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Greater reform needed, says mission

A delegation of press freedom organisations, including seven IFEX members, met with media groups and authorities in Minsk, on 20 to 24 September 2009, to determine the current environment of press freedom, freedom of expression and access to information, reports the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

A mission report, "For Free and Fair Media in Belarus," urges the EU and the Belarusian government to keep freedom of expression and press freedom at the heart of its discussions. The EU will soon determine if it will end sanctions which were put in place based on Belarus's poor human rights record.

Hosted by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), the main objective of the mission was to insist that the Belarusian government undertake a rigorous reform of media regulations, so journalists can work without fear of political interference. Currently, "the Belarusian government casts journalists as enemies of the state, a physical threat, or a danger to the country," says the report. In the last decade, many attacks on journalists have taken place, including one journalist who was stabbed to death in her apartment while another was disappeared.

There are many obstacles for independent media. Economic conditions are limited for non-state newspapers in Belarus, which prevents an independent and pluralistic media culture from developing. Subscription and distribution systems are monopolised by the state. Broadcast licenses are issued arbitrarily and without transparency, further limiting independent voices.

Meanwhile, laws in place restrict a journalist's right to information, and legislation on defamation and extremism has created self-censorship among journalists.

The mission made numerous recommendations, including: journalists should not be prevented from reporting on public events and demonstrations; and defamation laws should be reformed. The recommendations also state:"The authorities must allow journalist organisations to operate freely, without monitoring their activities and communications, and without restrictions on their visiting trainers." BAJ is closely monitored, adds the report.

IFJ European Co-Director Marc Gruber, who led the fact-finding mission, commented, "A thin veneer of limited and symbolic reforms in recent months cannot conceal the fact that Belarus continues to operate a highly repressive media environment."


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