2009 28/09

A group of international organizations dealing with media and press freedom, following the visit of a joint delegation to Belarus, which took place on 20-24 September, urged the Belarusian government to bring the regulation of media into line with international standards.

The group welcomes the recent developments and notes that the pressure on the media and journalists has decreased. At the same time these changes should become stable in order to ensure the rights of journalists and to start the media sphere’s reforms that are long overdue. Such changes should be long-term and irreversible.

Delegation met with the media organizations and the Belarusian authorities in Minsk to exchange the views and to assess the current situation with the media, freedom of press, freedom of expression and access to information.

Organizations that participated in the mission and signed declaration will submit a full report as a contribution to the human rights dialogue between the EU and Belarus, and distribute it to other international organizations.

Organizations that signed below, believe that:

Economic conditions for the media in Belarus are not equal for all. Distribution systems “Soyuzdruk” and “Belposhta” restrict access to private editions and their circulation. These limitations hinder the development of independent and pluralistic media sphere;

The procedure of frequency allocation and broadcasting licenses is non-transparent and allows different interpretations, which hinders the development of independent and pluralistic broadcasting;

Access to information is limited, in particular, due to the adoption and application of laws that restrict the rights of journalists to information or establish the discrimination against independent media in comparison with state media in access to information of public interest;

The accreditation of foreign reporters and the opening of representative offices of foreign media in Belarus are limited to non-transparent and discriminatory decisions by the authorities;

Belarusian legislation on defamation and extremism restricts the freedom of the press, forcing journalists to self-censorship and do not conform to European and international standards of freedom of the press;

While the group welcome the new dialogue, which deals with issues of ethics and self-regulation, it stresses: it is very important that work on these issues to be determined by the media community itself.

Recommendations:

The following recommendations made by the group aimed at improving and recovery of the media situation in Belarus both for state and private mass media, as well as to enhance professionalism, pluralism and the role of media in a democratic society.

1. The editorial independence of state and private mass media shall be respected, and they should not endure harassment for their professional activities;

2. Independent media should have the right and opportunity to act and develop in equal economic conditions, including the right to be distributed without restrictions and discrimination;

3. Terms and conditions of accreditation of journalists should be approved. They should be transparent, clear and fair as well as focused on access for all journalists to access to important information of public interest;

4. Journalists should not be prevented from doing reports of important public events and demonstrations;

5. Frequency allocation and licensing of broadcasting should be defined by law in accordance with international standards. The procedure itself must be observed by a completely independent regulating body to ensure pluralism in the field of electronic media;

6. The law “On Mass Media”, Law “On counteraction to extremism” and the Penal Code’s articles concerning defamation should be brought into line with international standards on press freedom and freedom of expression;

7. The authorities should ensure equal treatment to organizations that represent journalists;

8. The mass media, government and civil society should continue the dialogue on the improvement of policy and practice in the field of media.

Minsk, 24 September 2009

Statement signed by the following organizations:

1. Article 19
2. Civil Rights Defenders
3. Committee to Protect Journalists
4. Danish Union of Journalists
5. Index on Censorship
6. International / European Federation of Journalists
7. International Media Support
8. International Publishers’ Association
9. International Pen
10. International Press Institute
11. Open Society Institute
12. PressNow
13. Reporters without Borders
14. World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

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