On International Human Rights Day, representatives of the Belarusian Association of Journalists visited Vienna where they met with the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir and President of the Austrian branch of the Reporters without Borders Rubina Mohring.
They discussed the biggest challenges for media freedom in Belarus: restrictive amendments to the media law, criminal prosecution of journalists and editors (BelTA case), persecution of journalists for their cooperation with foreign media without accreditation, etc.
Chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Andrei Bastunets stressed that the problem was not only in extremely restrictive media legislation, but also in the arbitrariness of the civil servants.
- 2018 has been one of the worst years for independent media. It was the year of criminal charges against 15 journalists in BelTA case, which have eventually been dropped, while chief editor of TUT.BY Maryna Zolatava still remains under criminal investigation; of pressure on the journalists who cooperate with foreign media, to name a few.
A year ago, I said, in 2017, the number of fines for alleged cooperation with foreign media without accreditation was higher than during the three previous years altogether. I am afraid that we will be able to say that in 2018 the number of fines is higher than the total number of fines during all the previous years, including 2017, - says Andrei Bastunets.
The journalists also touched upon issues of criminalization of defamation in Belarus, the structure of the Belarusian media market, the financial situation of the Belarusian media in changing media market and consumption, obstacles for access to information by journalists of national and regional media, etc.
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir expressed his support to Belarusian journalists and noted the high level of cooperation between his Office and the Belarusian Association of Journalists, which regularly informs the OSCE on the situation of media freedom in Belarus.