Protests in Belarus have become an integral part of daily news. Although Belarus is quite close to Estonia in terms of location, we still know very little about this country and people, and even less has been said about the information space in which they daily live.
Russian language is dominate in homes
At the beginning of 2020, Belarus had a population of approximately 9.4 million, of whom 15.4% were under 14 years of age and 14.2% were over 65 years of age. 70.4% of the population remained in the age range of 15-64, of which the largest number is aged 25-54.
According to the 2009 census, 53% of the population’s native language is Belarusian, but according to the same data, about 70% of Belarusian residents use Russian as their language of communication at home. In terms of ethnicity, the largest group are Belarusians, who make up 81% of the population. The next largest are the Russians at 8.2%.
All of the above has a strong impact on media consumption statistics.
It is difficult to find recent media research on Belarus. One of the most current reviews was published by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) in May 2020 and contains the latest data for 2018.
The survey shows that in 2018, the most watched type of media was television (72%), followed by the Internet with 60.4%. In third place was the press with a significantly smaller audience (28.8%) and in fourth place was radio at 12.8%.
State media dominates
Statistically, in 2016, there were 1,592 periodicals in Belarus, of which “only” 437 were state-owned. However, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the majority of privately owned publications mostly covered areas concerning entertainment, hobbies, etc., and there were only 30 publications dealing with public journalism.
The situation is worse with regard to television and radio, where 190 of the 273 registered channels belonged to the state and all television and radio stations are subject to state and local control, which is regulated by the Mass Media Act.
Free media basically only exists on the Internet.
65% of TV content comes from Russia
Belarus’s most popular TV channel is ONT, which is watched by 59.8% of the population. This is followed by RTR Belarus (51.1%), Belarus 1 (50.7%), NTV Belarus (48.9%), Belarus 2 (33%), etc.
According to 2019 data, 63% of the content of the most popular TV channel ONT consisted of material produced in Russia or created in cooperation with Russia. The Belarusian RTR channel’s content of such material was 73% and 37.2% in the content of the third most popular channel, Belarusian 1.
Newspapers of Russian origin
According to a survey, the three most read newspapers are “Soviet Belarus / Belarus Today” (17.3%), “Komsomolskaya Pravda Belarus” (16.8%), and “Argumenty i Fakty Belarus” (14.6%).
The most popular Internet news environment is the independent news portal tut.by (2,986,190 users), followed by naviny.by (1,420,609 users) owned by the Belarusian private news agency BelaPAN. They are followed by “Komsomolskaya Pravda Belarus” kp.by (1,049,786) and the national belta.by (758,436 users) and belsat.by (752,521 users).
Russia dominates social media
According to 2019 data, the most popular social media environment in Belarus is Odnoklassniki, which is used by 43% of the population. This is followed by VKontakte 42%, Facebook 34% and Instagram 29%.
The most popular messaging applications are Viber 70%, Skype 38%, WhatsApp25%, Telegram 23% and Fb Messenger 17%.
Large-scale Russian propaganda
Due to the ownership of the media and the origin of the content, the Belarusian media is a good environment for Russian propaganda. It is particularly widespread on Belarusian television. A separate report has been published of this example in 2019.
In addition to a large share of state media, the content of private media is influenced by the active intervention of the state in the work of journalists. For example, in 2019, a lawsuit against journalists ended in their conviction. During the same year, 21 journalists and bloggers were arrested. 44 journalists were fined In 2019 for cooperation with foreign media that was not accredited by the state, and the total amount of fines was approximately 18,000 euros.
In 2020, Belarus ranked 153rd out of 180 countries in the press freedom index.