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Belarus26 September 2008

Media coverage of election campaign ignores political debates and opposition

Reporters Without Borders continues to be dissatisfied with the Belarusian media’s coverage of the campaign for Sunday’s parliamentary elections after seeing the report of the monitoring conducted by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), a Reporters Without Borders partner organisation, between 5 and 20 September.

According to the BAJ report, political programmes and debates continued to be ignored by the media and all the observers have criticised this glaring absence.

“We regret that there has been no improvement in the media coverage of the campaign for the legislative elections, especially this was a chance for Belarus to normalise its relations with the international community,” Reporters Without Borders said.

The final weeks of the election campaign were no different from the earlier ones. The BAJ has accused the state-controlled media of “totally depoliticising the election and marginalising political programmes and alternative candidates, while privately-owned publications are unable to fill the gap because of their limited distribution.”

Media coverage has been limited to explaining the technical aspects of the polling and the way the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) works. As a result, Belarusian voters are not able to take an informed decision about the candidates.

According to the findings of the BAJ’s monitoring, the state media focused on the activities of President Alyaksandr Lukashenko, the CEC, the local authorities and foreign observers. The president was the only person named by the Homyel Regional State Radio in its election coverage.

The BAJ gave a cautious welcome to the CEC’s decision to rebroadcast the campaign spots of all the candidates. But the effect of the measure was limited by the fact that many of the spots were re-transmitted at times when there are relatively few viewers.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s observers have also issued a report criticising the state media. It regretted that there was no coverage of candidates’ campaign speeches and the media focused on the election’s technical aspects.

The OSCE report, issued on 19 September, said: “Media coverage, both on the national and local level, has been almost exclusively focused on procedural aspects of the election process. Most media, predominantly state-funded, have paid extensive attention to the president, as well as to other state authorities, including the government and the CEC, rather than on the role of the parliament or the candidates.”

Meanwhile, problems have been reporting in the early voting which is being conducted during the five days prior to Sunday, the main election day.

When Yuri Dziadzinkin, a reporter for the independent daily Narodnaya Vola, went with his press card to polling station No. 398 in Minsk, electoral officials told him he could not take any photos because the head of the polling station had forbidden it. CEC secretary Mikalai Lazavik explained the ban as being due to the journalist’s poor “human relations” with the polling station’s staff.

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