Propaganda and desinformation in Belarus

20.02.2023 Source: БАЖ

The audience in Belarus is simultaneously influenced by 2 sources of propaganda - firstly, Russian-controlled propaganda and secondly, propaganda controlled by Lukashenko.

Regarding Russian-controlled propaganda, it is worth noting that it is openly and legally present in Belarus on various media (TV, books, magazines, newspapers, concerts, performances, etc.) However, for a long time, Belarusian propaganda had some differences in narratives compared to Russian propaganda. There have been situations when, during the time of escalating relations between Putin and Lukashenko, these propaganda sources could even wage low-intensity information wars with each other.

As for Belarusian proraganda, current Belarusian authorities exert total control over television, radio and print state-owned media outlets. This control is formalised both at the legal level and in the work of the state media.

Non-state media outlets and independent journalists are subjected to systematic, harsh and consistent harassment. This is expressed, firstly, in direct reprisals such as detentions, beatings, searches, arrests, convictions and torture. And secondly - in the form of creation of economically discriminatory working conditions, such as unjustified refusals to register media outlets and arbitrary liquidation of them, discriminatory regulation of advertising, refusals to print and distribute their production as well as refusals to accredit journalists.

Moreover, the system of control by the Belarusian state over its own propaganda has several levels - legal, organisational and financial.

  • Legal level of control

Firstly, all state propaganda sources are established by state bodies ranging from the presidential administration to district executive bodies.

Secondly, according to their legal status, the state broadcasters are state bodies. For example, Belteleradiocompany, according to its Charter, is "the central state institution of the Republic of Belarus, providing coverage of the state policy through TV and radio broadcasting, as well as performing other separate functions of the republican body of state administration".

  • Organisational level of control

Firstly, editorial managers are appointed on a non-competitive basis following a non-transparent procedure. As practice shows, employees demonstrating absolute loyalty to the authorities are appointed to top positions. If their loyalty is questioned, they are immediately dismissed.

Secondly, propaganda media should agree their content with the executive authorities.

And finally, the security forces have the effect of discrediting democratic institutions, as well as civil and political activists.

  • Financial level of control

The first problem is the direct funding, on a non-competitive and non-transparent basis, of state media offices.

And the second problem is the creation of various financial preferences for propaganda editors.

The situation described above dates back some 20 years, but certain new trends can be discerned over the last two and a half years.

Thus, starting with the protests in Belarus in 2020 after the results of the presidential election and Russia's aggression against Ukraine in 2022, Belarusian propaganda has become almost a clone of Russian propaganda. This is reflected in the frequent synchronisation of the messages that dominate the disseminated content.

According to Media IQ monitoring in 2022[1], the main narratives of Belarusian propaganda were:

“Belarus is a western forepost of fraternal Russia and the last pillar of traditional Christian values, preserving the memory of the victory in the Great Patriotic War and not allowing history to be rewritten. The West, through its neocolonial policy, has already enslaved Ukraine and the Baltic States, whose peoples are now suffering. Only Belarus cares about unhappy people from neighbouring countries, granting visa-free entry and accepting Ukrainians fleeing the war. It is the West that is to blame for the war in Ukraine and continues to foment it by supporting the local neo-Nazi authorities with money and weapons”.

“Belarus and Russia have successfully coped with sanctions together, and replaced Western partners with even more successful and promising Eastern ones. All the problems and troubles of Belarus are caused either by machinations of the West, or by objective external factors: economic crisis, pandemic, geopolitical redistribution of the world. The protesting Belarusians are either mean bribed puppets of the West, or fools. However, Belarus copes successfully with sanctions and even gains some benefits and new opportunities from the situation. Belarus owes all its success to the genius of Alexander Lukashenko. The Belarusian people support him, and these people are true patriots.”

In addition, the presentation of information by the propaganda media has changed. Many propaganda programmes now openly use aggressive rhetoric and insults against opponents of the authorities, inciting social discord on the basis of political views, etc.

Therefore, the Belarusian independent media sector is now discussing documenting the crimes of Belarusian propaganda, taking into account the experience of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in the case of Free Radio and Television of the Thousand Hills.