30 September 1997

Alert

Groups hold conference, "Belarusian Media: Distinguishing Features of Legislation, the Rights and Duties of Journalists"


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(WAN/IFEX) - On 19 and 20 September 1997, an international
conference, "Belarusian Media: Distinguishing Features of
Legislation, the Rights and Duties of Journalists", took place in
Minsk, attracting nearly 100 participants. It was sponsored by
the Belarusian Association of Journalists; the Council of Europe,
Strasbourg; and the World Association of Newspapers, Paris, with
the participation of: ARTICLE 19, London; Glasnost Defense
Foundation, Moscow; and the Union of Journalists, Moscow.




The conference adopted two resolutions, authored by the
Belarusian Association of Journalists:


Resolution 1: "We, participants at the international conference
'Belarusian Media: Distinguishing Features of Legislation, the
Rights and Duties of Journalists' are strongly indignant at the
Belarusian authorities' repressive actions with regard to our
colleague, Russian Public Television (ORT) journalist Pavel
Sheremet, and the other members of his film crew. We believe that
the so-called Pavel Sheremet case is a continuation of the
campaign of intimidation and harassment of journalists
disagreeable to the authorities, and other flagrant violation of
freedom of the press and human rights. In the event, that the
investigation of this case ends with a trial, we call on public
organisations and editorial staffs to support the initiative of
the Council of the Belarusian Association of Journalists to elect
a public counsel to represent Pavel Sheremet and his colleagues
in court. We demand that Pavel Sheremet be immediately released
from custody and the criminal charges against the employees of
the Belarus bureau of ORT be dropped."


Resolution 2: "Having considered the state of affairs in the
Belarusian media, we, participants at the international
conference 'Belarusian Media: Distinguishing Features of
Legislation, Rights and Duties of Journalists', which was held in
Minsk on September 19 and 20, emphasise that all-round and
reliable information is an extremely necessary condition for the
normal functioning of any society. This is of particular
importance to our society which is in a crisis now. In the
conditions where the Belarusian state is moving towards
totalitarianism, society is missing the important opportunity to
freely discuss the situation and express views and thoughts. No
one of the Belarusian journalists aims to enter into conflict
with the government. We just want to work within the bounds of
legislation which would be in compliance with the world standards
and the international agreements to which Belarus is a party.
Criticism directed against certain actions by governmental
agencies should meet with an adequate response from them.
However, to our deep regret, we have to state that:


  • the authorities continue their campaign of harassment against
    independent media outlets. Among the components of this campaign
    are physical attacks on journalists discharging their
    professional duties, new regulations of the stay and professional
    activities of foreign journalists and bureaus of foreign media on
    the territory of Belarus, arrests of journalists, the violent
    "confiscation" of equipment and video materials, repeated threats
    by the Belarusian president against some journalists, and so on;


  • the Belarusian authorities want to intimidate us, and isolate
    Belarus by an information iron curtain so that the world
    community will not know the truth about what is going on in this
    country. This is being done regardless of the international
    agreements to which Belarus is a party;


  • the so-called Sheremet case is the most revolting illustration
    of this. In this regard we call on our foreign colleagues,
    including the Russian ones, to intensify their activities aimed
    at impartial, all-round and well-thought-out coverage of events
    occurring in Belarus."


    "We also appeal to the Belarusian president and government and
    demand:


  • stopping the persecution of journalists;


  • preventing the adoption of the anti-constitutional bill 'On the
    Introduction of Amendments into the Law of the Republic of
    Belarus On the Press and Other Mass Media';


  • bringing national legislation related to the press into
    compliance with international standards;


  • creating economic conditions which could favour the free
    development of media in Belarus.


    "Participants at the conference appeal to the world community for
    assistance in every way possible to protect freedom of expression
    in Belarus. However ambiguous the political situation in Belarus
    is, harassment of the press can by no means be justified. We
    believe that the international community must be immediately
    informed of all instances of disregard for freedom of expression,
    politically motivated repressions and violations of journalists'
    rights. We also appeal to our colleagues working for state-owned
    media outlets. Being aware of your difficult and ambiguous
    situation, we would like, nevertheless, to remind you once again
    about the existence of dignity, conscience, the code of
    journalist honour, professional ethics and solidarity."


    The main output of the conference is to be reflected in a special
    issue of the BAJ bulletin "The Fourth Estate".


    This conference was the first one in a series of conferences held
    under the aegis of the Council of Europe. The next is to be held
    in the middle of October.





  • Source

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