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Divisive new media law increases barriers for independent media outlets despite return of two exiled newspapers, says IFJ

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 17 February 2009 IFJ media release:

IFJ Calls for Belarus Media Reform as New Law Takes Effect

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today called upon the Belarus government to bring in radical reforms to media and to abandon the strategy set out in a divisive new law that came into force on 8 February.

"Belarus media requires invigorating reform, not a new media law that merely turns the screw ever tighter on the independent media," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. The IFJ says that last minute softening of the legislation and the recent return of two independent newspapers to state distribution system do not disguise the harsh reality that "Belarus journalists are the most oppressed in Europe."

The IFJ supports the Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ), which is calling for reform of the media sector. It says the European Union should make normalisation of relations with Belarus dependent on a genuine commitment to free expression.

The new media law regulates online media and calls for the registration of media outlets. It also speeds up procedures for closing down media and says journalists can be prosecuted for reporting statements, whether from political parties or NGOs, if they "discredit the Republic of Belarus."

There is no government decree on online media regulation, to the relief of press freedom advocates, although the provision remains in the law. In addition, the titles Narodnaya Volya and Nasha Niva have returned to Minsk for printing and access to the state distribution system, after a three-year exile across the Russian border in Smolensk. The government has set up a committee to oversee media and invited the BAJ to participate. All of this follows the lifting of European Union sanctions against Belarus.

"The key problems of journalism in Belarus remain unsolved," said Zhanna Litvina, Chair of the BAJ. "The state retains a monopoly on printed and electronic media, distribution systems and printing facilities. They regard media as a part of the official administration that has to perform propaganda functions."
For the full BAJ statement:"Evaluation of the situation with media and the freedom of expression in Belarus by the Belarusian Association of Journalists" see

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 123 countries worldwide.

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