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Amid Election Protests, Belarusian State TV Presenters Are Walking Off The Job


State-television presenters in Belarus are signing off for good, fed up with putting a positive spin on the country’s turmoil, as some of their viewers take a beating while protesting what they believe to be a rigged presidential election.

The television personalities are joining a growing numbers of police officers and factory workers who are walking off the job to send a message to the authorities and the government of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who declared a landslide reelection victory on August 9.

"It's hard to say 'good morning' when it's actually bad," Andrey Makayonak, a stand-up comedian and prominent face on the Good Morning Belarus program for Belarus-1 (BT) channel, told the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda in Belarus.

At least six on-air presenters have resigned in recent days from the state broadcasting company, including Makayonak who announced his departure on August 12 after the third-straight day of demonstrations that have been met with a harsh response from Belarusian security services.

Postelection Crackdown In Belarus

Read our coverage as Belarusians take to the streets to demand the resignation of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and call for new elections after official results from the August 9 presidential poll gave Lukashenka a landslide victory.

The walkouts are significant since state TV dominates Belarusian broadcasting for news and entertainment programming, and it is a primary source of news for a large majority of Belarusians.

More than 6,700 people have reportedly been detained since the election, and harrowing images and reports of police brutality from the streets of Minsk and other cities have filled up Telegram channels, social-media feeds, and other independent media. But state TV has often played down the street clashes, or demonized the protesters.

Makayonak was joined in departing Belteleradio, the national state radio and television company, by TV presenter Volha Bahatyrevich.

She announced she was leaving her position at All-National TV in an Instagram post on August 12 that showed her holding her resignation letter. It was accompanied by the message: "We are few, but we are," capped by emoticons showing gestures used by the opposition.

The same day, Uladzimer Burko, the host of the Defense Ministry's Arsenal program that also aired on BT, announced his departure. So, too, did Vera Karetnikava, a host for both BT and the STV channel.

They all followed BT news anchor Syarhey Kazlovich and STV presenter Tatsyana Barodkina, who quit on August 11.

In announcing his resignation, Kazlovich wrote on Instagram that his decision to leave after 10 years in the TV news business was the end of a "childhood dream.”

Two days before his departure, Kazlovich reported that "provocateurs" had been blocking polling stations in order to disrupt voting, according to the media outlet Reform.by. In his reports on street clashes, he also cast protesters as the aggressors, saying police had no option but to fire rubber bullets to repel physical attacks by "aggressive young people."

STV's Barodkina, who appeared on the cooking program Breakfast For Three along with her two daughters, wrote on Facebook that "unfortunately my children and I will no longer be able to smile from the TV screen."

She wrote that she was unsure if people would be able to read her post, due to widespread Internet blockages. Still, she urged viewers to not be afraid, and "do not deprive our children of their future!"

STV correspondent Alyaksandr Luchonok, meanwhile, offered an explanation for why his colleagues had left the airwaves: "every news release is a deliberate move" as part of a grand "strategy,” he said.

"I don't want to be silent anymore!" he wrote.

In leaving their jobs, members of the media joined growing ranks of police and security officers who are also quitting.

Some police officers and members of the OMON security force have used social media as a platform to announce they were quitting, often in videos showing them throwing their uniforms in the trash. In one case, a security office was shown burning his uniform.

It is unclear how many have actually resigned.

The walkouts by journalists and police officers come as workers at major state companies and factories across the country walked off their jobs in solidarity with demonstrators.

Many have joined the demands calling for a full review of the official results that said Lukashenka walked away with 80 percent of the vote. They’ve also called for the release of those arrested during the protests.

Among the companies affected in recent days were the Grodno meat-packing plant, the Atlant and Gefest appliance-makers, the Minsk Automobile Factory, and the Azot chemical fertilizer plant. Workers at Minsk Tractor Works -- a manufacturing plant whose reputation is legendary in and outside of Belarus - - also were shown protesting.

Written by Michael Scollon and based on reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus Service and RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Alena Vershinina
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