The FINANCIAL -- MINSK. Belarusian media and society need media pluralism, the OSCE Representative on Media Freedom, Dunja Mijatovic, said on October 27, adding that her office is ready to offer support and advice as the country liberalizes and modernizes its media policy.
Speaking at the end of a visit to Belarus at the invitation of the government, Mijatovic said she was "encouraged by the readiness of high-level officials to discuss the problems faced by independent media in Belarus in an open and constructive manner" but added that there was a "lack of progress in bringing the media situation more in line with the OSCE commitments".
Mijatovic said improvement was sorely needed as pluralism was non-existing in the broadcasting sector, restricted in the print media and vulnerable on the Internet.
"I urged my counterparts to lift all current administrative restrictions applied against independent media. Warnings and closures of newspapers have an enormous chilling effect and should not be used or provided for in the law. The authorities should also take urgent measures to support the much weakened independent media and enable the creation of independent self-regulatory mechanisms that are not part of the government bodies," she said.
She said she was encouraged by a common understanding about the need for a gradual overhaul of the media legislation.
"The legislative framework for the media should foster pluralism. I hope that in the future we can work together on amendments of the current media law, on privatization of the state broadcast media, on decriminalisation of defamation and the adoption of an access to information law."
Mijatovic took part in a roundtable discussion on Internet developments, organized jointly by her Office and the Information Ministry, during which participants discussed how Belarus newly adopted Internet legislation compares to international standards.
"I raised my concerns about some provisions of the new legislation, such as the requirement for mandatory identification of all users, and the vaguely defined limitations and bans on illegal information I called upon the government not to design or apply new legislation that would limit freedom of the media on the Internet," she said, adding that the Belarusian side agreed to consult her Office and civil society when reviewing current and adopting future Internet legislation.
She also welcomed the Belarusian authorities' invitation to the OSCE to review the investigation of the death of Belarusian journalist Aleh Byabenin, the founder of Charter97.org. Two experts sent by the OSCE are in Belarus to examine and review evidence related to the death.
Mijatovic met with Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov, Information Minister Oleg Proleskovsky, Presidential Aide Vsevolod Yanchevsky, Central Electoral Commission Head Lidiya Yermoshina and civil society representatives during her three-day visit. She also visited the Belarusian Association of Journalists and the independent newspaper Narodnaya Volya and met with journalists.