Belarusian law envisages a specific extra-judicial sanction against mass media – written warnings from the Ministry of Information.
According to art, 49 of the Law on Mass Media, the Ministry of Information issues a warning against any mass media or an Internet resource if:
- its actions contradict to the requirements of the Law, including bringing to everyone’s notice the information the dissemination of which is restricted or prohibited in accordance with Articles 37 and 38 of the Law;
- the mass medium disseminated untrue information that may harm the state or public interests;
- the mass medium produced and/or disseminated the product of the mass medium without permission of the editor-in-chief (editor) of the mass medium;
- the mass medium disseminated the data not corresponding to reality, and disgrace honor, dignity or business reputation of natural persons or business reputation legal persons.
The Law establishes that two warnings against the editorial office or its founder during a year,, and two prosecutorial warnings against media officials, can serve as grounds to start legal proceedings to close down the mass medium. The proceedings can be initiated by the Ministry of Information or the prosecutor’s office within six months after the waning was issued. This is not obligation, but the right of the state bodies.
In 1997, the State Committee on Print (predecessor of the ministry of Information) closed down the newspaper Svaboda; in 2001, the prosecutor’s office closed down the newspaper Pahonia; in 2006 the Ministry of Information closed down the newspaper Zgoda.
In 2011, the newspapers Narodnaya Volya and Nasha Niva had three and four warnings respectively, and the Ministry of Information filed the suit for closure, but later withdraw under public pressure. The editorial offices were held accountable with administrative fines.
In 2011 also, the radio Autoradio was deprived of the right to broadcast for having broadcast “calls for extremism” – this was the phrase of Andrei Sannikau, a candidate for presidency in 2010: “The fate of the country is resolved in the square, not in the kitchen”.
Warnings from the Ministry of Information are commonplace: in 2011 there were 83 warnings to 67 mass media; in 2015 there have been over 20 of them because of inaccuracy in publishing data, for example, because the newspapers used abbreviation RB for the Republic of Belarus. The newspapers that received warnings under this pretext were mostly non-state – Hazeta Slonimskaya, Intex-press, Hantsavitski Chas, Borisovskiye Novosti, Reklamnyj Borzhomi, Novy Chas, Nash Kraj and others.