VILNIUS - Lithuanian public television will soon start producing a weekly television program to be beamed into Belarus, The Baltic News Service reported on Aug. 2. The one-hour talk show will be put together by a team of Belarusian journalists in Vilnius for broadcast on Belsat, a Belarusian-targeted satellite channel that Polish TV will launch this fall.
The show will present topics about Belarus and neighboring countries, discussing relevant events in the region.
The project is part of Lithuanian and Polish efforts to provide outside information to Belarus, where media is strictly controlled by that country's authoritarian government.
Kestutis Petrauskis, General Director of Lithuanian National Radio and Television (LRT), told The Baltic Times that this is the first-ever attempt to bridge the TV media gap that exists between the borders of Poland, Belarus and Lithuania.
"Lithuanians want to have Belarus as good neighbors, we wish the best for the Belarusian people," Petrauskis said.
Polish public television (TVP) and the Polish foreign ministry signed an agreement for the Belsat project in April. TVP administrators asked Petrauskis last month for assistance in launching its Belsat TV channel in November.
The 20 or so Belarusian journalists working on the LRT-produced show will collect stories in their home country and bring their material over the border for studio production in Lithuania. The program will then be transmitted from Poland, via satellite, to Belarus.
Petrauskis said border security for the traveling journalists is one of his biggest concerns.
"I see problems in the future ... Belarus [border] guards can stop the movement immediately for the journalists coming to and from Belarus," he said.
He drew parallels to the past practice of having Belarusian newspapers and magazines printed in Lithuania, a process which Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko eventually managed to shut down.
"Lithuanians have supported free Belarusian press," Petrauskis said, " ... but the Belarus border control confiscated the magazines and papers going to Belarus."
Deputy Director Bohdan Andursyshyn of Belarus Radio Liberty said he doesn't think the border issues should disrupt Polish and Lithuanian public television from doing their job, and praised the project.
"Any kind of new venture to increase awareness is worthwhile. ...We support it [Belsat] in Belarus and we are very encouraged. We wish the Polish project success and the Lithuanians, too," Andursyshyn said.
Radio Liberty broadcasts eight hours of programming a day into Belarus from Poland and Lithuania on short and medium waves. Belarus is the only country in Europe to forbid the retransmitting of its RFE/RL programs.
Alyaksandr Milinkevich, the Belarusian opposition's former presidential candidate, has called upon European politicians to support the efforts of Polish public television, according to an online press release from the Office for a Democratic Belarus, a Brussels-based NGO run by Belarusians living abroad.
"This project is extremely important for the Belarusian society that every day sees the propaganda of Lukashenka's regime and the Russian television that is not unbiased," Milinkevich said in the appeal. "For the pro-democratic forces and civil society, their own satellite television channel will become the beginning of an
independent and democratic state."
Belarus came in 151st out of 168 countries in a 2006 Radio Without Borders ranking of nations with regard to their press freedom. Only two other ex-Soviet countries, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, were ranked lower.