Poland: Protect Belsat TV and support vital independent news

Poland: Protect Belsat TV and support vital independent news - Media

The Polish government’s recent decision to significantly slash the budget allocated to Belsat TV, a leading independent broadcaster for Belarus, has stirred concern. Belsat TV has long been an important source of credible information for audiences in Belarus and Russian-speaking regions. In recent years, Belsat has proved to be a vital media outlet during the mass protests across Belarus that followed the rigged presidential election in 2020.

ARTICLE 19 Europe joins partners in writing a letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Sikorski to reconsider this move.

Dear Minister Sikorski,

We, the undersigned European media freedom organisations, are writing to express our alarm regarding the decision to reduce the budget for Belsat TV, Poland’s flagship independent broadcaster for Belarus, by almost 30% for 2024.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the budget for Belsat will be reduced from 74 million PLN in 2023 to 40 million PLN and that the reduction will be partly compensated for by a new contribution of 14 million PLN from the budget of TVP World, a part of Poland’s public broadcaster. 

We further understand that Belsat’s budget was trebled for 2022 and 2023 in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, enabling Belsat to significantly expand its work and its reach. 

This investment is paying off. It has enabled Belsat to make a vital contribution to providing independent news content to Belarus and Russian-speaking audiences throughout the region. And it is doing so at a time when so many independent Russian and Belarusian outlets have been closed down. 

Vot Tak, Belsat’s Russian-language channel was launched in 2020 and has gained popularity across Russia and beyond. In 2023, over 10 million unique viewers accessed its digital platforms, while 1.3 million subscribed to its YouTube channel.  

Following the 2020 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Belarus and the subsequent closure of the remaining independent media, Belsat has become the country’s most popular independent outlet in video news production.

Meta and Telegram statistics show that Belsat TV has a regular audience of between one million and four million Belarusians, from an adult population of eight million. Meanwhile Belsat’s eight Facebook accounts gathered an impressive 1.2 billion video views throughout 2022 and 2023. This was achieved despite censorship laws criminalising public engagement with Belsat content in Belarus by, for example, liking, commenting or sharing content.

The 30% cut will result in a drastic lowering of output that risks losing audiences that depend on Belsat. The war in Ukraine continues to rage and the public in both Belarus and Russia have severely limited access to independent news as both states continue to crack down on press freedom and critical voices.

We understand that the decision to cut the budget is part of a larger review of the Foreign Ministry’s priorities, but we urge you to reconsider and to at least postpone the reduction to provide Belsat the time to plan its response and to seek new sources of funds. Poland should not have to carry the financial burden alone for a service that is essential for the security of all Europeans. We therefore urge you to develop a proposal that would ensure Belsat has secure and stable finances that other EU member states may be able to contribute to. 

Otherwise we fear that the current plans may have a disastrous impact on Belarusians’ and Russian speakers’ ability to access independent news at a time when it has never been more important for the security of Europe. 



International Press Institute (IPI)
ARTICLE 19 Europe
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)