The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), is a non-governmental, non-profit and non-partisan association of media workers, promoting freedom of expression and independent journalism ideas in Belarus.
The main goal of BAJ is to facilitate the exercise of civil, social, cultural, economic and professional rights and the pursuit of legitimate interests of its members, help to develop expertise and get a chance for creative self-fulfillment, as well as to create conditions that enable freedom of the press, including the journalists right to obtain and impart information without any interference.
The main tasks of BAJ activities are:
- BAJ protects journalists' rights and legitimate interests in state bodies and international organizations;
- BAJ helps to create material, technical, organizational and other facilities, vital for improving journalist proficiency;
- BAJ is drawing up an effective program to develop mass media so that it would create favorable conditions for their functioning in Belarus;
- BAJ establishes relations with journalist organizations all over the world.
Aims, tasks and principles of BAJ are laid down in the Statute of BAJ.
Andrei Bastunets has been the chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists since 2015. At the congress in April 2021, he was re-elected to the post.
On 16 February 2021, security forces stormed the homes of the leaders of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), a registered non-governmental organization that protects the rights of journalists. The office of the association was searched. Later it became known that such searches were carried out all over the country among human rights activists, journalists and activists. The Investigative Committee stated that the procedure was initiated "to establish the circumstances of financing protests."
On 27 August 2021, the Supreme Court of Belarus satisfied the claim of the Ministry of Justice for liquidation of the Belarusian Association of Journalists. The case was considered by Judge Inesa Lazavikova. Now the organization undergoes liquidation. The decision to liquidate the BAJ was condemned by influential journalistic organizations: the European and the International Federation of Journalists.
The History of Its Creation
BAJ was founded in 1995, one year after A. Lukashenka came to power. In 2006 it went through the state re-registration successfully.
The creation of BAJ was led by a necessity to defend journalists' professional rights and the public constitutional right to receive objective and truthful information.
The initiative of founding a non-state, non-partisan, non-profit association of journalists was presented by a famous Belarusian journalist Ms. Zhanna Litvina. (She worked as the Editor-in-chief of “Belarusskaya Maladziozhnaya” radio station until 1994, when the media outlet got closed by the authorities under a pretext of structural reorganization. Zhanna Litvina was the Chief of Minsk Bureau of Radio “Liberty” – Belarusian Service for several years. She was a concept creator and the head of the only existing independent Belarusian-language “101.2” FM radio station that was permitted to broadcast its programs for one year only. Zhanna Litvina was a founder and the head of “Radio Racyja” that transmitted its programs to Belarus from abroad for several years.) Zhanna Litvina was the head of BAJ from 1995 - 2015. She was unanimously re-elected to hold the position by her colleagues at the BAJ Congresses that take place every three years. In 2015 she chose not to stand as a candidate for the position.
Structure and members
Today BAJ numbers more than 1,200 members who work for a wide range of periodical editions, TV and Radio companies, and publishing companies. Some members of BAJ work for state-owned media companies.
Starting from the first years of its existence, the Belarusian Association of Journalists has been developing strong international contacts and cooperation. The present list of permanent partners of BAJ includes:
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) (BAJ has been its associate member since 1997)
The European Federation of Journalists (BAJ has been its full member since 2013)
The International Media Support (Denmark)
The Swedish Helsinki Committee (SHC)
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC)
The European Journalism Center (EJC)
The “Article 19” Global Campaign for the Freedom of Speech
The Reporters without Borders (BAJ signed an affiliation agreement with the organization in 2003)
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
The Danish Union of Journalists (DJ)
The Norwegian Union of Journalists
The Lithuanian Union of Journalists
The Russian Union of Journalists
The Center for Extreme Journalism (Moscow)
The “Glasnost” Defense Foundation (Moscow)
The European Mass Media Institute (Dusseldorf)
The Ukrainian Independent Center for Political Research etc.
BAJ pays special attention to programs of professional training for journalists. Such organizations as the International Media Support (Denmark), the European Journalism Center, the Lithuanian Union of Journalists, the FOJO Institute (Sweden), The Norwegian Union of Journalists, F. Ebert Foundation etc. act as partners in this field.
Thus, e.g. the FOJO Institute (Sweden), dealing with the advanced journalist studies, has been a BAJ partner on carrying out a program of educational seminars for Belarusian journalists as well as for students and professors from the Journalism Department at the Belarusian State University for several years already.
BAJ was closely cooperating with the European Journalism Center (Maastricht) within an educational project for journalists and university professors for two years. The seminars within the project were held in partnership with the Lithuanian Union of Journalists in Vilnius.
Also, BAJ was cooperating with the Lithuanian Union of Journalists within a project on “Development of Democratic Media in Belarus”, funded by the European Commission in the years 2001 – 2003. All in all, more than 60 training courses at the editorial offices of regional media outlets were held within the program.
BAJ in cooperation with F.Ebert Foundation office in Belarus holds regular seminars for journalists. The educational sessions are mainly dedicated to legal issues. They are held in the regional centers and other cities across the country.
BAJ was awarded the Golden Pen of Freedom prize at the World Newspaper Congress and the World Editors Forum in Dublin (Ireland) in June 2003. It was the second time that the prize was presented to an organization instead of an individual author (also, the Golden Pen of Freedom prize was awarded to the Czech press in 1969).
In December 2004 the European Parliament awarded BAJ Andrei Sakharov Prize “For the Freedom of Thought”. The EP President Josep Borrell who presented the prize noted in his speech that “Awarding the Sakharov Prize 2004 to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, which fights for freedom of information against the attempts by President Lukashenka to smother it, is a very positive event. The results of the latest elections in this country make it clear that those fighting for freedom of information in Belarus and everywhere else in the world deserve our support.” The BAJ Chairperson Zhanna Litvina expressed sincere gratitude to the EP deputies for their support of democratic movement in Belarus, aimed at the defense of fundamental civil society values. “This prize is a signal for us that we aren't alone in our fight for keeping the professional principles and the people's right to get unbiased information,” – she added.
The Atlantic Council Freedom Award was presented to BAJ by the Atlantic Council in June, 2011. Apart from BAJ, the Freedom Awards were presented to the Human Rights Center«Viasna“ and Belarus Free Theatre.
BAJ has been constantly monitoring violations of freedom of expression and freedom of the media since 1998. The organization has a network of correspondents across Belarus who collect and send information about the local situation in the media field.
BAJ monitored the coverage of election campaigns in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2020 by the Belarusian media. Journalists in Minsk and in the regions implemented qualitative and quantitative analyses of publications and programs in state-owned and independent mass media. They were fixing the time, dedicated by the media to different subjects within the election process, and noted the manner of presentation. Analytical conclusions with processed monitoring data were presented at special press-conferences every two weeks. Also, they were sent in electronic form and presented on the BAJ website (www.baj.by) in Belarusian, Russian and English.
Printed and electronic reporting
BAJ has been publishing a professional magazine “Abajour” since 2000. “Abajour” is delivered to non-state media outlets as well as to 118 state-owned newspapers and 6 regional TV and Radio companies.The magazine publishes materials about the purpose and the role of mass media in society, professional obligations and responsibilities, journalism ethics, problems with collecting and distributing information etc.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists is a unique source of information about the situation in the Belarusian media field. This information is posted onto the organization's website (www.baj.by), and also it is sent in electronic form to more than two hundred addresses of BAJ colleagues and partners in Belarus and abroad. The monitoring data, provided by BAJ, are widely used by the Belarusian mass media.
RESPECTING our profession and understanding its great social importance;
BEING GUIDED by the intention to strengthen public confidence in mass media as one of the democracy maintaining institutions;
ACKNOWLEDGING the IFJ Declaration of Principles on the Conduct of Journalists as a standard of professional behavior while obtaining, storing, disseminating and commenting on information;
UNDERSTANDING that the profession imposes great responsibility on journalists;
members of the Belarusian Association of Journalists declare that they will observe the following principles of the professional ethics:
• RESPECT the public’s right to know the truth, remembering at the same time that none has a monopoly over the truth.
• PROTECT the right to obtain and disseminate information and freedom of expression.
• STRIVE FOR maximum accuracy of information, in-depth and true argumentation while expressing opinions.
• ADMIT publicly and consciously one’s own mistake.
• CONSIDER unacceptable plagiarism, intentional misrepresentation and misinterpretation, ungrounded accusations, acceptance of a bribe for dissemination or refusal to disseminate some information.
• RESPECT other peoples’ points of view and foster public discussion in mass media.
• PREVENT racial, national, religious, sex, gender, political and other kinds of discrimination.
• PROTECT rights and interests of third parties while seeking, storing and disseminating information.
• PROTECT confidentiality of sources of information.
• NOT TO PLEASE authorities, but remember that one of the functions of the mass media is to control authorities’ actions.
• EXPRESS solidarity with the colleagues who are persecuted for journalist activities.
• STICK TO the jurisdiction of the journalistic community and try to solve conflicts with colleagues avoiding authorities’ intervention.
How to become BAJ member?
Any full-aged Belarusian citizen and any foreign citizen who work in journalism or foster its development in Belarus, promote the aims and tasks of BAJ, recognize and fulfil the Statute and the Declaration of the professional ethics can join BAJ.
The admission process is conducted by the respective branch of BAJ in each administrative unit. If there is no such representing branch in the administrative unit, the admission is conducted by the Board of BAJ.
For admission you need to submit the following documents to the head of the respective branch or to the central office of BAJ (220030, Minsk, Kamsamolskaya str., 7, room.32 Office phone +375 17 2036366, mobile +375 29 1267098):
- Filled-in application form (PDF);
- written recommendations from two BAJ members (the form is optional, only date, signature and name/surname of the people giving the recommendations are needed);
- 2 photos 3x4 and filled-in form when you want to get a press pass from BAJ or IFJ.
By joining the organization, you become member of an officially registered Belarusian journalist organization, which raises your status while performing your professional duties in different conditions and situations. You can get the press pass with the seal stamp confirming your membership.
By joining BAJ, you automatically become member of the International Federation of Journalists (BAJ has been its associate member since 1997). You have a chance to get the international press pass which is officially recognized in many countries. A year after you've been a member of BAJ, you can apply for a certificate of the IFJ.
You become entitled to free legal aid in case some problems arise connected with your work – including representation in court.
You get the right to take part in educational programs (trainings, seminars etc.) organized by BAJ and its members in both Belarus and abroad.
You can rely on BAJ when you have some professional problems or some emergencies occur that need public support.