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Vox Prop? Cue The 'Happy Belarusians'

A photo by Uladz Hrydzin shows a reporter and cameraman for Belarus state STV appearing to cue an answer from an interviewee in Minsk.
A photo by Uladz Hrydzin shows a reporter and cameraman for Belarus state STV appearing to cue an answer from an interviewee in Minsk.

"Brilliant shot," prominent Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet says of the photo he shared with his tens of thousands of Facebook followers, which appears to show a TV reporter cuing an interviewee with an off-camera sheet of prepared answers.

"Journalists from the Belarusian state television channel STV polling Minsk residents about something. Answers prepared in advance so the 'happy Belarusian' doesn't accidentally blurt out something negative," Sheremet says, noting that Uladz Hrydzin had photographed the "clever propagandists."

Hrydzin, a freelance photographer, wrote simply when he posted his pic: "I think they're pros."

This year in its survey of press freedom around the world, Freedom House rated Belarus a 93 (on a 0-100 scale, 100 being least free), well down in the "not free" category. It has consistently ranked Belarus's media environment lowest among the EU's so-called Eastern Partnership countries and noted this year, "Belarus has consistently ranked among the worst performers in Freedom of the Press, and its low score has stagnated in recent years, reflecting the entrenched nature of the authoritarian regime."

"The only thing missing here is a pistol pointed to the interviewee's head, just in case," Facebook user Idris Asayev comments in Sheremet's feed.

But others questioned Hrydzin and Sheremet's cynical interpretation, suggesting the reporter could have been simply showing the interviewee a brainteaser, prompting him with a multiple-choice question, or holding notes the interviewee scribbled himself to stay on topic.

The image has been liked by almost 4,000 people and shared by nearly 800 more. So this glimpse behind the scenes of Belarusian state TV is spreading the message, although it might not be the intended one.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

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