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IFJ CALLS FOR MEDIA REFORM AS NEW LAW TAKES EFFECT

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is supporting the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) in its call for the Belarus government to bring in radical media reforms and overturn a "divisive new law."

The new media law, which came into force on 8 February, regulates online media and calls for the registration of media outlets. It also speeds up procedures for closing down media outlets for minor violations and says journalists can be prosecuted for publishing statements, whether from political parties or NGOs, if they "discredit the Republic of Belarus."

IFJ says that last-minute softening of the legislation and the recent return of two independent newspapers to the state distribution system do not disguise the harsh reality that "Belarus journalists are the most oppressed in Europe."

Last week, BAJ told an official EU delegation headed by Javier Solana, Secretary-General of the EU Council, that any EU relations with Belarus should be dependent on a genuine commitment to free expression.

The Belarus government has set up a committee to oversee media in which it invited BAJ to participate, and EU sanctions against Belarus have been lifted, but BAJ says no real improvements to freedom of expression in Belarus have been made.

"The key problems of journalism in Belarus remain unsolved," said 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."

At the same time, BAJ says most independent media are still excluded, primarily by economic discrimination, and journalists' access to information sources continue to be restricted.

What's more, journalists are still subject to draconian measures through criminal defamation and anti-terrorism laws, says BAJ.

Last June, IFEX members ARTICLE 19, Norwegian PEN and Index on Censorship, along with five other international rights organisations, petitioned against the draft law.

Visit these links:
- IFJ: http://tinyurl.com/bjl69q
- BAJ: http://baj.by/m-p-viewpub-tid-1-pid-6476.html
- IFEX Belarus page: http://tinyurl.com/cn7eem
(25 February 2009)

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