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Independent media in Belarus is struggling to survive. Higher costs of printing and paper, a ban on commercial advertisements, and a lack of access to the distribution network monopolized by the state, are among the main reasons why independent newspapers are not commercially viable. Instead, most are reliant on grants from international donor organizations.

In the mid-nineties, the independent media scene was in full bloom/swing/flourishing/taking off/booming/at its peak etc. Some independent newspapers had higher circulations than state ones. But the state evidently saw this as a threat. Various methods were developed to significantly reduce the influence of independent media, or drive it out of existence.

Forcing employees of state-run institutions to subscribe to newspapers helped push up state newspaper’s circulation figures, while refusing independent newspapers access to the state distribution network helped knock independent media off the market. Specially placing state newspapers at eye-level in kiosks is another trick in the administrative bag. And then there’s the ‘two-strikes-and-you’re-out’ system. If the Ministry of Information considers that a newspaper has over-stepped the mark, it can issue a warning. If a newspaper receives a second warning, it may have to close shop until a trial has taken place. It effectively means the end for the newspaper (as was the case with Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta).

Today independent radio and TV operate from outside the country, struggling to reach their audiences. But one area where independent media is winning is the Internet. Some studies estimate that up to half of the population thought to use the Internet (4,302,946, according to Gemius data from June 2012), there is some reason/room for optimism/hope.

Author: Handbook on Belarus for International journalists