RSF calls on European governments to step up support for Belarusian media in exile, threatened despite their resilience according to a report by The Fix and JX Fund

Belarusian exile journalists in Europe face economic challenges that threaten the survival of their media, according to a report by The Fix, a knowledge hub for media professionals, and the JX Fund, created by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) to support journalism in exile. Having demonstrated exemplary resilience since fleeing Lukashenko’s unrelenting persecution, these reporters and their media now need greater support from their host countries.

“The oppressive machinery of ‘Europe’s oldest dictatorship’ went into overdrive after the uprising in August 2020, causing a historic exodus by the last dissident voices in Belarus. Although their media have developed strategies to overcome the obstacles of forced relocation, economic difficulties threaten their survival. We urge European governments to step up their support for Belarusian journalists in exile, in order to preserve the last sources of reliable and essential news and information.

Jeanne Cavelier
Head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk

An audience that resists

Independent Belarusian media are maintaining a strong audience in Belarus even in exile. The five biggest news sites, including Zerkalo (the former TUT.BY), registered a total of 17 million visits in December 2023, from a country with fewer than 10 million inhabitants. 

The report published on 28 March by The Fix, a media research centre, and the JX Fund, a support fund for exile journalism created jointly by RSF and the Rudolf Augstein and Schöpflin foundations, pays tribute to the resilience of the 69 Belarusian exile media analysed.

These independent media have been able to adapt quickly, turning to investigation and coverage of national rather than regional events, and investing in social media such as Telegram (with 1.3 million overall subscribers in 2023), YouTube (21 million overall views), and even Instagram and TikTok. They bounced back thanks to new funding, mainly from international donors, by developing new projects such as the Malanka news site, the Euroradio station and the newspaper Belarusy i Rynok, which co-founded Belarus Tomorrow, one of the channels broadcast by the Svoboda satellite package that RSF launched last month.

Media on borrowed time

Economic difficulties nonetheless threaten Belarusian exile journalism’s survival in the face of Alexander Lukashenko's propaganda machine, which received 50 million euros in 2023 and is expected to be further strengthened by the creation of a joint state media company for Russia and Belarus in January 2024.

The biggest challenge continues to be the extreme degree to which the exile media depend on donors for their funding – for more than 90%, the report says. More than three quarters of exile media outlets are struggling to pay their employees, more than half (54%) resort to putting them on unpaid leave, and 69% are unable to offer bonuses or psychological support to their understaffed teams, although many journalists suffer from significant trauma. This financial insecurity makes journalism less attractive and complicates recruitment, especially for senior positions.

Relentless repression

After securing himself another term by rigging the August 2020 election, Lukashenko – Belarus’ president since 1994 – cracked down harder than ever on independent journalists by increasing arrests. Many journalists were forced to flee abroad, with the largest wave of emigration – mainly to Poland and Lithuania – registered from the summer 2020 to the summer 2021.

Flight abroad does not, however, guarantee their safety. They are often subjected to pressure that is applied to relatives who have stayed behind, or to sanctions on the grounds of their work for independent media that the government lists as “extremist.” Russian journalists suffered the same fate after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, as The Fix and the JX Fund described in a report on Russian journalism in exile published in December 2023.

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