Hundreds of employees at Belarusian state-owned TV company are ready to go on strike. They demand truthful coverage of protesters being beaten up. Natalya Kachanava visits TV studio

16 August, 2020, Intex-press

Photo: Radio Svaboda

Thousands of people gathered near the building of the Belarusian Television and Radio Company (BTRC) on Makayonka street in Minsk. They held white-red-white flags and slogans: « Truth! », « Strike! », « Free detainees », « Tribunal », and others.

Natalya Kachanava, the Chairperson of the Council of the Republic and former Head of the Presidential Administration, came to pacify the conflict, Radio Svaboda (the Belarusian service of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty) writes. Fighters from the internal troops with machine guns stood behind the fence.

Photo: Radio Svaboda

21.50. Uladzimir Titarenko, who has been an employee at BTRC for 13 years, said that he did not expect anything from Kachanava, who « echoed the words of the president”. According to Uladzimir, employees agreed to meet on Monday, since today is a rest day and there are few people in the office. He said that about 80% of BTRC’s technical staff are ready to go on strike. « Everything will be decided on Monday. »

According to him, the Chairman of BTRC Ivan Eismont promised that truthful news would be broadcasted. “I hope they will also cover this rally,” said Uladzimir Titarenko.

21.20. A video engineer from BTRC’s Television News Agency (ATN), who did not identify herself, said in a Radio Svaboda stream that « what is happening now should have happened long ago.”

Everyone sees what people want. We as well cannot keep doing what we did before.

According to the woman, if « we continue doing what we are doing now, there will be changes ». She said that in addition to the riot police, there were also soldiers standing quietly inside the building.

21.02. Inside the BTRC office, a Radio Svaboda photographer saw law enforcement officers with shields, but no helmets.

Photo: Radio Svaboda

20.20. People continue to stand outside the BTRC building. One of them told Radio Svaboda on the air that he saw Natalya Kachanava’s car on the other side of the building.

19.55. 6 riot policemen entered the BTRC building. The crowd greeted them with whistles, roars and shouts of indignation. The protesters chant “Never forget! Never forgive! »

Photo: Radio Svaboda

19.47. The crowd chanted “Well done” to the BTRC employees who were leaving the building. The chief operator of entertainment programs, Viktor Chernomorets, says that there has never been such a situation in his 25 years of work at BTRC.

19.32. The cameraman Andrei Yaroshevich called the meeting “meaningless”. According to him, Kachanava believes that none of the protesters was injured; on the contrary, it was the riot police who were « choked with cars and attacked with Molotov cocktails”. Therefore, there is nothing to ask forgiveness for. According to him, discussing anything with such an “impenetrable wall” is just pointless.

19.25. System administrator Andrei took part in the protests on 9 August himself and assures that the riot police were the ones who provoked the massacre. That’s why he is outraged that state channels portrayed the events as an attack by an aggressive crowd. He is convinced that a strike will be announced at BTRC at 9 o’clock. According to assistant sound engineer Darya Voitovich, currently 306 employees are ready to join the indefinite strike, and they continue to collect signatures.

Photo: Radio Svaboda

19.14. Sound engineer Aleksey, who did not give his last name, said that about a hundred employees of various channels were present at the meeting with Natalya Kachanava, the Chairman of BTRC Ivan Eismont, and his wife Natalya Eismont, the press secretary of Lukashenka. However, there is no constructive conversation. According to him, the officials are standing their ground: everything is fine in the country, it’s the opposition who is “destabilizing” the situation. Therefore, he is convinced that there is only one way out – a strike. “I want to finally stop being ashamed of my work,” Alexey summed up.

Someone put a white-red-white rug with the word “conscience” written on it at the entrance to the building, so that everyone who goes out will be reminded that making their choice is inevitable for every citizen.

19.06. Maryia Kalesnikava came to the BTRC building with a bouquet of white flowers and was loudly greeted by thousands of people. The former coordinator of the Joint Headquarters said that only one thing is required of state-employed journalists – respect for their viewers and human solidarity.

Photo: Radio Svaboda

18.59. As it turned out, it was BTRC employees themselves who published on their social media an appeal to people to come and support the strike of state journalists, who are tired of living in an atmosphere of total untruth. Kachanava’s meeting with the TV team continues, said one of the employees who was leaving the building. According to him, the parties have not yet come to an agreement and the question of the strike remains open until Monday, 17 August.

10 employees came out of the building showing the « Victory » sign; the crowd cheered. One of them, Galina, said that the conversation was hard and no answers to difficult questions were given.

As Natalya Bibikova, an employee of the Belarus 3 channel, told the Radio Svaboda correspondent, the team demanded of BTRC chairman Ivan Eismont that they stop telling lies and report the truth about the scale of police violence.