“People have stopped believing television. They stopped watching us ” Striking employees of Belarusian TV channels – how they put up with censorship and propaganda for years. And now they stopped

Valery Sharifulin / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

Protests and strikes against the results of the elections in the country continue in Belarus. Employees of state TV channels are also on strike. They hold rallies at TV centers, demanding objective coverage of protests and violence from the security forces. Some journalists have already quit their editorial offices, where they have worked for many years. Meduza spoke with the striking journalists about their demands and censorship on Belarusian television.

Boris

Host of Belteleradiocompany, name changed at his request

I have been working for BelTV for 16 years. I have never dealt with political topics, so I have not encountered censorship during my work.

I haven’t quit my job yet, but I support strikes. I think it will be quite difficult for me to return, and dismissal is my next step. Many of my colleagues have already made a decision to dismiss, many have already left, and some are going to stand to the last. 

I come here [to the TV center] and talk to people in the hope that as many colleagues as possible will join us. First of all, I would like those who make the news to join us – and that they begin to tell the truth about what is happening. 

In Belarus, all television belongs to the state, and news is far from real events. It is clear that when they talk on TV about 80% [of those who voted for Lukashenka] in the elections, people do not believe it – because it does not coincide with reality.

HOW DID THIS 80% COME ABOUT?

People were outraged by the results of the August 9 elections, the subsequent bloodshed and monstrous treatment of those who peacefully express their protest. People stopped believing television. They stopped rejoicing at us. They stopped watching us. This is painful and offensive, because for a huge number of employees, television is our whole life. 

It is simply impermissible to stay away from everything that is happening in Belarus now. For us, a strike is a way to draw attention to all problems. When factories do not work and the TV is with a black screen, then this is a valid story. 

The management of our TV channel is trying to restrict the influx of people with the help of the traffic police inspectors and by blocking the streets [at the TV center]. But we are ready to continue the strike until we achieve a result.

Among our requirements is the ability to make news honestly and to cover the events and protests that are taking place across the country. We want everyone to know about what happened in the places of detention of the protesters. And so that the viewer himself makes a decision about what to think about certain events. 

Alexei

CTB operator, name changed at his request

I was in the presidential pool for 10 years. Everything on Belarusian television is censored. All information is presented from the point of view of the presidential administration. Our STV yesterday showed the president’s visit to the MZKT plant, shouts of “Go away!” Were heard in the video. And in the evening of the same day, they showed a version from which the screams were cut.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PLANT

I think that in Russia it is about the same, but at least you have some notes of freedom. Here it is generally unacceptable.

On Friday, we and our colleagues went on strike. Cultural figures and musicians come to us to support us. Today we have been standing since eight in the morning. Personally, I believe that people who continue to work on television amid strikes are either working under a lot of pressure or because they hope that they will get a raise for it – some of them drive past us and smile. 

I hope that the strikes will lead to the fact that the information on Belarusian television will become more objective and we will be able to show the opinion of ordinary citizens, talk about why they take to the streets. We want people to start breathing more freely. Now people have already felt the element of freedom and want to continue to use it. 

If the situation remains the same, I will have to leave. I don’t like being a propaganda tool. Not that I’m changing my shoes now. Initially, I worked in cultural projects. He never voted for Lukashenka himself. Plus, in Belarus it is impossible to get a job by profession in a place independent of the state: there are simply no private TV channels here. Now I saw how many people took to the streets, and realized that I could not remain silent. 

Security officials at the Belteleradio building.  August 15, 2020

Anna Shalyutina

Former TV presenter of the program “Our Morning” on ONT

I wrote a letter of resignation last week. This is due to the situation in the country. With the fact that my position does not agree with what the Belarusian TV channels are covering now.

I have been working on the air of the TV channel since 2010, in the state since 2015. Since I am an entertainment broadcaster, we did not have any censorship or “manuals” as such. But I’m talking about entertainment broadcasting. 

It is very important that now not only TV presenters have begun to quit, but also engineers, sound engineers, and producers. The co-host and I left as a pair, and at least five people left the program with us.

It is clear that we have always known what country we live in. It is foolish to say that we suddenly opened our eyes to something. But the brutality with which people were treated at the demonstrations touched almost everyone. Each of us has a friend or close friend who was detained or beaten. Our country is not that big. My colleagues, who are now going on strike, have the main requirement: to cover everything as it is, without judgment and objectively. 

ON THE VIOLENCE OF THE SECURITY FORCES

The reaction to the departure of each employee is different from the management. We were released amicably and even thanked us for acting in good faith.

I don’t know what I’ll do next: our country and society are in such a state that we don’t know what will happen in an hour. In my opinion, the cultural sphere now lives on strikes. Probably, strikes at workers’ enterprises make the authorities think about something much more, but the solidarity of cultural workers is very important: people know us and we are their own for them. They should know that these events happen to everyone – regardless of who works where.

INTERVIEW WITH ONE OF THE RESIGNED PRESENTERS

Alexander Karas

Former CTB sports editor

I worked for CTB for 18 years, came there as a student. He was a correspondent, then worked as an editor. The sports department had nothing to do with politics, but there were unpleasant moments when our president played hockey and had to cover it. It was very unpleasant that we broadcast the game of non-professionals – especially with such a political bias. 

There has always been internal self-censorship – including in sports. When some opinions were expressed that were on the verge of sports and ordinary life, I did not give them to the news, because I was afraid of what they would tell me after that.

I kept working as I did what I liked. I could go to a sports channel – I tried to get there, but they didn’t take me. But he is also a state. 

I understand very well that many who work on state TV have their own position. I quit last Friday because everything has been accumulating in me since the beginning of all the crackdowns, the appearance of evidence of what was happening on the streets and in the detention centers.

I was struck by the cruelty. And it became physically unpleasant for me to be there. My management did not want to let me go, but despite this, my issue was resolved within one day. My colleagues supported me. I know that many would like to leave too, but some circumstances are holding them back. 

I did not expect such strikes. I thought that television would not go on strike. Before that, people who work in the frame quit. I thought that maybe the presenters, correspondents, but not engineers and sound engineers, who may not be related to the news, would quit. I am very glad that television went on strike. I would like the protests to lead to a change of power, but I don’t know – we are in the middle of a storm and no one knows what will happen. 

(C)MEDUZA 2020

3 comments

  • Well, Perwi Kanal Russia, RT, SPUTNIK, DO YOU COPY?

    Liked by 3 people

  • Alas, in today’s world, a person has a real dilemma if he or she swallows everything the press offers to the consumers of news. Even in the West, we have more than enough news providers who will manipulate a story to fit a certain perspective. They aren’t necessarily directly controlled by any government or outright lie, but they do follow their own agenda, they have a doctrine and this doctrine is being perpetuated. It is not unknown to any of us on here that there are left-leaning, liberal, hard left and extreme left segments in the media and, of course, the same goes for the right, although the right is far outnumbered by the left, thanks to the schools of higher learning, which are mostly leftists.
    It is never a bad idea to check a particular story in a particular circumstance, if and when there are any doubts to the full truth and/or that a story has had a certain degree of manipulation thrown onto the pages. The internet makes this a fairly, albeit sometimes a time-consuming task.
    Although such behavior as described in a nutshell above is deplorable, it is not nearly as bad as what is going on in other countries, here in particular in Belarus and mafia land who blatantly lie to one and all. But, is it any less dangerous? If you are fed pure garbage (pure propaganda), you will refrain from eating it, right? If you are fed apparently good cuisine (artfully manipulated news) you will be inclined to consume it and have a want for more.
    I’ve learned all of this mainly during the past ten years and I see the subtle propaganda going on in all Western nations. But, a really bad one is – no surprise – Germany. The media there is primarily responsible for the status quo in government being kept in place despite its utter incompetence in all categories.
    The people of Belarus have awakened. The people in the West are still sleeping. They are drowned in a fake world of illusionary racism in all aspects of life, extreme political correctness, and a colossal migration of the third-world into our world that is kept artificially small to help calm the simple minds.

    Like

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