Polish government plans state streaming service showing sport and films

Poland’s government has outlined plans to create a state streaming service – which media have dubbed a “national Netflix” – that will allow citizens to watch national sports teams’ matches and films produced with public funds for free on their mobile phones.

“Sports broadcasts are the most popular programmes every year and that is why we want access to all our teams’ matches to always be [available] on your phones,” wrote digital affairs minister Janusz Cieszyński.

Therefore, if the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party wins another term at October’s parliamentary elections, it will enhance the functionality of the mObywatel (mCitizen) system that gives people access to various public services and information on their phones.

“This will guarantee access not only to sporting events, but also to Polish digital cultural goods,” pledged Cieszyński. “Works produced with public money will eventually have to be made available in this way.”

Cyfrowe #KonkretyPiS – odcinek 1:

Dziś wieczorem nasi piłkarze zagrają mecz o wszystko z Albanią, a siatkarze powalczą o miejsce w ćwierćfinale Mistrzostw Europy. Transmisje sportowe to każdego roku najpopularniejsze programy i dlatego chcemy, aby dostęp do wszystkich meczów…

— Janusz Cieszyński (@jciesz) September 10, 2023

In further comments and interviews, including with the Wirtualne Media and GSM Online websites, Cieszyński explained that one of the purposes behind the idea was to encourage more people to use mObywatel.

The system has been strongly promoted by the government, which since July has allowed citizens to create virtual identity cards in mObywatel that have the same legal status as the physical cards that have existed up to now. Around 3.5 million Poles have so far created such so-called “mIDs”.

Cieszyński was asked why, given that public broadcaster TVP already offers free broadcasts of national teams’ matches, streaming them through mObywatel was necessary. “There is no guarantee that this broadcaster will always have the rights to all transmissions,” he said.

The government has launched a service allowing people to check if they have been affected by the leak of millions of logins and passwords this week

Many users complained that the service was initially not working for several hours but it is now functional https://t.co/VmwEFsBy7O

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) June 1, 2023

The minister also noted that so-called “super apps”, which offer a wide range of services, are becoming more popular around the world. Streaming “would be one of the ultimately several hundred functions of the mObywatel application”, said Cieszyński.

He pointed to Ukraine, where the Diia service – the Ukrainian equivalent of mObywatel – broadcasts sporting and cultural events.

“I believe that if anything is financed from public funds, it should be made available in digital form to the widest possible group of recipients,” added Cieszyński. “If the state paid for something, it should be used as widely as possible.”

Hundreds of classic Polish films have been made available to watch online for free, all with English subtitles.

Among them are works by famed directors Andrzej Wajda and Krzysztof Kieślowski. The website also features thousands of communist-era newsreels https://t.co/01C99P3rGn

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) July 18, 2022

The idea has, however, been criticised by not only opposition politicians, but even by one of Cieszyński’s predecessors, Anna Streżyńska, who served as digital affairs minister in the PiS government from 2015 to 2018.

“I support the development of the mObywatel application, but I consider this idea to be a gross overreach and a waste of public funds – our money,” she wrote in a post on LinkedIn. “A government application is not a toy, not e-commerce, nor a propaganda tool.”

She added that the idea of a government “everything app” was something one would associate with authoritarian China. “The government’s appropriation of increasingly larger areas of usually commercial activity is communism, and such apps going beyond administrative services is a form of mind control,” she wrote.

Poland’s opposition has submitted a bill to abolish state TV’s news channel, which it says produces government propaganda.

The legislation is spearheaded by Warsaw mayor @trzaskowski_, whom state TV news has portrayed as seeking to “fulfil Jewish demands” https://t.co/BEE3AAOy9c

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 19, 2022

Many commentators have noted that PiS has used other public services – such as state television and radio broadcasters – to produce pro-government and anti-opposition propaganda. However, Cieszyński denies that mObywatel would be used for such a purpose.

“This is only about sports and cultural events, not news content,” he said. “The possibility of watching some additional content on an optional app is not a [mind] control tool.”

Other critics argue that providing a streaming service should not be among the priorities for mObywatel, and it would be better to instead focus on better integrating health services and insurance into the system. Cieszyński responded that those goals are also part of PiS’s election programme.

This week, the minister has also outlined the party’s plans for mObywatel to let state institutions send electronic messages to citizens instead of physical letters and for the app to be used to log in not only to government systems but also those of private firms.

Cyfrowe #KonkretyPiS – odcinek 3:

Od 14 lipca z logowania do usług rządowych w mObywatelu skorzystano 1,4 miliona razy. To bardzo proste – zamiast wpisywać login i hasło można zeskanować kod QR na stronie albo skorzystać z deep linka na komórce, potwierdzić PINem, a system… pic.twitter.com/hIZBZEKUCY

— Janusz Cieszyński (@jciesz) September 12, 2023

Main image credit: Footy.com Images/Flickr (under CC BY 2.0)

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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