In view of well-known reasons (single Russia-Belarus information space, strict control on the part of the authorities, poor quality of the Belarusian press in general, etc.), Russian electronic mass media were in the lead at the information market of Belarus when it gained independence. Yet in April of 2003 the Belarusians ranked Russia’s television the first among the sources providing information about this country and foreign countries (78.1%). The next listed sources were Belarusian TV (64.1%), relatives, friends and colleagues (30.4%), Belarusian state-run radio (25.0%) and Belarusian state-run press (22.0%). The sources giving an alternative viewpoint on the events in the country appeared to have by far lesser audience: Belarusian non-state press (12.9%) and Western radio stations (3.3%).

In other words, Russia’s TV channels have for a long time remained the only hurdle for the current authorities striving to increase state monopoly at the information market. Dealing with them as brutally as they did with some Belarusian newspapers and radio stations, i.e. closing or denying the air, was hardly possible. Such a measure in no way fitted the official course of building a union state and could produce a negative response from the Kremlin.
Due to this reason the authorities chose another plan – successive squeezing of Russia’s TV channels from the information space of the country. Their programs, in particular newsreels and analytical ones, were substituted with domestic production of appropriate content. Sharp increase of ONT’s rating that “with few casualties” erased Russia’s First Channel from the minds of the Belarusian audience has been thoroughly analyzed in our previous publications. We then assumed that the above policy, despite its electoral drawbacks like audience’s discontent with disappearance of favorite channels and programs, would be continued. And we appeared right. Belarusian channel Lad has already taken the place of Russia’s channel Culture while NTV’s and RTR’s broadcast time has been cut down. From January 1, the right for retransmission of RTR programs was passed from the First National Channel to STV. Resources of the latter are to a greater extent poorer that will undoubtedly influence the quality of reception. The outcome of such policy hasn’t failed to come forth (See Table 1).

Table 1. Distribution of answers to the question “What are the sources you most often use to receive information about life in Belarus?”, % (more than one answer is possible)

скачанные файлы (28)


As it can be seen, Belarusian state-run mass media have already forced their Russian opponents to the background while the rate of Belarusian non-state media has increased almost threefold (!) even though the number of non-state printed editions goes down and their circulation and periodicity don’t grow up.
The growth mentioned is worthy of respect. However, the difference of wording should be taken into account: in April we asked about the information sources on life in Belarus and abroad while in September – about the information sources on life in Belarus only. Our citizens are known to draw information about foreign countries from TV programs mainly and not newspapers, either state-run or non-state. Making an allowance for this fact, we should anyway be glad at the independent press that shows excellent indicators under utterly unfavorable conditions.
Let us reflect closer on the very reasons to this. If putting it briefly, the fewer is the number of participants at the media market the greater is the weight of those remaining. After the authorities put Russian media under heavy pressure their audience reduced and people had to turn to what they had – Belarusian state-run and independent mass media as well as Western media. The quality of independent and Western media products accounts for the fact that a greater part of the audience turned to those media. Rigid bounds of ‘state ideology’ within which Belarusian state-run media work win by far not every reader or viewer, so in search of an alternative the latter address Western (their rating has also increased twofold) as well as Belarusian independent media. This is not surprising. Almost 45% of respondents claim the country doesn’t need a sole state ideology. These people will hardly watch Lad after the Culture channel has been closed.
Now, what about ousting Russia’s TV channels from the Belarusian media space? It is often said that A. Lukashenko does right limiting access of the Belarusians to the Russian mass media as he thus contributes to elimination of “expansion of imperial information” and “increase of information sovereignty”. Also, there are occasional appeals to resign all claims to A. Lukashenko if he “starts speaking Belarusian”.
In our opinion, such ideas are not just deceptive but dangerous. First, such argumentation (shutting the market and fighting the opponent by administrative measures instead of creating a competitive environment and ensuring a free access to various information sources) is stale in the age of globalization. Second, in place of “Empire’s channels” TV viewers received programs not about cultural or national revival that are, to put it mildly, not very decent from the creative viewpoint. Third, as regards the political component of this strategy, it aims at not founding a national television that would be unbiased in presenting the country events but at increasing state’s dominance in the information space, depriving citizens of the right to choose, promoting “the only right” viewpoint and, finally, at exercising totally uncontrolled power.
Those who welcome all happening should consider the following point. Even if President A. Lukashenko suddenly switches to the Belarusian language (in a wider sense – will to a greater extent correspond to the criteria of those ready to sacrifice democracy for independence), he and his propaganda machinery will not start saying the things those people demanding such transformation expect to hear.
A year ago we called your attention to the growing rate of confidence (ratio of those who trust/trust not to all who gave answer to this question) to the press, both to state-run and non-state press. The index of confidence to independent mass media then for the first time reached a positive value (+0.102) and even exceeded the index of confidence to state-run mass media (+0.078). We didn’t predict steadiness of this phenomenon. But now we can certify that the tendency stands firm (See Table 2).

Table 2. Dynamics of trust to the mass media, %

Variant of answer
State-run mass media
– trust
– trust not
Non-state mass media
– trust
– trust not
Thus, the number of those trusting non-state mass media has increased 2.2-fold while the number of those not trusting almost hasn’t changed (the index of confidence presently makes +0.110). Also, it should be noted that indices for the state-run media have improved (index of confidence makes +0.132) especially as against October 2001 when the quality of publications in state-run press before the presidential election was beyond any criticism (remember the notorious White Stork published in the “serious newspaper for serious people”).
Clearly, it is necessary to make a reservation here that the state-run mass media have in all respects (economic, legal, etc.) much more favorable working conditions than their colleagues. And conservation of unfair competition has negatively affected the financial position of independent editions. Some of them had to wind up, others reduced periodicity and circulation. Lately another tendency has come forth: non-state mass media are losing another advantage of theirs – the staff. Three years ago transfer of a journalist from a non-state to a state-run newspaper was a big stir while now this is a regular practice.
The very fact of journalist’s transfer is not strange in itself if not take into account that in Belarus the press has been lately sharply divided into “honest” and “dishonest” and that this division was drawn by the authorities and not journalists. The standards of work they established in the state-run press as well as their vision of journalist’s role and place in the social life have brought to impossibility of the most part of journalist community to work in the state-run media.
What are the reasons of growing trust to the state-run press? It hasn’t become more unbiased or professional or changed the objectives set up by the authorities. It still serves for promotion of state ideology and not exercising control over this ideology or informing the readers. However, something has changed and this drives journalists from independent press to transfer to Sovetskaya Belorussia. In our opinion, the point is that the authorities have succeeded in making their media product look more attractive for the citizens. Its content, i.e. its filling, hasn’t improved but the packaging has grown by far prettier. Sovetskaya Belorussia is a classic example. It comes out in color and has two supplements – an ideologically adjusted Delovoi Vtornik (Business Tuesday) and a yellow Sobesednik (Companion). New cognitive and entertainment columns have been included in the newspaper, with journalists from independent editions mainly working for them.
Anyway, it can be assumed with a great degree of confidence that as mass political campaigns are approaching (possible referendum, parliamentary and then presidential elections), control over information will be getting progressively tougher and the information space – narrower. The Internet will play a crucial role in such circumstances, especially since the number of Internet users is slowly but steadily growing (See Tables 3 and 4).

Table 3. Distribution of answers to the question “Do you use the Internet?”, %

скачанные файлы (29)

Table 4. Dynamics of Internet usage, %

скачанные файлы (30)


* No data

This applies to both the general number of the World Web users and their most advanced part, the so-called permanent users (daily and several times a week). The time spent by the Belarusians in the Internet remains stable. The Internet users working in the Net from half an hour to one hour a day make the largest group (33.6%). Contrary to those skeptics who call the Internet a “worldwide dump”, the Belarusians connect to the Internet for practical purposes mainly – finding occupational information (over 60%) and working with e-mail (over 50%).
Although monopoly of Beltelekom at the provider market doesn’t foster decrease in prices and growth of quality, progress in this field cannot be barred. Even North Korea’s president has resolved to connect the country to the Internet in a limited range.
Due to high tariffs for access to the Internet as against incomes of the Belarusians, most users surf the Web at work. Yet, the number of those who can afford the Internet at home is gradually increasing (6.3%) while the part of those using it at work or at studies (6.3%) and at Internet clubs (4.7%) goes down. Regarding the resources, the Belarusians give preference to Russian web sites and this tendency grows stronger (See Table 5).

Table 5. Distribution of answers to the question “If you use the Internet, what are the Internet resources (web sites) you visit most often?”, %

скачанные файлы (31)


Apart from absence of cultural and language gaps promoting this factor, the Russian Internet offers much more resources. Of course, the potential of the Belarusian Internet community is none the less high. Its leaders are in high demand in that same Russia. But what we have so far is a widely advertised A. Lukashenko’s on-line press conference that ended up by a total failure while the authorities plan to issue a new law on the mass media regulating use of the Internet.
We will conclude this part with a following observation. Once accounting for breaking Victory Day parade’s broadcasting at Russia’s TV channels so that all Belarusians could see A. Lukashenko’s speech, Colonel V. Zametalin called that event “a brief manifestation of information sovereignty”. It then generated violent indignation of all citizens – from nationalists to liberals and from veterans to businessmen (according to our survey, over 80% of Belarusians estimated the event in the negative). At present the authorities do exactly the same but on a much greater scale and with by far more fatal consequences.