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Belarusian media’s compliance with reporting standards and state propaganda trends in 2023

In 2023, the Belarusian media sphere faced increased state propaganda and repression of journalism. This report is based on the Media IQ monitoring and examines the assessment of compliance with news standards in the context of the evolving media landscape and propaganda in Belarus, highlighting the challenges faced by independent media and the strategies used by state media to shape public opinion amid political and social upheaval.



The report documents the extent to which the media included in the sample adhered to reporting standards in 2023, and whether they engaged in propaganda or used manipulative techniques.

It provides an overview of the Belarusian media landscape and highlights the peculiarities of media consumption among Belarusians.

In 2023, the negative trends and factors identified earlier continued to impact the Belarusian media space. These barriers to independent media include institutional obstacles, persecution of journalists, state-controlled information resources used for manipulation and disinformation, and the abandonment of independent information policies in favour of Russian propaganda narratives.

In 2023, threats to independent media intensified. Major technology companies’ content distribution policies, financing difficulties, and increased repression against editorial teams, individual media personnel, and media consumers all had a negative impact. Belarus saw a decline in international media freedom ratings as a result. However, independent media have found ways to counteract these threats while maintaining their audiences and adhering to journalistic standards.

State media resources continued to violate journalistic standards and use manipulative techniques and propaganda in 2023. They openly implement a strategy of “engaging in information warfare”. To the detriment of news and analytical publications, they actively use “author’s journalism”, in which they cover events selectively, make arbitrary assessments of events and demonstratively use “hate speech”, including calls for violence against opponents.

State media became more selective, contextual, and used “Aesopian language” in covering the war in Ukraine in 2023, partially camouflaging militaristic rhetoric with innuendos and metaphors. The degree of their demonization of the West due to its supposed “immorality” has increased, and the volume of gender misinformation has generally increased. To rewrite Belarusian history, an alternative historical calendar has been created and is being actively promoted, in which the main place is occupied by the “genocide of the Belarusian people in the Great Patriotic War” and “Day of National Unity on September 17”. The state media took on the functions of the political police: they started filming and broadcasting their own “confession videos” with opponents of the regime. They also violated professional standards by demonstrating direct collaboration with security services.

In 2023 Media IQ monitoring methodology was updated to include, besides state-owned media and Belarusian independent media located abroad, media not affiliated with the state but remaining in Belarus after the 2020 events. The study of their content shows that they consciously avoid not only political but also social agendas. On international issues they broadcast only the official point of view of the ruling regime, often aligning with the Russian one. As a result, their audience lacks information that would enable adequate judgment of events in the country and abroad. It can be observed that the space for freedom of speech within Belarusian media is shrinking, leading to an increased role of Belarusian independent media located abroad as a source of alternative information, expertise, and critical discussion of socially significant issues.

Compliance with News Journalism Standards in 2023

The Media IQ project has been monitoring the main media outlets targeting the Belarusian audience since 2018 to assess their adherence to journalistic standards and identify propaganda and manipulations within them. In 2023, the scope and frequency of monitoring changed.

During the first half of the year, monitoring was conducted on 11 media outlets, including 7 online resources and 4 television channels. These are 7 media not affiliated with the Belarusian state: Radio Svaboda, Zerkalo, Euroradio, Nasha Niva, Belsat TV, Reform.by, Sputnik Belarus and 4 affiliated ones: the portal “SB. Belarus Today”, TV channels Belarus 1, ONT, CTV.

In the second half of the year, additional media outlets were included in the monitoring, namely Malanka Media, Onliner, KP in Belarus, Smartpress, Tochka, NV-online, and Belnovosti. The video broadcasts and publications on the websites of two content producers — Belsat TV and Malanka Media — are examined separately.

Since September the monitoring period has changed: it is carried out once a quarter, instead of monthly, as it was in the first half of the year.

As a result, three groups of media are involved in the monitoring. The first one is 4 Belarusian state media resources: Belarus 1, ONT, CTV and SB. Belarus Today». The second — 7 Belarusian media located inside Belarus, not affiliated with the Belarusian state: Sputnik Belarus, Onliner, KP in Belarus, Smartpress, Tochka, Belnovosti and NV-online. The third — 7 Belarusian independent media outside Belarus: Zerkalo, Radio Svaboda, Euroradio, Reform.by, Nasha Niva, Belsat TV (website and video programs), Malanka Media (website and video programs).

In total, 18 media outlets are included in the monitoring, with a separate examination of the website and video content for two of them.

Propaganda actors in 2023

In 2023, independent media continued to demonstrate significantly higher indicators of compliance with professional standards than those affiliated with the Belarusian government:

The leaders in terms of compliance with the standards were Radio Svaboda and Zerkalo with 4.99 points out of 5. They are followed by Euroradio (4.98). Then — Reform.by (4.97) and Nasha Niva (4.93). Belsat TV has 4.77 points.

The anti-leader is the CTV TV channel with a score of 2.65 (in 2022 its score was 3.46). Belarus 1 has 3.33 points, ONT — 3.43.

Positive dynamics were demonstrated by the state portal “SB. Belarus Today” in 2023, scoring 4.46 points compared to 3.17 in 2022. Its average score during the year steadily increased from 3.08 in January to 4.87 in December. This can be explained by a decrease in the total volume of its own materials and an increase in the number of reprints from BelTA, TASS, RIA Novosti news agencies, as well as by the fact that the portal’s propagandists Liudmila Gladkaya and Alyona Krasouskaya no longer write reports from the trials of political prisoners.

The media, which were included in the monitoring for the first time in the second half of the year, received quite high scores by the criterion of compliance with professional standards (see Figure 2). These media are at approximately the same level, from the rating leader Malanka Media (website) with 4.92 points to “KP in Belarus” with 4.365 points.

Smartpress and NV-online were not included in the rating, as they were not taken into account in the December monitoring due to the small volume of their own information publications. Regarding them there are data only for September: Smartpress received 4.8 points, NV-online — 4.2.

Although media non-affiliated with the Belarusian state demonstrate high scores in terms of compliance with the standards, nevertheless, they still use propaganda and manipulation, primarily through selective coverage of events. For example, Belnovosti disguises propaganda among articles with culinary recipes and other service content, and mainly rewrites Russian sources on the war in Ukraine, promoting the Kremlin agenda. On the whole, non-Belarusian media operating from Belarus rarely touch upon sensitive and problematic issues. The main part of their content is publications about incidents, finances, weather, health, and reprints of information from official sources. Their unique publications, as a rule, do not become primary sources of important news.

Thus, the media not affiliated with the Belarusian state violate the standards much less frequently and to a lesser extent.

The standards of separation of facts from opinions and completeness of information continue to be violated most often, and the standard of accuracy is violated least often.

State information resources actively used propaganda.

The leader in terms of propaganda use remains the TV channel Belarus 1 with 69.56% of the total number of studied messages (in 2022 — 67.55%). About the same amount of propaganda is used by ONT (62.94%, in 2022 — 60.83%). CTV channel slightly decreased the use of propaganda: 49.22 % compared to 56.67 % in 2022. The portal “SB. Belarus Today” showed the greatest dynamics: from 28% in 2022 to 15.67% in 2023.

The leader in the use of propaganda in 2023 became the ONT channel with 61% of the total number of examined messages (in 2022 — 64%). Approximately the same amount of propaganda is used by Belarus 1 (60%, in 2022 — 68%).

High indicators of violation of professional standards and the use of propaganda by state resources indicate that in 2023 they continued the manipulative formation of the news agenda — they informed about what was happening depending on the actions and rhetoric of the official authorities and ideological priorities. Instead of objective and comprehensive coverage of the events in accordance with journalistic standards, the state media focused on the topics important for the regime (Belarus as an “island of peace and stability” against the backdrop of a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine, economic “successes” of the authorities, preparation for the “Single Voting Day” as a model of “electoral sovereignty”, etc.), promoted certain ideas (deployment of Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, the role of Belarus as a “peacemaker” and a “country for refugees” in Russia’s war in Ukraine), silenced topics inconvenient for the regime (the real role of Belarus in the war in Ukraine, actions of democratic actors, Solidarity Day with political prisoners in Belarus, etc.).

As a result, the main actors spreading disinformation and alternative pictures of the world in the media space of Belarus are state media resources. Their violation of standards and use of manipulations lead to the disinformation of the audience, the formation of a public opinion beneficial to the regime, the penetration of militaristic and “Russian world” ideas into the Belarusian agenda, ultimately contributing to the loss of national sovereignty.

Overview of Belarusian propaganda tools in 2023

Conspiracy remains the basis of the picture of the world created by the state information resources. Most events inside and outside Belarus are covered not through the identification of causal relationships but through the conspiracy theory of the “collective West,” allegedly the main cause of all negative events. According to the state media, it is the “collective West” that unleashed the war in Ukraine and intends to fight “to the last Ukrainian”. It is blamed for the swift deterioration of the lives of ordinary citizens, and having failed to “destabilize Belarus” in 2020, it continues attempts to harm the country both through other states and by bribing “traitors from the opposition”. Therefore, in order not to repeat the scenario of August 2020, it is necessary to deploy Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus, to increase military power and strengthen the training of internal troops, as well as to introduce “patriotic education” into the education system.

The main task of propaganda in interpreting the events through the “machinations of the collective West” is to create the appearance of threats to Belarus, to intimidate the audience and thus justify any actions of the authorities.

State media have retained the habit of contradicting themselves and never explaining the presence of contradictions. Belarusian propaganda simultaneously demonstrates non-participation of official Minsk in the military actions in Ukraine and retranslates the ideological justification of the Russian aggression, calls on “fugitives” to return and threatens them with long prison terms, calls sanctions the reason of the decline in the living standards of Belarusians and the driver of the development of the national economy.

The formation of such a “schizophrenic” worldview aims to demotivate the audience from trying to understand what is happening, creating the impression that it is impossible to learn the truth from the media about what is really happening. By doing so, the regime destroys trust in the media and pushes the conclusion that since the truth cannot be known anyway, it is better to stick to the version broadcast by the authorities.

A mandatory component of the propaganda agenda is the praise of the regime’s domestic and foreign policies. The fulfillment of the basic needs of citizens is presented as a significant achievement. The visits of Lukashenka to Iraq, China, and African countries are portrayed as “breakthrough” and “fateful,” with minimal information about their results. Visits of African leaders and ambitious plans for co-operation with African countries are actively promoted.

The imitation of interaction between the government and society continued. An example of this was the creation of a state commission for the return of Belarusian citizens who left the country. The state media actively discussed this topic, manipulating the feelings of forced emigrants and hypocritically urging them to take advantage of the offer. The regime’s actions, including Lukashenka’s periodic addressing of this issue, are presented as evidence of the desire to establish contact and resolve the conflict, whereas the essence of the proposed mechanism is absolutely different and directly violates the basic rights of citizens.

Standards of judicial journalism continued to be flagrantly violated. The coverage of the “TUT.BY case”, the “case of the human rights organisation “Viasna” and the “tutors’ case” were vivid examples. The state media actively manipulated the information: downplayed the facts, elevated the prosecution’s arguments before a court decision, and presented information selectively in order to discredit the accused.

Compared to 2022, there have been several changes in the propaganda activities of state media.

The topic of the war in Ukraine, which in 2022 was covered almost entirely on the basis of Russian narratives, which contradicts the Concept of Information Security of Belarus, has acquired new semantic shades since the spring of 2023 against the background of the absence of a significant offensive by Russian troops. Although Russian narratives continue to be used and information is presented on the basis of Russian sources and on the basis of Russian interests, the information concerning the course of military operations has practically disappeared from the state media. At the same time, there was an increase in the volume of materials, mostly in the format of the author’s journalism, constructing the causes for the war, drawing analogies with World War II, accusing — without reference to sources — the Ukrainian armed forces of shelling civilians. Belarus is presented not only as a state consistently calling for an end to hostilities and peaceful resolution but also as a “country for life” for Ukrainian refugees who find a “second home” here. The propaganda, using the technique of contrast, demonstrates the prosperous life of Ukrainian children in Belarus (the children are not threatened, they are provided with everything they need) and in European countries, where they are allegedly taken away from their families or the Ukrainian authorities themselves sell their young citizens abroad for organ harvesting.

Events related to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are presented in a tendentious manner.

If in 2022 the West was positioned as aggressive towards Russia and Belarus, imposing its will and neglecting its own people, in 2023 the degree of its demonisation increased. Western leaders are accused, first, of wanting to continue the war in Ukraine “to the last Ukrainian” and, second, of imposing “non-traditional Western values” such as LGBTQ+, child-free, “gender change,” and feminism on Belarusians and Russians. Before 2023, negative characteristics of the “West” in state media were dominated by “aggressive,” “pretending to be a hegemon,” and “decaying”. Now, the characterization “amoral” has been added, actively promoted through the concept of “non-traditional values”. For this purpose, state media criticise everything related to gender equality and the rights of vulnerable groups as “propaganda of non-traditional values”.

The rewriting of Belarusian history has intensified. If in 2022 the state media consistently narrowed the space for the development and expression of national self-consciousness, in 2023 the fundamental historical events and personalities were criticised and revised: the uprising of 1863, the establishment of the Belarusian People’s Republic on 25 March 1918, the figure of Kastus Kalinouski. Simultaneously, historical fakes were actively transmitted. At the same time, the state propaganda created an alternative historical calendar, emphasizing the “genocide of the Belarusian people during the Great Patriotic War” and the “Day of National Unity on 17 September 1939”.

State resources have become more actively promoting the ideology of the “Russian world”. In 2023, it happened not only through rewriting Belarusian history, praising the USSR and emphasising the exclusively positive role of Russia, but also through the ideologeme “protection of traditional values”. The propaganda implies a conservative model of sexual and family values aimed at minimising state expenses in the social sphere, imposing a specific behavioral model on society as the only correct one, and restricting reproductive and sexual rights and freedoms. The supposedly introduced ban on “propaganda of non-traditional values” for the implementation of Belarus’s demographic policy, in practice, serves as a means of repression against unacceptable views.

The volume of gender disinformation has increased. It is aimed primarily at opposition leaders and activists, but also applies to representatives of LGBTQ+ and transgender people, who are portrayed in state media on par with those committing crimes against the sexual integrity of minors. Supporters of “child-free” ideas are demonized as threatening the “demographic security of Belarus” and “traditional values”. Propaganda actively transmits calls from officials about the necessity to “give birth more often and earlier”.

The use of “hate speech” has reached a new level. Propagandists not only insult opponents and call for violence against them, but also provide media coverage of actions by the political police. The role of mind manipulators no longer satisfies them; they seek to establish rules of life in modern Belarus and personally “hunt witches”.

State resources have started to create and broadcast “confession videos” with opponents of the regime. If earlier, such videos appeared only on Telegram channels close to the Belarusian law enforcers, then in 2023 the channels of their broadcasting and the range of formats expanded. Initially, coerced confessions appeared in regional publications, then on state TV news. Often in the confession videos, individuals give their personal information and place of work. In the stories the detainees are called “extremists” and “radicals”, but they themselves explain their “guilt” only by having subscriptions to non-state information resources banned in Belarus.

New formats of “confession videos” have also appeared. For instance, Roman Protasevich took part in the stream of propagandist Grigory Azarenok, while an employee of the portal “SB. Belarus today” Ludmila Gladkaya made an interview with a representative of the IT-sphere, detained for comments in “extremist” Telegram channels while crossing the border with Belarus. The official Instagram account of the Law Faculty of the Belarusian State University (!) posted a “confession video” of its student, expressing “regret” for “bad words” said about the faculty’s pseudo-public organization — the Belarusian Republican Youth Union

The state media demonstrates direct cooperation with security services. Its goal is to discredit Lukashenka’s opponents, to undermine public trust in them, to propagandise the effectiveness of the special services. The ONT TV channel presented to the audience an anonymous propaganda film “History of Betrayal. Porotnikov”, which relies on the self-incrimination of analyst Andrei Porotnikov, who was imprisoned in a pre-trial detention center, and the unsubstantiated allegations of the State Security Committee (KGB). The film actively uses cinematic techniques to convince the audience that Belarus is surrounded by enemies who threaten and negatively influence it through recruited opposition representatives.

The propagandist Igor Tur together with KGB representative Konstantin Bychek appeared in several programmes: on the results of the provocation prepared during the year against one of the activists from abroad and on the conference “The Path to Freedom ” organised by Kastus Kalinovsky Regiment and held in Kiev. In both cases, the stories were designed for propaganda effect and violated the norms of journalistic ethics. Propagandist Tur, acting as a mouthpiece of the KGB, openly disregards his professional reputation, something state media hadn’t allowed before.

The attitude towards religion and religious organisations in the state media has noticeably changed. Absolute priority is given to coverage of the activities of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, which belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate (the Belarusian Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church). Meanwhile, the activities of other denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church in Belarus, have virtually disappeared from the information space. At the same time, propaganda uses religion as a component of the state ideology. In it Alexander Lukashenka is deified and positioned as Jesus Christ, and his Address to the Belarusian people on 31 March presented not even as a sermon, but as a commandment. A separate element of such pseudo-religion is the propaganda message about the “repentance of the fugitives”.

The decision to deploy Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus became an important information occasion for the state media. Since this decision lacks support from Belarusians, and the fears about its deployment are shared by citizens regardless of their stance toward the authorities, the propaganda has a task to correct public opinion. For this purpose, the state media constructed imaginary threats (the fact of threats remains unproven), explaining the necessity to place TNWs as protection for national security.

State media used the Hamas attack on Israel and Israel’s response to promote conspiratorial narratives and anti-Israeli rhetoric. For example, while officially remaining neutral, state media broadcast the position of the Russian Foreign Ministry, which blamed the West for the escalation, and also hinted at the United States as the beneficiary and “instigator” of the conflict, selling weapons to both sides. The state media were not interested in the conflict itself, but with its help the propaganda continued to serve and support old manipulative narratives: to accuse the USA of all wars, to assure that the EU countries are dependent on the USA and do not make decisions on their own, to discredit Ukraine, to intimidate the audience and to present Belarus in a favorable light against this backdrop.

The evacuation of Belarusian citizens from Israel and the Gaza Strip was also covered in violation of professional standards. Using the technique of contrast, the state media emphasised the importance of the evacuation flight from Gaza, portraying those arriving as “our people who need help, while the flight from Israel was covered sparingly, and the people arriving on it were presented as coming from a foreign country, a partner of the USA.

Manipulative narratives most commonly propagated

The most frequently encountered propaganda narratives in 2023 were dominated by the following themes, consistently ranking in the top 10 and often in the top three each month:

  • The state is functioning well: praising the Belarusian authorities, highlighting the genuinely democratic political system and fair social model built in Belarus, emphasising the key role of the state in ensuring a prosperous, peaceful and safe life for Belarusians.
  • Discrediting other states and their authorities: constructing the image of an external evil enemy (“the collective West” headed by the hegemon — the USA), which is amoral, degraded and wants to destroy and colonise Belarus in order to infect it with its vices.
  • Belarus is threatened and negatively influenced from the outside: the problems of Belarus are caused not by internal factors (which are silenced), but by the machinations of external enemies.

This narrative trio has consistently held its place in the top rankings since 2022, forming the core of Belarusian state propaganda. The world is simplified to a dichotomous division into “our” good and “their” bad. Reality is then forced into this template, creating a myth of how the evil West harms the virtuous Belarus and its friends from the East and South.

Last year’s constant top narrative “We must save the country”, calling to unite and defend Belarus from a terrible enemy in the name of preserving all the good things, has retained its relevance, having made it into the current top 10 seven times.

Systematisation of narratives: strategy and tactics

In 2023, there was a shift in the narratives promoted by Belarusian state media, moving from unconditional support for Russian aggression in Ukraine to a predominant focus on internal issues. Anti-Western narratives remain a constant.

Strategic narratives are relatively consistent, have internal logic, reflect the deeply rooted views of the ruling regime leadership, form the basis of the information campaign and serve for long-term influence on public opinion. In this regard, three main clusters of narratives could be distinguished in 2023:

the first one unites the narratives of the “Russian world” aimed at strengthening Russian cultural and political influence in Belarus, often through a revision of Belarusian history and promotion of conservative values;

the second comprises narratives broadly referred to as the demonization of the West, portraying it as morally decadent, hypocritical, and aggressive. These narratives aim to alienate Belarusians from Western influences and strengthen the power of the authoritarian ruling regime.

the third one is praising Lukashenka: the Belarusian state works well, everything keeps on the genius of Alexander Lukashenka — the only real hero of the Belarusian myth.

Tactical narratives act as separate messages aimed at strengthening the validity of strategic narratives, relevant here and now, easily forgotten when the conjuncture changes. They are often more manipulative and appeal to emotions. Two main clusters can be distinguished here: a cluster with militarization and narratives related to the ideological justification of the war in Ukraine, as well as a cluster with the discrediting of leaders of Belarusian protests and opposition, the principle of changing power within democratic procedures.


Despite all attempts of the authorities to destroy independent media, they have continued to work in accordance with journalistic standards. The state media predominantly engaged in propaganda. Their apparent disregard for standards is not just unprofessionalism, but a conscious editorial policy aimed at “winning the information war”

Хорошо 1

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