Inflation in Belarus leads to crisis in state media
After the 2011 financial crisis and hyperinflation in Belarus, state media face declining print runs, budget expenditures and loss of staff members.
Sunday, 11 March 2012, by HRH London, based on Nasha Niva and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty information.
The 2011 crisis in Belarus not only affected Belarusian people but it also hit the country’s state-run mass media.
Editors of Russian newspapers report that many Belarusian ‘journalists’ from pro-regime media are looking for a job in the neighbouring country at the moment. Dissatisfied with working conditions in Belarus, they are striving for higher salaries in Russia.
Belarusian state-run television channels complain about the lack of young journalists willing to start career in their companies.
The state TV channels have a reputation for being the regime’s propaganda trumpets, this being one of the main reasons for young generation of journalists to avoid filling vacancies there.
According to the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the total state budget for media in 2012 is about $60 million, down about 20 percent from the previous year. And about $45 million of this amount will be spent on keeping state television and radio up and running.
The share of the pie for state newspapers and magazines is down to just $6.5 million, less even than the $9 million asigned for "other media matters".
Inflation eating the salaries
Citizens no longer want to buy biased pro-regime papers but turn to more independent news websites as internet usage grows in the country.
As the outcome of the 2011 financial crisis, Belarus now has the lowest average salary in the region. According to December 2011 data, the average gross wage in Belarus was €257, less than in the neighbouring Ukraine (€287), Lithuania (€630), Latvia (€676), Russia (€721) and Poland (€945).
At the beginning of 2011, €1 amounted to 3155 Belarusian rubles, today it is worth 8160 rubles.
This means a decrease of 159 percent to the rate on 23 May 2011, the day before a sharp devaluation of the local currency was administered.
The crisis sparked protests as Belarusians vented their anger at President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
State media hit by budgetary woes
The results of such cuts are also predictable, says RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson. SB-Belarus Today, the organ of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's administration, has gone from a daily print run of 500,000 copies in 2010 to just 398,000 now.
Belarus Today newspaper
The government daily Zvyazda – the only daily paper published entirely in Belarusian – and the parliamentary mouthpiece Narodnaya gazeta are both down to print runs of just 30,000. Chyrvonaya zmena has been reduced to a one-sheet supplement to Zvyazda. Znamya yunosti, which in the heyday of perestroika had a circulation of 800,000 copies, is now a weekly with a print run of just 35,000.
Alyaksandr Klaskouski, a well-known journalist, political scientist and former editor of Znamya yunosti, says that the state media have not only been hit by the state's general budgetary woes, but also by declining public confidence.
Their failure to report accurately on the collapsing economy, two currency devaluations, and shortages of hard currency over the last 18 months has largely discredited them in the eyes of the public.
“No one is buying propaganda”
Klaskouski emphasises that the entire Lukashenka’s system is inflexiblAlyaksandr Klaskouskie, ineffective and decaying.
"No one is buying propaganda – that's natural. We shouldn't complain that they are giving less budget money to the state media", Klaskouski says.
"That is the taxpayers' money and they all have different views. De facto it means that they are paying to support propaganda that no one in fact needs now. We need to complain about the entire ineffective, anachronistic, decaying model".
Besides, Klaskouski adds, it is becoming harder and harder to persuade public-sector workers to subscribe to newspapers as the prices of bread and other necessities keep climbing.
Independent media win
The trembling economy is also bad news for the country's minuscule independent media sector, but managers there at least have experience innovating in the absence of state subsidies.
Iosif Syaredzich, who founded the parliamentary Narodnaya gazeta back in the early 1990s and oversaw print runs as large as 730,000 copies a day, is now editor-in-chief of the independent Narodnaya volya, which comes out twice a week with a circulation of 26,000.
The paper has frequently been the target of government complaints and pressure on its printers and distributors. Syaredzich, however, continues having faith in his readers.
"We don't get any support from the government – the main thing is that the government doesn't bother us – but we do from our readers", Syaredzich says. "That is the main support of any newspaper".
Newspaper Nasha Niva.Nasha Niva newspaper, established in 1906,was a major contributor to creating the new Belarusian literary language at that time. Nowadays the newspaper is issued weekly.
In 2005, the authorities banned the paper from “Bielposta” and “Bielsajuzdruk” state systems of distribution. The paper survived thanks to its own system of distribution.
Nasha Niva criticizes the regime strongly and is issued only in Belarusian language. The newspaper exists courtesy of readers’ contributions and receives no budgetary support similar to Narodnaya volya.
In 1997, the newspaper’s web site has been launched in parallel with the printed edition. The number of comments left by readers after each article demonstrates that the website is becoming more and more popular in Belarus.
The independent internet media can counterbalance the state-run media and initiate big changes in the Belarusian society.
HRH London, based on Nasha Niva and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty information.