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EU-Funded Broadcasts Set To Begin

The European Commission has announced that EU-funded independent media broadcasts to Belarus will start on 26 February. The 2 million-euro ($2.4 million), two-year project will be run by a consortium of Russian, German, Polish, Lithuanian, and Belarusian partners. The project, openly targeting a nondemocratic neighbor, is the first of its kind for the EU.

BRUSSELS, 24 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The EU has been keen to get the project up and running ready for Belarus's presidential election on 19 March.

If all goes well, the bloc should achieve that aim on 26 February.

European Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin said on 23 February in Brussels that people in Belarus will have access to both independent radio and television news. "What we're able to announce from Sunday is daily radio programming, covering both news and more feature-style material, covering both developments in the EU and Belarus," she said. "And for TV, a weekly half-hour program covering the same kind of agenda."

Targeting Youth

The European Commission says the stations -- named European Radio for Belarus and Radio Baltic Wave -- will broadcast a 60-minute magazine program at peak time every morning. The program will be tailored to appeal particularly to young people.

An independent Russian television company, RTVi, based in Berlin, will broadcast a weekly 30-minute magazine program called "Window To Europe." The first edition will be broadcast on the evening of 26 February.

The television and radio broadcasts will contain material in both the Belarusian and Russian languages.

Belarusian voters will go to the polls on 19 March to elect a president for the next five years. Incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka is widely expected to be reelected for a third term. Under Lukashenka's rule, independent media has struggled to survive in the face of government pressure.

EU Funds But Independent Content

Udwin said there will be programming geared specifically for the run-up to the presidential election. "There will also be before the elections, some election specials, some live programs providing an opportunity for debate on the subjects that arise from the election campaign."

The pre-election radio broadcasts will be aired on medium wave and streamed on the Internet. Broadcasts will also be available as podcasts. The more popular and accessible FM band will come into use later and the television programs will be available on cable and satellite.

It is not clear how many people the broadcasts are likely to reach. Spokeswoman Udwin said the European Commission has no information about likely rates of penetration. She said the international consortium running the venture will launch a publicity drive, although the EU itself cannot get involved in such work.

The commission stressed on 23 February that the EU has provided the resources for the project, but has given the consortium and its partners in Belarus and outside a free hand in determining the content of the programming.

There are other broadcast initiatives to Belarus, besides the EU's project. Polish-funded Radio Racja, with a similar objective of broadcasting independent news to Belarus, began broadcasting on 22 February. The station broadcast to Belarus in 1999-2002, before it closed down due to lack of funding.

The European Commission also already funds a smaller, broadcasting venture for Belarus operated by the German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle. The station's Russian-language broadcasts to Belarus have been on air since fall 2005.

(RFE/RL 27.ii.06)

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