"EU-Funded Radio Beams Into Belarus" - AFP (Minsk), 26 Feb 2006
An EU-funded radio broadcaster began beaming news, music and information into Belarus to counter state-controlled media three weeks before a tense presidential election.
"We are putting out truthful and current information about events in Belarus and abroad. We are for freedom and objectivity," said a written statement on the European Radio for Belarus website.
The Vilnius-based Baltic Waves service broadcasts on short wave from the nearby Lithuanian capital and is staffed by Polish and Belarussian journalists, with the latter using pseudonyms.
Broadcasting on FM (frequency modulation) is due to begin shortly.
The radio station's first broadcast included an opposition leader's call for President Alexander Lukashenko to resign and reported on plans to open an office for the Council of Europe rights organisation in the Belarussian capital.
"We welcome the start of this project. In Belarus, the authorities keep total control of the information space," said the head of Belarus's Association of Journalists, Zhanna Litvina on Sunday.
The broadcasts are part of a wider two million euro (2.4 million dollar) package provided by the European Union to support journalists and the media in Belarus, officials in Brussels said earlier.
The EU has stepped up efforts against the Lukashenko who has ruled since 1994 and is aiming for a new five-year term at the March 19 election.
Brussels and Washington have encouraged anti-Lukashenko activities in neighbouring Lithuania and Poland which joined the EU in 2004 after breaking from communist rule in 1991.
"It's not propaganda. It's about making possible access to free, independent and neutral information," a spokeswoman for EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said on Thursday.
On Wednesday another Belarussian-language radio service was launched in the northeastern Polish city of Bialystok with funding by the Polish government.
Lukashenko, whose regime is dubbed by the US "the last dictatorship in Europe", earlier called on his defence and interior ministries to counter "attempted interference in our internal affairs from the West" during the election campaign.
Opposition politicians have warned of street protests if the vote is tainted by irregularities.
"Broadcasts from Poland Try to Break Belarus News Monopoly," by Judy Dempsey - the International Herald Tribune, 23 Feb 2006
BERLIN - A radio station set up by Poland's new conservative government began broadcasting news into neighboring Belarus this week in what Warsaw describes as a strategy to help the country move toward democracy.
Radio Racja, or Radio Reason, opened its offices in Bialystok in northeastern Poland on Wednesday with the explicit aim of weakening the state monopoly over information in Belarus just four weeks before presidential elections there.
Opposition activists, diplomats and human rights organizations say President Aleksandr Lukashenko ofBelarus, who has been in power since 1994 and is seeking a third consecutive term, has done his utmost to hamper the opposition's campaign for the March 19 vote, notably restricting media access.
"We hope Radio Racja will make a difference, however small," said Janusz Onyszkiewicz, a former Polish defense minister and now vice president of the European Parliament. "The aim is to try and break the state control over news and information," added Onyszkiewicz, a former activist in the Solidarity movement.
The radio was originally set up in 1999 to broadcast to the Belarussian minority in Poland.
It was forced to close in 2002 when the former communist government in Warsaw, which was defeated in October by the Party for Law and Justice, halted funding....
Radio Racja, which is also being transmitted from Lithuania, joins two long-established foreign stations that broadcast in Belarussian: Radio Polonia, Poland's international station; and the U.S. backed Radio Free Europe.
But several newcomers have also begun to feed news into Belarus, a country of nearly 10 million people, to provide views different from those aired by state-controlled broadcasters. Germany's state-owned international Deutsche Welle station started transmitting a few weeks ago, and an international consortium led by German, Polish and Lithuanian broadcasters and funded by the European Union started transmitting in Belarussian and Russian last month....
This comes at a time when the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, and his twin brother Jaroslav, who leads Law and Justice, have started to take a hard look at Warsaw's policies toward the eastern neighbors of Poland and the European Union.
Pawel Dobrowolski, former ambassador to Canada and now spokesman for the Polish Foreign Ministry, said one of the first decisions the government made when it took office in November was to change the ministry's European department.
"In the mid-1990s, the European department was focused almost entirely on joining the European Union and NATO," he said. "Now that Poland is in both, we have begun to reorganize the European department by establishing an eastern department to focus more closely on our Eastern neighbors. It could be described as a realignment of our policies with regard to Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and the Caucasus."
In practical terms, Polish officials said this means allocating more money to embassies and consulates in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, as well as to Radio Racja, which was given a start-up budget of €270,000, or $320,000, this week....
Polish diplomats and legislators in the European Parliament acknowledge that President Vladimir Putin of Russia is not pleased with Warsaw's raising the profile of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia on the EU level.
Putin openly criticized the former president of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, for mediating during Ukraine's Orange Revolution in December 2004.
It was one of the earliest instances in which Kwasniewski, a former communist, took such a stand.
"Russia will not forget this," Dobrowolski said.
"Belarus: EU-Funded Broadcasts Set to Begin," by Ahto Lobjakas - Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Brussels), 24 Feb 2006
The European Commission has announced that EU-funded independent media broadcasts to Belarus will start on 26 February. The 2 million-euro ($2.4 million), two-year project will be run by a consortium of Russian, German, Polish, Lithuanian, and Belarusian partners. The project, openly targeting a nondemocratic neighbor, is the first of its kind for the EU....
The European Commission says the stations -- named European Radio for Belarus and Radio Baltic Wave -- will broadcast a 60-minute magazine program at peak time every morning. The program will be tailored to appeal particularly to young people.
An independent Russian television company, RTVi, based in Berlin, will broadcast a weekly 30-minute magazine program called "Window To Europe." The first edition will be broadcast on the evening of 26 February.
The television and radio broadcasts will contain material in both the Belarusian and Russian languages.
[European Commission spokeswoman Emma] Udwin said there will be programming geared specifically for the run-up to the presidential election. "There will also be before the elections, some election specials, some live programs providing an opportunity for debate on the subjects that arise from the election campaign."
The pre-election radio broadcasts will be aired on medium wave and streamed on the Internet. Broadcasts will also be available as podcasts. The more popular and accessible FM band will come into use later and the television programs will be available on cable and satellite.
It is not clear how many people the broadcasts are likely to reach. Spokeswoman Udwin said the European Commission has no information about likely rates of penetration. She said the international consortium running the venture will launch a publicity drive, although the EU itself cannot get involved in such work.
The commission stressed on 23 February that the EU has provided the resources for the project, but has given the consortium and its partners in Belarus and outside a free hand in determining the content of the programming.
There are other broadcast initiatives to Belarus, besides the EU's project. Polish-funded Radio Racja, with a similar objective of broadcasting independent news to Belarus, began broadcasting on 22 February. The station broadcast to Belarus in 1999-2002, before it closed down due to lack of funding.
The European Commission also already funds a smaller, broadcasting venture for Belarus operated by the German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle. The station's Russian-language broadcasts to Belarus have been on air since fall 2005.