early stage, the programme quite seldom went out on to the street to question ordinary people of their attitudes; now it is an important part of “Economicst”, which is done on a regular basis.

Table 1. Opinion agents in the programme “Economicst-1” and “Economicst-2” (%)

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Such keen attention to the opinions of ordinary people caused a major change in the balance of opinion agents in the programme and the change of its style. The conflict in “Economicst-1” was that of two positions – the official stance and the expert appraisals, expressed by officials of government authorities on the one side and experts, scholars and businessmen on the opposite side. In “Economicst-2”, 3 positions are represented: the official stance, the expert stance and the opinions of the general public. Now it is the position of the people, which is in opposition to the official standpoint. Experts have dropped out of the dispute and now offer non-biased analysis of existing problems. Now they analyse not only the economic environment as such, but also the consequences it has on ordinary people. Experts have assumed the role of inpependent analysts of social conflicts.

Change in the coverage of issues. “Economicst-1” gained popularity four years ago not merely as an economic news programme, but as a programme, which focused on the issues of the market eoconomy. According to a survey of the programme contents, in 1997 more than half (54.4%) of the stories in “Economicst-1” focused on the private sector of the economy. Industry and finance held a priority, so the programme was particularly quick to address the issues, which are far-fetched for most people, like administration and management, the legal environment, foreign economic relations on the level of individual companies and macroeconomic statistics.

The issues, which most people find more vexed, like labour conditions, wages, social security, housing and unemployment – were touched upon in 9.1% of stories. The coverage of issues in “Economicst-2” remains market-oriented, and too concentrates on the private sector of the economy. However, the preference structure has changed substantially.

As seen from Table 2, the programme has become more “psychologically involving” for the people. Many topics have aquired a new, psychologically familiar, aspect, owing to the comments of the host. The list of the most frequently addressed topics includes the currency market, business, customer protection, the companies in a market environment, service, real estate, the government’s economic policy, trade, prices, goods’ deficits, insurance and taxation. As a rule, the host also suggests some models of behaviour for an invividual or a company to assume in a market environment, not just presents the news stories. There is every testimony to the fact, that the programme changed the priorities for more vexing information, and for more practically usable data for an ordinary person.

Table 2. Preferences in the choice of stories for the programme of economic news “Economicst-2”

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New visual presentation of the programme. The studio of “Economicst-1” was in most cases a computer-equipped modern office, from where experts and scholars commented on economic events, in a straightforward and professional manner. The other option of the visual presentation was a round-table conference, where problems were being “brainstormed”. The discussion of a problem dominated over the problem as such. The visual presentation, chosen by “Economicst” corresponded to an overall image of an “expert” programme, which provided professional interpretation of economic realities, the target audience for which were professionals and intellectuals.

A change of priorities in the visual presentation reflects the programme’s aspiration for a wider audience. “The office” and brainstorming as the symbols of “Economicst” are being replaced by new symbols, which are more adequate for the new programme. Will this eventually be a background of people in the street, which has so frequently been seen in the programme lately, making it understood that its major basis is public opinion? Time will tell.

“Economicst-2” features more news stories, which are presented from various factory backgrounds. Is such a presentation in itself a reference to problems? No. A problem is always a conflict, it arises when there is a contradiction between things which are, and thing which must be. A solution to a problem suggests some actions aimed at eliminating the contradiction. Therefore, the visual presentation of a problem must reflect a contradition, a conflict and not just a place of action (be it factory premises, constuction site or collective farm). However, sometimes in “Economicst” stories there is a visual reference to the conflict, which reflects the existing contradiction between the two sides and therefore can be viewed as a picture of a problem. Sometimes, a methaphoric picture…

As seen from the above, the programme “Economicst” has shifted for “popular television”, mobilizing all means there are to impress the general audience.

Non-state television as a resource for social leaders

Local media inevitably encounter a problem of attracting contributors, which is basically a problem of selecting and attracting people from outside the media sphere, who can formulate and reflect the interests of different social groups.

In September 1998 IISEPS held a survey among opinion leaders, who work with the media. Eighty three people were questioned both in and outside of Minsk.

The majority of respondents, who work with the media as free-lance writers, are intellectuals over 30 years of age. In most cases, their occupation suggests writing texts or public speeches, therefore they see no problem in working with the media. It has always been that way – free-lancers were often the people, whose primary occupation was close to journalism. However, the contemporary objectives of non-state media and, particularly local non-state television, include providing full and non-biased coverage of the events and processes under way in the social life, with the primary concentration on the development of that market and choosing legally motivated schemes of behaviour and protection of human rights. Such objectives requre careful and active selection of authors. For instance, among the opinion leaders, who are represented in the media, there are too few businessmen, entrepreneurs and lawyers. Attracting them to media activities is therefore of particular importance, as that can make the coverage of issues more balanced and better corresponding to the needs of the general public. The distribution of topics covered by opinion leaders is shown in Table 3.

Table 3. Topics covered by opinion leaders

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Problems of culture and politics occupy a priority, whilst a number of concrete economic issues, like banking, finance, trade and services are more seldom addressed.

Social leaders are willing to use both national and local, state and non-state media. However, over the last two years they have been on average three times as active in co-operating with non-state media on any level, than with the state-run companies. Their most frequent appearances are in the non-state printed periodicals and the local independent television: 24.6% of respondents publish their articles in the independent national press frequently (once a week) or more or less often (once a month), 26.3% make frequent appearances in local non-state publications and 23.0% on non-state television and radio.

As seen from Table 4, social leaders are willing to work with the media primarily because they want to influence people’s minds and change the situation the way they want it. Owing to this creative objective they make a tremendous difference from professional journalists, whose aspiration is to produce a quality marketable product, called “informa-tion” and successfully sell it in the information market (See. Yefimova N. Belarusian media and the authorities: journalists’ standpoint. IISEPS policy paper. 1997).

Table 4. Why are social leaders willing to work with the media, %

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Social leaders wish to influence people and express themselves by means of mass media. However, they sometimes fail to achieve this aim: only 31.1% respondents claimed they had a chance to fully express their views, 50.8% admitted, that they were expressing their views only “to some extent”, while 11.5% claimed they failed to achieve even that.

What is there to hamper the expression of leaders’ stand-points to the full? “Self-censorship” is in first place, mentioned by 36.1% of respondents. 24.6% claimed censorship on behalf of the authorites and almost as may said the editorial officials were censoring them.

As a primary target audience social leaders see three major groups – entre-preneurs, young people and intelligentsia (see Table 5).

Table 5. Audience groups, addressed by social leaders through the media, %

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Addressing most active and progressively-minded social groups, those leaders, however, feel some uncertainty, which is reflected in their “censoring” themselves and limiting their thoughts and words. Lack of feedback, either positive or negative, is a major reason for that. Answering a question about the feedback 20% of respondents said, they did not have any. However, almost 64% have a feedback from their audience, but it takes very traditional shapes: rare letters, telephone calls and meetings. 9.8% of respondents claimed they felt the impact of their work from changes of situation and resolution of problems.

Consequently, to increase the efficiency of social leaders’ participation in non-state television programmes, the following two things can be done: a) leaders, who can provide comprehensive coverage to the problems, which are important for the taget audience, can be persistently selected and attracted; b) feedback schemes between the audience and editorial offices, or the audience and social leaders can be developed; multiple feedback schemes can be used, inluding sociological monitoring of the audience, which provides the most precise and valid information from the point of view of a scholar.

N. Efimova, Ph. D.