Platforma pro nezávislost a pluralitu sdělovacích prostředků
My statement at the Brussels Media Colloquium Nov 17-18, 2016_updated
“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing”
In Poland - since the populist Law and Justice (PiS) party took power in October 2015 - the political pressure on both public service media and private media has been constantly growing.
Developments in Poland are not to be equated with those, say, in Turkey where independent media are subject to widespread repression and persecution. However, developments in Poland are in line with how Hungarian independent media are suppressed by Viktor Orban’s government (Hungary is an EU member).
More than a year ago Poland’s PiS government and its parliamentary majority staged an assault on public service broadcasting media (TVP and Polish Radio). Since then, around 250 journalists, popular anchors of news shows and other media workers have been dismissed or forced to resign.
Public service television and radio were renamed 'national' broadcasters, and became tools of government's propaganda, fully subordinated to the ruling party line. Executives of public service television and radio got their posts straight from the government and PiS party. The head of public television, a former spin doctor and PiS politician, was named directly by the leader of the ruling party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is a real authoritarian ruler of the country.
Today, 'national' (thus renamed) broadcasters are used to attack all real or presumed opposition elements. Permanent, vigorous and false attacks are directed, among others, towards:
- Constitutional Tribunal and the judiciary;
- opposition MP’s;
- Committee in Defense of Democracy (civic protest movement that defends Constitutional Tribunal and the rule of law);
- Poland’s ombudsman and various NGO’s accused of ‘improper links’ to the former government figures and/or local governments which are not controlled by PiS;
- teachers’ union which opposes education reform;
- sponteneous movement of women who protest against complete ban on abortion, still planned;
- media which criticize government and ruling party policies - Gazeta Wyborcza and Adam Michnik, editor-in-chief of my newspaper, and former anticommunist dissident, being a main target.
Although 'national' media have been losing audiences, they are still a main source of news and opinion for larger part of Poland’s public; surpassing, in this respect, two other nationwide private TV stations - TVN (American owned) and Polsat (Polish owner). 'National' media are vital for the rulers in controlling the public opinion and, especially, the PiS electoral base, mostly in the provincial towns and rural areas.
Mr Kaczynski, a leader of PiS, openly stated that his party needs 'national' media in order to ‘protect’ its rule, and to feed people with what PiS considers to be the ‘truth’ and what public is unable to verify. Therefore, 'national' media became an instrument of mass indoctrination to promote conservative, right wing, nationalist, Catholic, anti-liberal ideas.
Liberal ideas are frequently charged as anti-Polish. Gazeta Wyborcza, the largest quality daily newspaper, was unprecedently sued for libel by the ruling PiS party because it criticised Polish president’s pardon of a former anti-corruption official convicted of power abuse.
There is a host of private media, print and online, that support the PiS government without a trace of criticism. Pro-government media denounce the critical media, accusing them, among other things, of ‘treason’ and of ‘serving foreign interests’, particularly German. Pro-government media, PiS officials and loyalists promote the idea of ‘repolonization’ of critical media, like Newsweek (owned by Axel Springer), and few dozen local newspapers (owned by Passauer Presse).
PiS parlamentarians file regular complaints against TVN station, submitting them to the broadcasting regulatory body which is controlled by the ruling party loyalists. PiS officials frequently speak about the need to buy foreign owned, particularly German, newspapers; in order to do so they are proposing to use financial means of state-owned companies that are controlled by the government.
Gazeta Wyborcza (Polish owned) is being constantly and falsely attacked for allegedly profiting from advertising placed in it by state-owned companies when they were controlled by former government, and from public anouncements (like bidding), and from alleged ‘deals’ with non-PiS municipalities.
As the result, many public institutions and state-owned companies withdrew ads from critical media outlets, like Gazeta Wyborcza, Newsweek and Polityka weekly, depriving them of revenue and endangering their financial condition. State-controlled advertising has been massively shifted to media loyal to the country rulers. Mockingly, state-owned network of petrol stations (Orlen), which sell various newspapers and magazines, is ‘hiding’ Gazeta Wyborcza under the counter to make it difficult for customers to find and buy.
To sum up: in the first year of PiS rule, media freedom in Poland was seriously infringed; and this effort by the ruling party is here to stay. Already, we see a growing ‘chilling effect’ on media, and decreasing number of media outlets that are free and independent.
In Reporters without Borders’ worldwide ranking of press freedom, Poland fell from no 18 in 2015 - to no 47 in 2016.
Association of European Journalists meeting in Ireland, November 5, 2016, deplored the economic, political and police pressure which is being put by certain Council of Europe member governments on privately owned media. AEJ named Hungary, Poland and Turkey; affected were the Nepszabadsag, Gazeta Wyborcza and Cumhuriyet daily newspapers in these countries.
Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland