Uladzimir Matskevich: Loss of Belsat is a backdown, channel criticism is irrelevant

Piotr Kuchta, EuroBelarus Information Service

“Absurdity and irrationality from both those who suggest closing Belsat, and those who criticize it in Belarus today.”

On the one hand, social media launched a campaign under the hashtag #livebelsat (#белсатжыві), the actions of the Polish Foreign Ministry are regarded as a betrayal of the democratic ideals, on the other hand, a the team of Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy have never experienced such a wave of criticism since the channel started broadcating. Uladzimir Matskevich, philosopher and methodologist, answered the questions of EuroBelarus Information Service on the situation with the Belsat.

— Yes, Belsat has had problems for a long while both with reaching the audience and the quality of programs, but for some reason this has not been a subject for a conversation much. However bad Belsat can be, today it is managed not quite according to the Belarusan needs and in Poland, which largely borrows the tradition and style of Polish television, and perhaps it does not quite meet the demands of the Belarusan audience. Nevertheless, this is the only Belarusan television channel providing independent information reviews. If it is useless, let us express it in a straightforward way, let’s say “we do not need any other television.”

Another aspect of this issue is related to the journalistic solidarity, solidarity in a civil society in general. In the 90 years there were much more independent resources than we have in Belarus nowadays. And closing these media, programs, radio broadcasting stations was accompanied by a more or less same criticism. Yes, indeed, they did not cover a very large audience, but at the same time their existence deprived state-run media of monopoly. And all of those could exist today as well if we were in agreement. However, Belsat now is getting closed not so much by the Belarusan regime but rather a European, and not for ideological reasons but for financial.

And the third aspect: we live in the times of information war. Now this issue is already being discussed in the European Parliament, the OSCE and other European structures. And instead of taking any effective measures to prevent this wave of Russian propaganda, we begin to reduce the opportunities available.

— But how can we influence the decision of those who intend to close the Belsat?

— Donors have some sort of their own motives and reasons regarding the bureaucratic structures policies that allocate funds for projects. Ridiculous, inconclusive projects can be implemented over the years. After a while it turns out that it's all a bluff. Moreover PR of such projects is impressive, what is empty inside looks a very successful initiative on the outside. And it causes significant damage, because the financially supported projects and programs push out many other initiatives, undermining confidence in the fact that the low-budget but creative initiatives can be much more successful. Therefore, it would be very nice if Western experts pay more attention to the feedback to their projects.

— Just before the announcement of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs on their decision to reform Belsat, the authors of the Russian Regnum, aggressive supporters of the “Russian world” get detained in Belarus. It is clear that the information attacks on Belarus will continue, but we lose one of the elements of our defense...

— I can trace that each of these resources has its own stable audiences. For example, the aforementioned Regnum can suddenly become terribly popular. What can we oppose it then? But we must understand that this is just a little skirmish in a huge information war. We will gain no victory without offensive employment. Now the situation is as follows: Russia makes a full-scale information war, and we are solving some tine local problems — and solving them badly, by the way.

— That is, we should build up the resources available?

— Yes. We must expand the broadcast audience by all possible means, and, of course, we need to change the editorial policy too, make it more precise, adapted to the demands and needs of the general Belarusan audience, need to strengthen the news component, create topical talks, expert-analytical discussions etc. That is, even today without any funding reductions planned Belsat does not have enough money. It turns out that the annual budget of Belsat is money-worth of only a few days of broadcast of a Russian resource. If we cannot compete, then we should not even start talking about confrontating the “Russian world”.

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This conversation took place before Witold Waszczykowski, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland, gave interview to Wpolityce.pl website. According to the minister, the fate of Belsat is now known: the channel in its current form will disappear, but Poland hopes the Belarusan authorities will keep their promise to broadcast TVP Polonia channel in cable networks around the Belarus. Belsat has been broadcasting for 10 years and its impact on the current state of affairs is modest, said Witold Waszczykowski.

The new project, according to Witold Waszczykowski , will give the Belarusans an opportunity to “watch the modern Poland as the Poles used to watch the West during communist regime.” The Minister of Foreign Affaris assured that Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy has already received an offer to a high post at the TVP Polonia. He also promised that the journalists of Belsat will be able to continue their work.