Independent journalism has come increasingly under attack in Belarus, as the country has become a regional hotspot of media repression. Lately, as many as six media outlets have closed shop to ensure the security of their staff. Some media workers have fled the country.
Among those who have left were employees of the country’s largest media outlet, TUT.BY. The site shut down in May, after government officials raided the newsroom’s offices and the homes of some employees. Fifteen staffers were arrested on criminal charges, and currently are being held in jail.
The TUT.BY site was blocked, and the government declared over 20 years of their published reporting extremist material. Under penalty of administrative and criminal sanctions, their reporting can no longer be disseminated or reprinted in Belarus, the publication’s logos cannot be used, and the TUT.BY name can’t be mentioned.
After the site was blocked, the newsroom’s journalists began to publish their reporting on Telegram. In early July, some of these reporters launched a new project called Zerkalo.io. Now registered in Ukraine but still reporting for a Belarusian audience, the Zerkalo team considers itself the successors to TUT.BY.
“I consider our [relocation] case noteworthy, but it’s not by any means positive,” said Alexandra Pushkina, Zerkalo’s public relations manager. Approximately 30 members of TUT.BY’s 260-person team now work for Zerkalo, she explained. They’re based across five countries.
The employees who left the country are safe — an especially meaningful development in light of the Belarusian government bringing a second criminal case against TUT.BY employees in early October.
“I feel guilty for every day that my colleagues spend in prison. I would gladly swap places with them,” said Pushkina. “But I manage the country’s largest media outlet, and I’m responsible for keeping it alive.” She added that the editorial staff’s current objective is to “make clear that [the government] can’t simply flip a switch and stop the flow of information.”
Zerkalo went live two months after the government raids of TUT.BY. Upon deciding to launch the new site, the Zerkalo team discussed it with the owners of TUT.BY, registered the new outlet in another country (Ukraine), bought the domain name, and designed and launched the new site, Pushkina explained. For journalists who find themselves in similar situations, she recommended making relocation arrangements ahead of time: buy a domain name, make a backup copy of your existing content, and safeguard it in another country.
by Hanna Valynets, International Journalists’ Network
Photo by Alexander Pogorelsky on Unsplash