Since August 2020, the authoritarian regime of Aleksandr Lukashenko has carried out a mass attack on civil society, independent journalists, bloggers and writers in Belarus. The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) published an information report on the political and media situation in the country, with a view to making recommendations on how to assist Belarusian media companies and journalists who have fled the country and, most importantly, those who are left behind fighting the regime.
The information report on Supporting the independent media sector in Belarus was presented and adopted at the EESC May plenary.
EESC member Tatjana Babrauskienė, rapporteur of the report, underlined the significant contribution of the appointed expert, independent Belarusian journalist Hanna Liubakova, to the overall drafting of the report and stressed:
It is important to recognise the incredible work of Belarusian journalists, who have very often put their lives and families at risk just to get us the truth. We have a duty to protect and support them.
As the situation of the media in Belarus is a European issue, the EESC proposes that the Member States should not only establish cooperation with independent news agencies in Belarus but should also help to disseminate and report news from the country.
The information report brings to the table specific recommendations that can support the media and journalists and sets a global example of support for media freedom in crisis. The most important of these recommendations are the following:
- visa waivers for Belarusian journalists seeking refuge from repression;
- establishment of European and national funds in EU countries to support Belarusian free media and journalists;
- legal, financial and psychological support for repressed journalists;
- integration of Belarusian independent journalists in EU Member States through employment or scholarships;
- elimination of bureaucracy in obtaining EU financial aid;
- IT facilities to allow internet access and digital tools to circumvent censorship.
The EESC also believes that the EU should urgently add to the sanctions list all judges, prosecutors and police officers involved in the prosecution of Belarusian journalists and activists.
Political and media situation in Belarus
According to human rights defenders, as of spring 2022, more than 1100 persons in Belarus are considered political prisoners and are still behind bars because they expressed opposition and fought for democracy and freedom.
Since 2020, at least 300 independent journalists have had to flee Belarus and, major newsrooms have had to relocate to neighbouring countries such as Poland and Lithuania.
Hanna Liubakova, an activist and independent journalist who, as the appointed expert, was included in the report's study group, managed to flee the country but she monitors the situation in Belarus and keeps reporting violent incidents against journalists and citizens. She advocates against conspiracies and dangerous propaganda that fuels violence and death, and calls on Europe to support independent media in Belarus.
The information report can serve as a global example of support for media freedom in crisis and, as Ms Babrauskienė put it:
If this information report is taken into account by all EU Member States, we will set an example for a safe future for journalists all over the world.