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VOTERS CLAIM: CANDIDATES HAVE UNEQUAL ACCESS TO STATE-RUN MASS MEDIA

Before presidential candidates were allowed to address population from TV and radio, independent sociologists conducted an opinion poll among Belarusian citizens on the following question: “Do you think presidential candidates have the same degree of access to the state-run mass media as A. Lukashenko?” At the time of this polling, observers could count the seconds when the names of alternative candidates were mentioned in newsreels of the state-run radio and TV. It also took them much effort to find the names of these candidates in the state-run press. It was the president in the office who starred in all state-run newsreels. This is what the survey of mass media conducted by the Belarusian Association of Journalists revealed (See “Representation of political entities before their registration into presidential candidates” of January 28 – February 10, 2006 on http://www.baj.ru/Vybar06/vybary_u_SMI_2801-100206.doc). The majority of respondents (55.3%) said that such procedure of access to the mass media is not equal. However, about a third of respondents were affirmative about this.

Let’s consider answers of respondents depending on age. Thus, the opinion about unequal access to media is dominating among respondents under 60. Supporters of this opinion are getting fewer among respondents aged 60 and over. (See Table 1).

Table 1. Evaluation of parity of access to the state-run mass media that the candidates have, depending on age*, %

Variant of answer

18-20

20-24

25-29

30-39

40-49

50-59

60 years and over

Candidates have equal access

23.0

19.8

22.5

27.6

30.1

41.8

49.1

Candidates don’t have equal access

66.9

72.1

71.3

64.8

60.6

49.0

33.6

DA

10.1

7.4

6.2

7.3

8.1

8.6

15.7

* Table is read across

It is clear that the majority of respondents evaluate appropriately disparity in access to the state-run mass media which the current president and his rivals have. As the respondents get older, there appear more A. Lukashenko’s supporters among them and fewer supporters of changes. Also, their trust to the mass media is growing higher. There’s greater number of those who found it difficult to answer in this group. Perhaps, these respondents see inequity but are not ready to admit this yet.

Both the city and the village unanimously admit that presidential candidates have unequal access to the mass media. Such opinion is prevailing in all regions except the Gomel region where it received only 37.9% of votes (43.3% stands to the opposite viewpoint). This area, the greatest victim of the Chernobyl catastrophe, shows traditionally high support of the authorities. Probably, this is due to the paternalistic type of political culture cultivated among population in this area as people need support to continue life and do farming in these contaminated areas. Also, there isn’t any independent press in this region. As the result, there’s a high percentage of those who found it difficult to answer among Gomel (17.5%) residents – like among respondents aged 60 and over.

Similar is the situation in the Mogilev region, yet those respondents stating unequal access to the mass media still prevail here.

The opinion that estimate of access to the state-run media depends on political viewpoints of respondents is also proved in answers to the question “For whom will you vote at the presidential election” (51.0% of A. Lukashenko’s supporters say the access is equal) as well as to the question about voting at the referendum of 2004. Those who supported A. Lukashenko’s proposal to repeal the law which prohibited presidency for more than two consecutive terms are not ready to admit disparity (36.4% say about disparity and 12.9% found it difficult to answer). An overwhelming majority of those who voted “against” (87.4%) are very realistic about true situation and disparity of access to the state-run mass media.

Thus, the majority of respondents point out to unequal access to the state-run mass media which the current president and alternative candidates have. Consequently, when evaluating the election, the majority will have more grounds to say that this very election was unequal and therefore unfair. At the same time, even though a great part of A. Lukashenko’s supporters admits disparity of access to the mass media, they still cast their votes for A. Lukashenko.