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Alexander Lukashenko meets with state journalists on April 10, 2018

‘Russia Today’ scabs are reportedly propping up Belarusian state TV after hundreds walked off the job in protest

Source: RBC
Alexander Lukashenko meets with state journalists on April 10, 2018
Alexander Lukashenko meets with state journalists on April 10, 2018

According to a new report by the news outlet RBC, Belarus’s National State TV and Radio Company is leaning on Russian state journalists — especially staff from Russia Today — to maintain operations after hundreds of employees walked off the job to protest against police brutality and censorship following Alexander Lukashenko’s most recent re-election. Former and current staff told RBC that the loss of many technical workers (camera operators, video engineers, lighting technicians, and so on) threatened to paralyze work at Belteleradio, which controls several different TV networks, six of which broadcast original content. RBC’s sources say Russia Today is now even preparing its own segments for Belteleradio networks, where the news coverage has suddenly embraced a conspiratorial tone similar to RT’s own reporting. 

On August 21, President Alexander Lukashenko confirmed publicly that Russian specialists have been invited to Belarus. The next day, a pair of Russia Today journalists accompanied Lukashenko on an official visit to Grodno, where the opposition has held several massive protests. 

Current employees at Belteleradio told RBC that Russia Today also sent two teams of technical specialists to the Belarusian broadcaster to assist with news coverage after hundreds of workers went on strike earlier this month. The RT crew is reportedly providing desperately needed I.T. support, as well as completely finished news segments about opposition protests in Belarus, apparently produced without any input or assistance from Belteleradio. For example, on August 27, a Belteleradio news network broadcast an interview that aired two days earlier on RT, including narration that suggested it was exclusive content. 

Multiple sources at Belteleradio who spoke to RBC identified Russia Today correspondent Konstantin Pridybailo as the main intermediary between the two state-media outlets. Pridybailo acknowledges that he worked for Belteleradio twice in the past, but he told RBC that his ties to the company today are merely collegial. He denies any role in a secret operation to use Russian journalists to prop up the Belarusian state media. Asked about the RT content that’s aired on Belteleradio networks, Pridybailo explained that Russia Today and Ruptly sell news footage to news outlets all around the world and insisted that any cooperation here is strictly business, not politics.

Spokespeople for Russia Today also rejected allegations that it is up to anything nefarious in Belarus. “As a non-profit organization, RT has provided its content to hundreds and thousands of international media outlets for years. We see no reason why Belarusian television should be an exception,” the press service told RBC, declining to answer questions about sending technical teams to aid Belteleradio.

Whatever the truth to rumors about RT scabs keeping Belteleradio afloat during the current strike, there’s been an undeniable shift in the Belarusian state media’s news coverage. According to a report by political analyst Artyom Shraibman, the tone of reporting at Belteleradio has pivoted sharply in the past week toward hawkish commentary from mainly foreign guests and experts who compare Belarusian protests to the Euromaidan Revolution that swept Viktor Yanukovych from power in Ukraine in 2014. The experts featured on Belteleradio programs have also changed significantly as networks step away from domestic Belarusian experts and lean into RT’s usual cast of Russian and Ukrainian politicians, leftist and anti-Western pundits, and conspiracy theorists, Shraibman told RBC.

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Summary by Kevin Rothrock