One of the burning issues today is prosecution of freelance journalists that contribute their materials to foreign mass media. The issue stems from the specific of the Belarusian legislation on mass media which contains two restrictive terms – “a journalist of a mass medium” and “a journalist of a foreign mass medium” (art. 1 of the Law on Mass Media of the Republic of Belarus). The very approach can be regarded as a discriminatory one.
The law stipulates that a foreign mass medium’s journalist means “a natural person engaged in collection, editing, creation (preparation) of informational reports and/or materials for a legal person which is entrusted with functions of the editorial board of the mass medium, registered outside the Republic of Belarus, who is connected with this legal person through labor relations and has accreditation in the Republic of Belarus.”
From the definition it follows that such journalists can work only according to a contract. Thus, freelancers are not acknowledged as foreign mass medium’s journalists and cannot get accreditation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Meanwhile, it is against the law to carry out journalistic activities for a foreign mass medium without accreditation (art. 35 of the Law). Without the official press credentials, freelancers are faced with a number of troubles, such as access to information and security.
Journalists contributing to foreign mass media have always drawn attention of law enforcement agencies, the latter had restricted themselves to preventive talks and issuing warnings that the journalists violated the law by working without accreditation.
Since 2014, freelancers have been held responsible for their work, according to administrative legislation. Around two dozen journalists have been fined for violating art. 22.9 of the CoAO, some of them have been fined several times. One journalist’s flat was searched, and computers and data carriers were seized for investigation.
Art. 22.9 envisages liability for “illegal production and distribution of mass media products”; however, provisions of the Law on Mass Media envisage that only media editorial offices can be held liable under this article.
The practice of prosecution of freelancers seriously violates the standards of freedom of speech. OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović has repeatedly expressed her concern about the issue, in particular, she said: “Accreditation should not be a license to work and the lack of it should not restrict journalists in their ability to work and express themselves freely,” Mijatović said. “All journalists should have the same professional rights as journalists employed with registered media outlets, including the right to seek and disseminate information.”
BAJ is holding a campaign calling to introduce amendments to the Law on Mass Media to ensure unimpeded work of freelancers in Belarus, and also provides legal assistance to the prosecuted journalists.