Why do independent media face challenges?
Natallia Radzina informs Polskie Radio that money for Charter-97 is enough only until the end of this year. She urges to support of the website.
The editorial office operates in Poland at the invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, this year the financial support of international organizations has been cut this year and the situation is really grave.
The editorial office of Charter97.org had to move to Poland because of repressions in Belarus. After the presidential elections-2010 the editor-in-chief of the website Natallia Radzina and journalists of the portal were arrested. Later Charter-97 worked in Vilnius, now it resides in Poland and published information about Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.
It takes the leading position and publishes points of view of the opposition and data presented by independent experts. Charter-97 is the bur in the throat both of Lukashenka and Vladimir Putin. It provides true information about events in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.
This is critically important affair for Belarus, where Lukashenka's and the Kremlin's propaganda runs the show. The website is extremely popular amid other media of this kind. Charter-97 has managed to won back the major part of its readers who use different tools to bypass the blockage of the website in Belarus.
- Belarus may burst with mass protests. If Europe ignores these processes and does not support pro-democratic and pro-European forces in the region, Russia will capitalise on the situation. This is a great threat. Today the authorities are destroying pro-democratic and pro-European media and organizations. Their place is taken by Russian propaganda media.
We can see that the Russian propaganda has occupied the information space of Belarus. Pro-Putin TV channels and radio work in the country. After the blockage of Charter-97 the popularity of Russian websites has increased. The editor-in-chief of Charter97.org believes that the standstill in relations between the West and Lukashenka bears a great threat not only for Belarus, but for safety of Europe.
- The editorial office of Charter-97 was repressed in Belarus. You had to leave the country after the presidential elections of 2010 and after you imprisonment. In the beginning of this year Charter-97 was blocked, later you were threatened, and now we learn that the website is trying to survive...
- Yes, we suffer great challenges. Financial assistance has been drastically reduced. Western foundations deny us any support without explaining reasons, although the situation with freedom of speech is critical in Belarus.
Charter97.org is blocked in Belarus, but Belarusians bypass the blockage. We keep working and we have managed to win back a half of our readers, who use different toold to bypass the blockage. We used to have 2.5 million unique users per month and 46 million views. These figures are indicative.
Now we are concerned about absence of support, money is often allocated for GONGO - fake "non-governmental" organizations created by special services. Meanwhile, independent media and organizations which deal with human rights in Belarus are trying to survive because of miserable funding. One European foundation has an article "how the authorities will treat your project". How can the dictatorial regime treat free opinions?
- What are you going to do?
- We asked our readers for financial assistance. Of course, it's not enough. However, we are grateful for their support. We know the situation in Belarus. People share their money to help us to survive.
- Belarusians have few independent sources. BelaPAN and tut.by have recently been facing problems as well. Journalists are suspected of unauthorized access to state data. Some of them were detained and were banned to travel abroad.
- When Charter-97 was blocked, we told that if no international response and coordinated solidarity actions of independent Belarusian media followed, repressions would continue. When our website was blocked, neither tut.by nor BelaPAN (unlike Charter-97, they still work on the territory of Belarus) supported us. It was the test. Then others faced repressions.
We have been facing great challenges for a long time already. Other independent media in the region also face financial problems: Russian Novaya Gazeta, ATR TV channel broadcasting on the territory of the Crimea. Leaders of independent media of Azerbaijan told me that the aid on the part of western organizations had decreased tenfold. Independent mass media of Armenia also lack funding. Why is it happening when Western officials declare their resistance to the Russian propaganda and report on millions of euro allocated for this purpose?
Charter-97 has been successful for 20 years. Why do we have to hold out a tin cup?
- Charter still resides in Poland.
- We are thankful to the Foreign Ministry of Poland for invitation. We are glad to freely live and work here and not to be afraid of being arrested and beaten like it was in Belarus.
Poland has been supporting us since 2011. Unfortunately, its support is not enough. I guess other European states could support independent Belarusian media.
- Now the Belarusian media legislation faces changes.
- Yes, first of all it regards the Internet. Commentators should be registered, the authorities also require lists of journalists who post information. They want to deprive Belarusians of the right to criticise the authorities anonymously on the Internet.
As of today, criminal cases against bloggers are opened, freelance journalists are being harassed, as well as correspondents of Belsat TV channel. Journalists working for Charter-97 and Radio Racyja also have problems in Belarus.
- This summer you received murder threats. Charter-97 was persecuted in Belarus, you were in the KGB prison. It means that you must be very concerned about your safety. What can be done for you?
- We have suffered different situations; we were repressed, tortured, and pressed. We worked with no salary. I mean some mission to us, not the way to earn money.
However, it's hard to operate amid constant lack of funds. This is the reality of Charter97.org and other independent media of Belarus.
I wish the website could continue its work. We urgently need assistance of readers, civil rights defenders, public activists, politicians.
I'd like to ask international organizations to support independent projects of Belarus. It's not only about moral issues and principles, but also about safety.
- The West has recently paid less attention to Belarus. What is a reason?
- It means indifference, short views. Violations of human rights in Belarus are almost hushed up, trade and economic cooperation is of high priority. Western politicians, who arrive to meet with Lukashenka in Belarus, are called here salesmen. The policy line can be explained with prevention of destabilization of Belarus, which might follow the path of Ukraine and so on.
However, Lukashenka is not able to hold the stability in the country. He will never agree to reforms, though the country suffers a grave economic crisis. The majority hates the dictator, who has been in power for 24 years. It all may cause mass protests in Belarus. If Europe ignores it and does not support pro-democratic and pro-European forces in the region, Russia will capitalise on the situation.
It is a great hazard. The authorities destroy pro-democratic and pro-European media and organizations. And Russian propaganda media take their place. The Russian propaganda has occupied the information space of Belarus. Pro-Putin TV channels and radio operate in the country. After the blockage of Charter-97, Belarusians have turned to Russian websites.
The standstill in relations between the West and Lukashenka bears a great threat not only for Belarus, but for safety of Europe.
- You are the editor-in-chief of Charter97.org. This summer you received anonymous threats. Do you have any thoughts who it might be? Or what for?
- It's hard to say. We know that both Russian and Belarusian authorities do not like us. We work 16 hours a day and try to provide unbiased information about current events. Reasons for threats are hard to determine. Of course, they are keen to us to disappear. However, there are lots of us and we will keep working. They cannot shut every mouth.
- Perhaps, someone would like to wonder how to support the Belarusian independent society.
- One should be interested in it and should know the real situation in Belarus, render real support to independent media, organizations, democratic forces.
- Could you tell about yourself? Why have you decided to work for Charter-97?
- It happened long ago. More than 20 years ago the website Charter-97 first appeared on the Internet. I knew people who created it. They are sincere, honest, bold, talented, creative people who want and can change the situation in Belarus. They can risk their lives, health, and welfare.
I have never met such people before. I wanted to be a part of it.
- How it happened? What did you do in the very beginning?
- First I worked for independent newspapers. Later they were closed down in a row. In 2001 I realized that I had to turn to the Internet. Newspapers were subject to registration in the Ministry of Information and they could be closed at any moment. I did not want to depend upon whims of officials.
Of course, several years later Lukashenka concerned about Internet resources. And we had to move to Poland and keep working here.
- In 2010 journalist and founder of Charter-97 Aleh Bebenin came to a tragic end. What kind of person was he?
- He was incredibly talented. He was hard-working. His death was a great loss. I still miss him. I know that I will for the rest of my life.
- Every day you work from dawn to dusk and publish a lot of information. Is it hard for you to work like this?
- It's not easy. Because of the time lag, we work from 6 am to 10 pm. There are editors, but still we miss people.
- What is your motivation? After all, it's a hard work.
- We need to drive a nail home. After all, we have been doing it for 20 years. In addition, we know that Charters - a Polish and Czechoslovakian - finally won. I believe that the Belarusian one will also succeed.
- We do hope so as well.
It will be recalled that on September 3 editor-in-chief of Charter-97 Natallia Radzina announced the threat to informational resource cause by drastic reduction in financing and called readers for solidarity. Ways to support the website:
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