The Executive Board of the Eurovision Song Contest parent organisation EBU has decided to suspend Belarusian broadcaster BTRC, its only Belarusian member.
The news follows a week of international media attention for the situation in Belarus following the arrest of Roman Protasevich and the silencing of the country’s largest independent media portal.
In a statement on its website, the EBU writes:
“At a meeting today the EBU Executive Board agreed to suspend Belarus Member BTRC.
The EBU has been closely monitoring the suppression of media freedom in Belarus and have consistently called on BTRC, as a Member of the EBU, to uphold our core values of freedom of expression, independence and accountability.
Since the disputed elections last summer, we have been campaigning for the protection of independent journalism and freedom of expression in the country. We have publicly supported journalists at BTRC who have been protesting against government interference. We have also been monitoring BTRC’s coverage and have communicated our concerns to their management.
In recent weeks, we have been particularly alarmed by the broadcast of interviews apparently obtained under duress.
We have also monitored other BTRC broadcasts on this issue which have raised other serious and quite exceptional concerns.
In light of these exceptional developments, the Executive Board has no alternative other than to propose the suspension of BTRC’s membership of the EBU.”
BTRC will have two weeks to respond, before suspension comes into effect.”
The exclusion of the BTRC from EBU membership would mean that the broadcaster would lose all kinds of rights to broadcast certain events. This includes the Eurovision Song Contest and major sports events. Currently, BTRC is the only Belarusian broadcaster to have membership of the EBU. BTRC has two weeks to respond to the EBU.
— EBU (@EBU_HQ) May 28, 2021
BTRC and its role in the situation in Belarus
Belarusian state broadcaster BTRC has been linked to the protests since the start. While tens of thousands of peaceful protesters gathered on the streets throughout Belarus after the election, the subsequent BTRC news programme Panorama mostly focused on other topics, portraying those who took to the street as “hooligans”.
A mass resignation of BTRC employees followed, which included Eurovision commentator Evgeny Perlin.
BTRC tried to unsuccessfully participate in the Eurovision Song Contest 2021. Back in March, the Belarusian bid was rejected twice by the EBU for being “politically motivated” and for “bringing the contest’s reputation into dispute”. This eventually led to the disqualification of the country from Eurovision 2021.
Ever since being rejected from participating, the broadcaster ceased to report on the contest. Earlier, it was revealed that the broadcaster had decided to abstain from broadcasting the event for the first time in 20 years. BTRC did not report on the winner of the contest either.
Nevertheless, Eurovision stayed popular among the local audience. The live streams of the event were featured among the top trending videos on YouTube Belarus. Meanwhile, an alternative YouTube commentary on the contest by former BTRC employee Evgeny Perlin was followed by 60,000 people on the eve of the contest.