Semi-annual report: July – December 2020

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Semi-annual report: July – December 2020

Summary

This report concludes Media IQ monitoring in July – December 2020.

This report explores how designated media and to what extent violated journalistic standards, assesses the overall quality of reporting by the media subjected to the monitoring, analyses which media frequently resorted to propaganda and manipulations in their reports and what ideas they attempted to promote. The report also gives an overview of most interesting case studies and outlines general recommendations for focus media.

In August – December 2020 national and regional independent media were subjected to unprecedented pressure by the ruling regime, creating an extremely hostile working environment and putting the journalistic profession on the brink of extinction.

In the reporting period, the division between independent and state media in terms of their compliance with journalistic standards crystallised; the former generally following journalistic principles despite enormous pressure from the regime, whilst the quality of the reporting by state media, especially state TV Channels (Belarus 1, ONT, CTV), significantly deteriorated from August onwards. There was a clear correlation between the topic of reports and standards violation – 100% of state media reports about the post-election turmoil, including protests, violated at least one journalistic principle.

Judging by the nature of violations of journalistic standards by state media and the disregard for journalistic integrity in the reporting period, the Media IQ team concludes that explicit disregard for journalistic principles constitutes state media editorial policy.

In addition, the scale of the propaganda and disinformation used by state media (over two-thirds of state TV reporting contained propaganda) leaves no doubt that these tactics are also a part of state media editorial policy.

Manipulations accumulated from October onwards, not merely misinforming and promoting propagandistic narratives, but also forging an alternative reality where anyone not supporting the regime is a violent criminal (later a ‘Nazi-supporter’) with no interest in negotiations because they do not care about Belarus’ peace and security (unlike those currently in power).

State media completed this picture in December by alleging that neighbouring EU states aimed to undermine Belarus’ territorial integrity and sovereignty through sanctions, colour revolutions, and so on, Belarus being a stepping stone to the ultimate target: Russia. To help revive the spectre of Nazism, the white-red-white protest flag was re-labelled (and libelled) as a Nazi emblem, and the motivation for the protests became (alleged) Western aggression (possibly military) with the intent of reoccupying parts of western Belarus.

Ultimately, state media waged information war against any form of dissent in Belarus using the whole spectrum of manipulative techniques and propaganda tools, seeding hatred in Belarusian society.

 

Introduction and overview

The Media IQ monitoring (a monitoring of Belarusian TV and online media’s compliance with journalistic standards when reporting public-political news and a tool to decipher propaganda, disinformation, and manipulative techniques) methodology was elaborated by Press Club Belarus in close cooperation with Detector Media (Ukraine) and with the support of USAID/Pact (USA) in 2018 and substantially revised by 2020. Its purpose is to address contemporary challenges faced by the Belarusian media through raising the profile of media literacy and strengthening Belarus’ information security. The monitoring goals include a) reveal cases of violation of journalistic standards, misinformation, propaganda and manipulative techniques; b) enhance Belarusian media and journalists’ capacity in creating quality and objective materials in compliance with journalistic standards; c) inform the public about such cases of violations to help to prevent them in the future; and d) identify Russian narratives on account of Belarusian-Russian relations and trace them in Belarusian media outlets.

Media outlets, subjected to monitoring as of 2020, have to comply with the following criteria: private or public/state ownership; HQ located in Russia or the EU but having field offices in Belarus; regional or national wide circulation; produce own news content and be popular in Belarus. National media are monitored daily and regional media once in three months (see p.17 of the Media IQ monitoring methodology). State and non-state news agencies were not included in the list of media subjected to the monitoring due to the protocol nature of their reporting (see Annexes 3 and 4 for complete lists of media subjected to the Media IQ monitoring in 2020).

Media IQ is monitoring the compliance with the following journalistic standards based on BBC guidelines: accuracy, fairness, separating facts from opinions, balance of opinions, and completeness of information. The identification of propaganda, disinformation and manipulative techniques is based on 36 markers/signs, described in detail in the Media IQ monitoring methodology (see Annex 2 of the Media IQ monitoring methodology). The presence of propaganda, disinformation and/or manipulation is always associated with a violation of one or more journalistic standards. Meanwhile, a violation of standards per se is not a sign of propaganda, disinformation and/or manipulation and may occur due to a journalist or an editorial lacking professional knowledge. When analysing the monitoring data, propaganda is not separated from misinformation or manipulation because authors often improvise and use a combination of techniques depending on the context. That is, signs of a manipulation may be spiced-up with fake facts and serve to promote an idea, or, otherwise, be propaganda.

Monitoring in is carried out daily for national media (10 media outlets) and daily one in three months for regional media (10 media outlets). That said, rather than monitoring all news pieces produced by the designated media outlets, monitoring focuses on prime-time daily socio-political news aired by TV channels (4, three state and one non-state) and 5 socio-political daily news pieces by each online media outlet (six, five non-state and one state) subjected to the monitoring. Additionally, TV and media outlets (11 media outlets) are monitored daily on account of propaganda and manipulations related to specific topics: Belarusian-Russian relations, legislative changes, the coronavirus outbreak and from May to August 2020, the presidential campaign.

From August 2020, following the political turmoil after the presidential elections and increased state attacks on independent media, the Media IQ team has suspended the monitoring of independent media outlets on account of propaganda and manipulations, whilst continuing to monitor their compliance with journalistic standards.

This report is based on reports in Russian and covers the monitoring period between July and December 2020. In this period, each month, the Media IQ team issued the following reports in Russian: analysis of national media’s compliance with the journalistic standards and use of propaganda and manipulations and what manipulations were used when covering specific topics (Belarusian-Russian relations, legislative changes and coronavirus). Additionally, in November, a report analysing regional media’s compliance with journalistic standards and use of manipulations and propaganda were released. These reports, among other things, ranked the media subjected to the monitoring and pointed to the most common violations.

Monthly Media IQ monitoring reports were published online and disseminated to PCB subscribers. As a rule, some focus media addressed PCB for feedback requesting additional information or recommendations. The monitoring team, in each case individually explained in detail how exactly different media non-complied with journalistic standards, quoted case studies and recommended how to develop the editorial policies to improve compliance with journalistic standards. That said, state TV and online media have never requested any feedback from the Media IQ team or in any way liaised with the team in relation to the monitoring.

 

Major findings

It is important to note that in August – December 2020 national and regional independent media were subjected to unprecedented pressure by the incumbent regime and their working environment became extremely hostile, putting the profession of a journalist on the brink of extinction. The Internet was blocked to 10% of its normal capacity on August 9-12, entirely disrupting information flow inside the country. Journalists wearing press jackets became easy targets for state repression. Independent media outlets were deprived of their licenses and accreditation, excluded from monopolistic state distribution networks and banned form publishing in Belarus. By December 31st, 11 journalists were in jail, including four members of the Press Club Belarus, facing criminal charges. Administrative arrests of journalists and influencers became a common practice.

In July, the ongoing presidential campaign was the most popular subject for national media and from August until December 2020 – the post-election political turmoil (protests, repressions, etc). More than half of national media’s coverage on average was dedicated to these issues. In the reporting period national media significantly reduced the coverage of covid-19 related issues, albeit the pandemic itself persisted, showing no signs of relief and there were no coherent and consistent state policies to address it.

In the reporting period, the dividing line between independent and state media in terms of their compliance with journalistic standards has crystallised with former generally following journalistic principles despite enormous pressure by the regime, and the latter increasingly neglecting journalistic standards and becoming mere propaganda tools.

Three media broke all previous records – TUT.BY and Naviny.by – as most compliant (4.99 points in August) and ONT as least compliant (2.58 points in October). The average gap between most and least compliant media in the reporting period increased to 2.06 points from 1.54 points in April-June 2020.

Among national media outlets, in the reporting period, Naviny,by, TUT.BY, Euroradio and Nasha Niva generally had near perfect scores for their compliance with journalistic standards (4.9 and higher scores on average), albeit other independent outlets also showed very good scores – 4.41 being the lowest (Belsat in October 2020). In August, TUT.BY and Naviny.by scored 4.99 points – the best score ever recorded by the Media IQ monitoring team.

State TV channel ONT was the least compliant with journalistic standards in this period (2.91 points on average and 2.58 points – record-breaking low, in October). Average scores by state media outlets were all below 4 points, ranging between 3.88 points (SB. Belarus Today) and 2.91 (ONT).

From August onwards, state media neglected journalistic standards: 97% of all reports subjected to monitoring (circa 650 reports per month on average) contained at least one violation of journalistic standards. This enables us to conclude that the quality of reporting by state media deteriorated significantly. In addition, there was a clear correlation between the topic of reporting and standards violation – 100% of state media reports about the post-election turmoil, including protests, etc were in violation of journalistic principles.

As for the regional media the picture was rather ‘good’ with non-state Hrodna.life on the top of the list with 4.79 points and non-state Silnyye Novosti closing it with 4.32 points out of 5. State regional media were most often violating journalistic standards when covering trials and economic development issues.

Regardless of the topic, most frequently the monitored media continued to violate the principles ‘separating facts from opinions’, ‘fairness’ and ‘completeness of information’. State TV channels Belarus 1 and ONT broke all previous records of non-compliance with ‘Completeness of information’ principle: in October 96.6% of ONT reports and 77.2% of Belarus 1 reports in November concealed information. In December ONT failed to separate facts from opinions in 87% of its reports and Belarus 1 in 83.6% of its reports in September. These two channels also frequently violated the principle ‘balance of opinions’ by manipulating opponents’ words to suit their purposes and hidden narratives. When violating the standard ‘separating facts from opinions’, state media provided own assessments of events they reported about (protests, Lukashenka policies, coronavirus, constitutional reforms, etc), and failed to elaborate on factual circumstances. Concealing of information was another most frequent violation recorded in state media reports – most often, they said nothing about the reasons why people were protesting or which claims they had.

Judging by the nature of violations of journalistic standards by state media and the fact that there was de facto disregard of journalistic principles by them in the reporting period, the Media IQ team concludes that explicit disregard for journalistic principles constitutes the state media’s editorial policy.

Due to increased workflow and non-state media having hear perfect record of propaganda free reporting, from August 2020, the Media IQ team only monitored state media in terms of revealing cases of manipulations, disinformation and propaganda. In the reporting period, Belarus 1, ONT and CTV reports subjected to monitoring contained propaganda and manipulations (74%, 71.17% and 66.83% of reports on average, accordingly). This means, over two thirds of state TV reporting contained propaganda. State newspaper SB Belarus Today had propaganda in one-third of its articles on average. This was a clear deterioration as compared with the previous period.

Propaganda and manipulations in state media news reports were most frequently detected hand-in-hand with the violation of ‘separating facts from opinions’ and ‘completeness of information’ standards, when they explicitly supported Lukashenka’s position, presented their findings as facts and said nothing about the reasons behind mass protests and strikes, offering only their biased interpretations. In the reporting period, state media also significantly increased the number and variety of manipulative techniques and resorted to more propaganda tools if compared with the previous period, in addition, state media rhetoric was gradually toughening in respect of opponents and protesters, often showing signs of hate speech.

From July to September, state media disinformation and propaganda regarding post-election events in Belarus focused on attempts to denigrate the opposition by characterising protests as criminal acts, diverting attention to other issues, fabricating conspiracies and non-existent threats, and creating false dilemmas.

From October onwards, the strategy became more proactive. State media attempted to control the narrative and forge an alternate reality where anyone not supporting the regime is a violent criminal with no interest in negotiations because they do not care about Belarus’ peace and security (unlike those currently in power).

By November, state propaganda began to clearly delineate an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ (friend or foe) and began to amplify the characterisation of ‘them’ from mere criminals to actual ‘Nazis’.

State media completed this picture in December by alleging that neighbouring EU states aimed to undermine Belarus’ territorial integrity and sovereignty through sanctions, colour revolutions, and so on. Belarus, as always, being a stepping stone to the ultimate target: Russia.

To help revive the spectre of Nazism, the white-red-white protest flag was re-labelled (and libelled) as a Nazi emblem, and the motivation for the protests became (alleged) Western aggression (possibly military) with the intent of reoccupying parts of western Belarus.

There were few cases of propaganda in regional media outlets and they were not part of editorial policy.

From July to December 2020 state media primarily focused on domestic issues: discrediting opponents/protests, the protest itself; pandering to the president and his edifice of power; claiming that all Belarus’ troubles are brought from the outside and that the country [the system] needed to be preserved. Slightly less popular narrative strands were that Belarus and Russia face common threats, that Belarusians do not support protests and that punishment is unavoidable.

In December, three new mainstream narrative strands appeared in state media: a) discrediting Telegram channels; b) discrediting independent media; and c) discrediting the historical white-red-white flag, the protest symbol.

The monitoring team’s findings regarding the scale of propaganda and disinformation used by state media in Belarus leaves no doubt that these tactics are a part of national state media editorial policy.

Specific violations and non-compliances with journalistic standards are elaborated in detail below.

 

 

 

Violations of journalistic standards by national and regional media in detail

 

 

 

Separating facts from opinions

State TV channels were the most ‘malicious’ non-compliers with this principle, failing to separate facts from opinions in three of four of their reports on average. As compared with the previous reporting period, non-state Belsat TV channel continued to improve its compliance with this principle – only 21.7% of its reports on average violated this standard (vs. 55.8% in Q1 2020 and 34% in Q2 2020). ONT (80.86% of reports on average) and Belarus 1 (76.97% of reports on average) were most non-compliant with this principle. Among online media outlets, national state newspaper SB. Belarus Today had just over half of its reports on average complying with this principle (52.8%, no change as compared with Q2 2020). TUT.BY and Naviny.by fully complied with this principle in H2 2020. Among regional media, state Vecherny Brest and Vitsebskiye Vesti, and non-state Silnyye Novosti had most difficulties with separating facts from opinions (38%, 43% and 34%, accordingly).

When analysing the compliance with this principle, the media monitoring team in no way wanted to compromise the journalist’s right to expressing his/her own opinion, however, this was not appropriate in the news reporting, which was the subject of the monitoring.

Fairness

A reference to the source of information is the primary marker of compliance with the fairness standard. In the reporting period, all media, national and regional, state and non-state, TV and online outlets, consistently violated this standard to a variable degree. State media outlets led in the number of violations – they lacked the reference to the source in 27.25% of their reports on average, which however was an improvement compared to Q1 at 48.43%. ONT TV Chanel was the leader among TV channels in providing reports without referring to sources (31.97%), while Belsat TV was the fairest with 9.95% on average (all TV channels have somewhat improved their compliance). That said, state newspaper SB. Belarus Today was unfairest in the reporting period among all monitored media (26.35% of reports on average). Online media outlets were generally more compliant with the fairness indicator. TUT.BY, Naviny.by and Euroration complied by 100% with this principle in September and Sputnik Belarus – in December. Among regional media outlets, state Vecherny Brest and non-state Silnyye Novosti were most often lacking proper reference to a source – in 13% of reports each. Overall, there was a clear improvement in compliance with this standard by all media when traced from January – to December.

Most common cases of non-compliance with this principle included the lack of reference to any source or references to ‘generalised pseudo sources’ or references to anonymous sources. When analysing the compliance with this journalistic standard, the monitoring team often registered related violations of other standards, such as accuracy, or separating facts from opinions.

Balance of opinions

According to the Media IQ methodology, if the standard is not applicable to a publication of a specific genre, it is considered that there has been no violation. Therefore, due to formal criteria, reports by “protocol journalists” from meetings with the president do not violate the balance standard. From August 2020, state TV channels’ compliance with this standard has deteriorated as compared to Q2 2020, especially by Belarus 1 and ONT (non-compliance constituted 25.25% and 17.87% on average). Belsat’s compliance in September- December was circa 12%, other independent media’s compliance was near perfect.

Completeness of information

Independent media’s compliance with this principle was near perfect, except for non-state Sputnik Belarus (violated this principle in 6.5% of publications on average). On the contrary, state TV channels omitted information more frequently – in more than half of their reports, which was a significant increase as compared to H1 2020. Violation of this principle often came hand-by-hand with propaganda and manipulations, especially when covering the domestic political turmoil and motivation of different actors.

Accuracy

State media, unlike in the previous reporting period, had their accuracy indicator deteriorating – 12.44% of state media reports lacked accuracy with Belarus 1 violating this principle most often among them at 16.45%.

 

Manipulations, propaganda, and disinformation in national and regional media

In the reporting period, the Media IQ team did not monitor non-state media on account of presence of propaganda and manipulations. As for state media subject to monitoring, propaganda and manipulations were detected in all monitored state media.

A significant share of propaganda and manipulations in news reports was attributable to state TV channels: Belarus 1, ONT and CTV, all of which increased the share of propaganda in their reporting. For instance, Belarus 1 resorted to propaganda and manipulations in 74% of reports on average, with 79% of reports in September, October and November. ONT propagandistic reports constituted 71.17% on average with 79% of propaganda in October reports. CTV had 67% of reports with propaganda in H2 2020 (an increase by 60%). As for the regional media outlets, not a single media outlet produced reports with propaganda content over 10%.

Propagandistic content clearly increased in reporting on most topical socio-political issues, such as the presidential elections, the opposition, protests and protesters; anti-coronavirus policies and national dialogue to address the political turmoil.

The monitoring has revealed a direct correlation between the level of tension over an issue and the number of used manipulative techniques and manipulative narratives in the state media. Manipulative techniques used in H2 2020, for example, aimed to discredit opposition and protest leaders, as well as protesters themselves and the protests as such.

In July most popular narratives in state media pivoted around the ideas that the “Belarusian edifice of power is very good and does not need reforms”, that “Lukashenka is only to be praised” and discrediting the opposition/Lukashenka’s opponents.

In August – September state media refocussed all their efforts on discrediting the opposition/protesters and the protest as such and on promoting the idea that external forces (mainly from the West) are threatening Belarus. In October the narrative strand about the “Need to save Belarus” was added to the one above along with resumed pandering to Lukashenka and the edifice of power he created.

Manipulations accumulated from October onwards, not merely misinforming and promoting propagandistic narratives, but also forging an alternative reality where anyone not supporting the regime is a violent criminal with no interest in negotiations because they do not care about Belarus’ peace and security (unlike those currently in power).

By November, state propaganda began to clearly delineate an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ (friend or foe) and began to amplify the characterisation of ‘them’ from mere criminals to actual ‘Nazis’.

State media completed this picture in December by alleging that neighbouring EU states aimed to undermine Belarus’ territorial integrity and sovereignty through sanctions, colour revolutions, and so on. Belarus, as always, being a stepping stone to the ultimate target: Russia.

To help revive the spectre of Nazism, the white-red-white protest flag was re-labelled (and libelled) as a Nazi emblem, and the motivation for the protests became (alleged) Western aggression (possibly military) with the intent of reoccupying parts of western Belarus.

New narrative strands appeared in December 2020 discrediting Telegram channels, independent media outlets and the white-red-white flag.

 

Case studies

 
Case 1. “NATO troops stir up protests”

According to “Belarus1”ОNT и СTV, external forces strive to destabilise the situation in Belarus, including Lithuania, Poland, USA and NATO. TV channels persuade their viewers that external players interfere in Belarus’ affairs and have launched a ‘colour revolution’ scenario. Their argument being, that “It is absolutely obvious”.

State TV channels talk about a large accumulation of US and NATO troops on the border with Poland and Lithuania and about military-political pressure on Belarus. But they fail to report that Poland and the Baltic states are conducting joint exercises with the United States, “Defender Europe 20 Plus”, the largest in the past 25 years. According to the plan, the exercises were supposed to end on May 20, but the dates were shifted due to the coronavirus and they ended on August 22.

Instead, state media outlets link the presence of NATO and US troops on the western borders with the protests in Belarus. “Such pressure from the outside aims to disperse the forces of the Belarusian military and law enforcement officers as much as possible, distract from the internal situation and maximally strain on the external borders. At the same time, protest moods in the society are being stirred up,” Belarus 1 TV channel says. ONT also assures that the US and NATO troops "rolled up in sync with the riots in Belarus." These media violate the standard of completeness of information, which allows them to interpret events near the borders of Belarus in their own way and manipulate public opinion.

Case 2. State TV channels humiliate protesters

Belarus 1, reporting on the students' marches on September 1 says that the protesters “receive orders from their smartphones which were bought using their mother's money: “Bark!” “Fetch!”, “Lay down!”” Belarus 1 reporter compares students with dogs, which constitutes dehumanization - a propaganda tool. Then camera shows a guy who is crying during a protest. We do not know why he is upset, the TV channel does not give him a chance to speak, but reporter comments: “Today’s revolutionaries are flimsy and this is exactly what mama’s ‘fighters’ look like…” the reporter makes fun of the student, using the Belarusian word "zmagar" [fighter] in a negative connotation. Simultaneously, the author continues: "but when they gather in a flock, they become a very aggressive substance.” The report does not show violence by the protesters. CTV channel on the same day also reported that protesters were provocative. However, also fails to elaborate or show what provocations the reporter had in mind or why he made such a conclusion. Authors of both reports presented their opinion as a fact, and shifted the focus from the political demands of anti-government rallies onto alleged aggression of the protesters, which they fail to support with evidence or facts. This is propaganda.

Case 3. Negative reporting about the protests

Belarus 1 emphasises the radical nature of the protests, draws an analogy with the Ukrainian Maidan. The channel has connected the “bloody coup d'etat" in Kyiv and "toxic radical elements" in Minsk. According to the author of the report, protesters in both countries, in order to "attract participants and somehow show mass character of the ‘strolls’ use cookies, tea, and coffee.", concluding that "the countries are different, the workbook is the same." This constitutes a comparison on a formal basis, falsification of facts and manipulation.

Case 4. Violence against the protesters is justified by forging a stereotype that all protesters are criminals

ONT claims that among the protesters there is a large share of those "whose only purpose is to beat, crush, possibly escalate the situation to having victims." ONT says that the security forces have to deal with them, because "it is impossible to work with them, they will never be persuaded otherwise." ONT justifies the actions of the security forces: “alas, sometimes force is being swept away only by an even greater force”. ONT mentions the use of force against allegedly radical protesters, but we do not see detailed information about the methods of detention and further treatment of alleged suspects. ONT fails to report about the overall number of participants in Sunday marches and does not say how many people were detained, criminal and administrative proceedings launched. “SB. Belarus Today” expresses an opinion that “if radical manifestations are not stopped with tough measures within the framework of the law, power will be seized in the regions”. State media reports often contradict each other. They intimidate their audiences with the seizure of power in the regions, but do not report on protest activity in the cities of Belarus or plans of protesters in Minsk to seize power. Protests in the capital are characterized as "small" and "negligent". SB. Belarus Today does not disclose the purpose of the protests, providing various allegations instead. This constitutes a violation of the standard completeness of information and a propaganda tool.

CTV and SB. Belarus Today positively assess the actions of the security officials, approve of them. After the dispersal of the Sunday march on November 22nd, CTV reported that “our militiamen worked brilliantly, and the best gift for the capital's OMON yesterday was a complete and unconditional cleansing of Minsk as soon as possible.” SB. Belarus Today claimed that the security forces worked neatly, "those who were too annoying, mostly ladies, were simply taken aside, so as not to accidentally hit them with, say, an elbow." State media here simply promote their narratives and present their opinions, there were no facts or visuals to support their praising statements.

State TV channels approve of the use of force against protesters not only by the security forces, but also by ordinary citizens. A BMW driver beat a guy with the national flag, because he was blocking the traffic. Belarus 1 called the BMW driver "a brave Belarusian who, like a [real] man, explained to a drunken degenerate with a flag that the roads should not be blocked." ONT stated that the driver "tried to reason with the drunk pedestrian with his fists." Neither channel provided evidence that the guy with the flag was drunk. CTV also justified violence against opponents of the authorities and even threatened the protesters: “The Zmagars [fighters] have already run into a grandpa with an electric shocker. Soon they will run into a woman with a rolling pin, a farmer with a pitchfork, a worker with a tire iron." State TV channels promote the idea that violence by Belarusians who support the government against protesters is expected and normal.

State TV channels, continued to dehumanize and ridicule participants in the mass protests. SB. Belarus Today assures that “the backbone of the protest consists of unprincipled, morally reprehensible and dangerous beasts” and calls Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya the "Lady of the cutlets” [Washerwoman].

Case 5. State media outlets promote conspiracies

TV channels STV, ONT, Belarus 1 and newspaper SB. Belarus Today promote the narrative that the protests are not connected with the domestic political situation in Belarus; that the mass unrest allegedly resulted from the intervention of neighbouring European states. They accuse Poland of striving to divide Belarus. Belarus 1 assures that “the blitzkrieg on the streets of Minsk in August was staged by the states to the west of our borders,” the aim of which is “to turn us into another credit-subsidized appendage of democratic Europe”. According to Belarus 1, Ukraine is already such an "appendage". ONT believes that "The organizers do not even hide their own interests: the territory of Belarus is for the creation of the so-called sanitary belt and a springboard for further pressure on Russia." CTV suggests that an American superpower is helping the Polish secret services.

ONT, STV and Belarus 1 assure viewers that the reasons for the mass protests are not dissatisfaction with the election results or the will of the people, that they have nothing to do with Lukashenka. ONT declares that “be it another person they disliked, the scenario would be exactly the same – a coup, disguised as spontaneous popular unrest, an attempt to get to power at any cost”. State media find their own explanations for the response of the European countries. According to ONT, these are ‘colonial manners’, Belarus 1 believes that the matter is in the Polish national interests, and that "there is no point and no profit in a stable economy and stable Belarus”. State media do not support their allegations with facts or evidence, they give out their opinion as a well-known fact which does not require proof. They speculate and promote conspiracy theories, distort information. These are all propaganda tools.

 

Conclusions and recommendations

Our major conclusion is that in the reporting period, the dividing line between independent and state media in terms of their compliance with journalistic standards has crystallised with former generally following journalistic principles despite enormous pressure by the regime, whilst the quality of the reporting by state media, especially state TV Channels significantly deteriorated from August onwards.

Judging by the nature of violations of journalistic standards by state media and the disregard for journalistic integrity in the reporting period, the Media IQ team concludes that explicit disregard for journalistic principles constitutes state media editorial policy, alongside extensive propaganda and disinformation.

By December state media waged information war against any form of dissent in Belarus, seeding hatred in Belarusian society.

The media monitoring team has issued general recommendations which would help all focus media to improve the quality of their news reporting.

Fairness and Accuracy
  • Reference to an information source is a must. Without such reference, the audience cannot judge the credibility of the news report. Editorial offices, especially TV editorial offices, should require that their journalists made explicit references to information sources (for example, “according to Belstat”, “according to the Finance Ministry”).
  • Reference to generalized sources constitutes a ‘bad practice’. People usually do not speak in chorus, so by the standards of news journalism references to ‘collective’ sources are unacceptable.
  • Reporting from a courtroom should be explicitly indicated so. Such reports require not only a reference to the source of information and its procedural status, but also to the circumstances when the quoted statement was made, e.g. before the start of the trial, during the process, during a break, after the trial, etc. The place and time of a conversation with the source can be an important detail when reporting about trials. If it is a closed trial, a journalist must explain how he or she knows about what is going on there.
  • Reference to anonymous sources must be justified and explained. Passing off opinions as a reference to an anonymous source is unacceptable.
Separating facts from opinions
  • TV channels editors should bear in mind that when adapting a TV report for posting a text version on the website, some fragments of visual reporting may disappear and facts in the subsequent text may appear as a journalist’s opinion.
  • Journalists must avoid clichés, especially clichés containing value judgments.
  • In reporting, unlike in the hardcore news items, the effect of the presence is an important element. A journalist usually tells what he or she sees and feels, what impressions he/she has. However, a journalist should not tell the audience how he or she evaluates this news item.
Balance of opinions
  • Justifying the lack of balance with the fact that one side is ‘bad’ or ‘guilty’, and so on is unacceptable.

Balance standard is not always applicable in reporting. When reporting breaking news, a media outlet may use a news flash without the reference to all parties in a conflict. However, in such cases, the breaking news report should contain a reference that the report will be updated. Furthermore, when updating such reports with commentaries by parties involved, a journalist should indicate that there is a different opinion and that he/she intends to obtain it.

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