It is no secret that independent Belarus has never been cut off from the Russian information space. Belarusian readers and TV audience have got accustomed to such situation to which a low quality of domestic media-products, especially state-run electronic media also contributed. Not surprisingly, today Russian televisions remains the main source of information for Belarusians (See Table 1).
Table 1. Distribution of answers to the question: “What sources do you use to receive information about what is going on in Belarus and abroad?” (more than one answer is possible)

The given situation suited A. Lukashenko because he could easily find common grounds with the Russian leadership, which has always had and has recently strengthened its influence upon domestic mass media. However, over recent months when the relations between Minsk and Moscow have become cloudy, to put in mildly, the Belarusian authorities have viewed such dependence as a potential danger. During the “gas” conflict the president felt that the power of Russian TV channels, which Minsk could not control, cannot be compared to the possibilities of the Belarusian television. Therefore, at present A. Lukashenko considers it disadvantageous to maintain a common information space with Russia.
For that reason the Belarusian authorities have recently begun pursuing a persistent policy aimed at reducing the influence of Russian mass media upon Belarusians, at isolation of our media space from negative, in their opinion, information and at replacing Russian mass media with totally controlled domestic mass media including the appearance of a mixed TV channel ONT on the waves of Russia’s ORT in prime-time. The fact that this course will persistently be carried out is proved by sporadic news about a possible replacement of the Russian TV channel RTR (variant – Kultura) with another Belarusian TV channel.
We shall admit that the authorities can be satisfied with the first results of such policy. When we asked our respondents “What TV channel do you watch most of all?”, for the first time most respondents named not a Russian channel, but the Belarusian ONT TV channel (See Table 2).

Table 2. Dynamics of distribution of answers to the question: “Which TV channels do you watch?”, % (more than one answer is possible)

In fact, Belarusians watch programs prepared by the Russian ORT channel. ONT’s own programs are limited to three newscasts. Nonetheless, a considerable part of the Belarusian audience, obviously, views it as ONT mainly because of the new logo instead of the ORT logo. Since April the number of the respondents who said they watched ORT has fallen by one third! Naturally, the Belarusian audiences of two other Russian channels has remained unchanged in their number.
We can run the risk of making prognosis that gradually the majority of Belarusians will forget which channel they watch in reality. Having kept the entertainment programs of ORT (domestic entertainment programs cannot stand the competition), the Belarusian authorities will replace the information programs with their own. Thus, two goals can be achieved this way – an information control over the TV channel while using the popularity of the popular brand for their own purposes. So far, ORT has lost its top popularity and is now placed only third (56.4% of the respondents trust it), leveling down to BT channel (55.8%). It has reached its record low. However, in this respect ONT is lagging only behind RTR (60% and 63.7%, respectively).
Unlike television, radio audiences have remained almost unchanged. State-run, central and local radio stations have improved their figures (See Table 3).

Table 3. Dynamics of distribution of answers to the question: “Which radio stations do you listen to?”, % (more than one answer is possible)

However, changes can be revealed during the next opinion poll. The reason – Belarus cut off three Russian radios (“Voice of Russia”, “Mayak” and “Yunost”) within the framework of the above mentioned policy of reducing the influence of the Russian information market. The decision to cut off the radio stations was made regardless of the fact that recently the audience of Russian radio has followed a steady downtrend, although in December it crept up a little.
No serious change has taken place in the market of printed media. We can still distinguish four leading periodicals, including Komsomolskaya Pravda v Belorussii, Sovetskaya Belorussia and AiF v Belorussii (See Table 4). And that is quite reasonable. So, many are forced to subscribe to local state-run mass media, especially in rural areas, because there is no other periodicals. Sovetskaya Belorussia is an information face of the present authority, that is why all those who are interested in politics must read it, as people read Pravda in Soviet times.

Table 4. Dynamics of distribution of answers to the question: “Which newspapers do you read?”, % (more than one answer is possible)

* In these opinion polls the given newspaper was named “Svobodnye novosti”

Many view the popularity of Komsomolskaya Pravda v Belorussii and AiF v Belorussii not so much as their own merit but as a result of a high popularity of the corresponding Russian periodicals. But we shall admit that the Belarusian editions of the two newspapers has successfully managed to find their market niche. And if Aif has stick mostly to social-economic themes, Komsomolskaya Pravda has also covered political problems.
To sum it up we will consider the attitude of readers, radio and TV audience to state-run and independent mass media. As we can see from Table 5, the number of those who trust non-state mass media has been steadily rising. To date it has almost reached the number of those who trust state-run mass media which enjoy a relatively stable support. In fact, the number of those who distrust state-run mass media jumped 1.7fold during the same period, whereas with respect to non-state mass media it went up only 1.3 fold. As a result, for more than a year now state-run mass media have surpassed non-state mass media in terms of distrust.

Table 5. Dynamics of trust to means of mass media, %

Variant of answer
State-run mass media
– trust
– do not trust
Non-state mass media
– trust
– do not trust
We shall remind that the possibilities of state-run and non-state mass media cannot be compared, and economic conditions for their activity are far from being equal. And if we consider that the authority has persistently exerted pressure on non-state mass media using any means, including the closure of newspapers (Mestnoye Vremya) and prosecution of journalists (N. Markevich, P. Mozheiko, V. Ivashkevich), the work of independent mass media seems a success.