Belsat – bringing you the news, even in tough times

The coronavirus pandemic has confirmed Belsat’s role in counterbalancing disinformation and propaganda from the Belarusian authorities and state media. Our channel has been a dependable news source during these tough times.

Information vital to life and health

While Alyaksandr Lukashenka disregards the dangers of the epidemic, claiming that vodka, saunas, and tractors are the best ways to ward off the coronavirus, Belarusians are demanding and seeking reliable news on the true extent and scale of the pandemic. But since there is nothing in the state media, they are turning to Belsat and other independent media instead.

This is evident from the rapidly growing number of unique visitors to our website – in March 2020, it had over 1.6 million, compared to “only” slightly more than 750,000 exactly a year ago. The number of site views has also doubled over the same period, from under 4.8 million to almost 10 million today. Since the start of April, has been receiving some 300,000 visits daily.

Number of unique visitors to the website in April each year, 2016–2020. Source: Google Analytics

“During the crisis we’re facing, more than ever people are expecting journalists to provide reliable, comprehensive news on the extent of the epidemic, the true scale of infection, and what preventive measures the authorities are undertaking. This has a direct bearing on their health and that of their families”, explains Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy, director of Belsat TV, “particularly since Belarusians are increasingly aware that the authorities are deliberately spreading disinformation on the scale of the epidemic. The state media are no longer dependable and, in such circumstances, more and more people are choosing Belsat. To us, this is further confirmation that we’ve earned their trust”.

An alternative to state media

The situation is similar with our programmes broadcast on YouTube. The Belsat News channel already has 187,000 subscribers today, although last year it had under 99,000. The Russian-language Vot Tak has gained more than 100,000 new subscribers in a year, rising from 76,000 last March to 209,000 at the moment.

“Over the last month, we’ve uploaded lots of news and analysis to our Belsat News and Vot Tak YouTube channels concerning the spread of COVID-19 in Eastern Europe. Audience statistics show that viewers in Belarus, Russia, and Kazakhstan are particularly interested in this issue – countries where many people distrust the local media news”, says Olga, editor of Belsat’s YouTube profiles. “I think that’s why people are flocking to us now. In the first days of April, six of our reports were simultaneously ranked among the most popular videos on Belarusian YouTube”.

Number of subscribers to the Belsat News YouTube channel in March each year, 2018–2020.

Belsat… for Poles

Increasing numbers of Poles are also turning to Belsat. According to data shared by Volha Shved, our digital media strategy manager, Belsat’s Polish-language video materials are reaching around a million views:

“We recorded a steep rise in interest in our Facebook profile between March and April: we got 1,013 likes in seven days – 554% more than previously – and there was a 900% increase in activity concerning posts. This indicates that users are not only searching for information, but they’re also engaging more with the content we create”, stated Hanna Piekarska, in charge of Belsat’s social media in Polish. “The best example is a video entitled ‘The main thing is not to panic – Lukashenka on the coronavirus’, which has had 341,000 views, reached almost 700,000 people, been shared 3,900 times, and received 278 comments”.

News from across the eastern border

To keep Polish audiences informed about the epidemic across the eastern border, we’ve launched the “Coronavirus beyond the Eastern Border” project on Belsat’s Polish website. Visitors can compare how the situation is developing in Belarus and other countries, from Lithuania through to Transcaucasia and Central Asia.

“But we aren’t focusing on governmental statistics and measures. Above all, we’re looking for information on how ordinary people are living and trying to cope by themselves during the epidemic. This is vital, especially in Belarus, where, as it turns out, not everyone intends to adhere to Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s ‘original’ advice on fighting the coronavirus”, affirms Cezary Goliński of Belsat’s Polish staff. “Without waiting for assistance from the authorities, people are helping one another out in solidarity, and these independent initiatives and projects are also bolstering the foundations of civil society”.

Exposing what other hide

Yury Sałodki, head of the Russian-language Vot Tak, designed for audiences in countries of the former USSR, explains the reasons behind the rising interest in their programmes online:

“Of course, the main topic of our latest editions has been the pandemic and related issues. Not only how the authorities in post-Soviet states are handling the coronavirus but, sadly, also how they are covering up the real figures on the number of people infected and persecuting those who talk about it openly. Our website, YouTube, and Facebook statistics are proof of our programme’s upsurge in popularity – normally, each report now gets several thousand views. We’re particularly glad that the fruits of our labour are garnering comments from audiences in far-off countries, such as Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. We tend to produce news reports on that area quite rarely, but when we do, they are watched by literally millions of viewers”.

This general trend seems to confirm Belsat’s unique role in counterbalancing disinformation and propaganda from the authorities and the media they control – not only in Belarus – especially during these tough times.