Leaked emails purport to show Polish state TV planning to declare opposition march a failure

Leaked internal emails purported to be from state broadcaster TVP, which is under government influence, suggest that the station was planning for its news coverage to declare an opposition march in Warsaw a failure even before it took place.

The director of the branch of TVP at which the emails were reportedly sent claims that the messages have been “manipulated” by the opposition politician who published them. However, he has not specified in what way they were manipulated.

A large opposition march has passed through Warsaw, two weeks ahead of parliamentary elections.

„We are moving towards a Poland that is open, tolerant, European,” declared the city’s opposition mayor @trzaskowski_ https://t.co/2hUP3a8YXY

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

Sunday’s rally – named the “March of a Million Hearts” in reference to how many participants it was meant to attract – was organised by the main opposition group, Civic Coalition (KO), as a display of support ahead of the 15 October elections.

On the day, Warsaw city hall – which is under opposition control – claimed that over a million people had attended. The police, who are under the authority of the government, said the figure was around 100,000 at the start of the march. Onet, a leading news website, estimated it was between 600,000 and 800,000.

Figures from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party have focused on the police estimates, using this as evidence that the event was a failure. That line has been followed by TVP, whose main news programmes featured headlines such as “Ten times less than [opposition leader] Tusk wanted” and “turnout flop”.

Agresja i frekwencyjna klapa#wieszwięcej pic.twitter.com/M4AdWEwjVq

— tvp.info 🇵🇱 (@tvp_info) October 1, 2023

On Monday, Jakub Stefaniak – who is an opposition election candidate but has worked in the past for TVP3 Lublin, a regional branch of the broadcaster – published screenshots of alleged emails from the station’s director to his employees detailing how the event should be talked about.

The messages show Ryszard Montusiewicz, the director, ordering staff to call the march “‘a turnout flop” and to accompany estimates of attendance “with the comment: only, barely, etc.”

“The director of the Lublin branch of TVPiS already knew before the march what the turnout would be,” tweeted Stefaniak. However, the screenshots he shared do not show the timestamps of the emails.

The authenticity of the emails was confirmed by unnamed sources cited by Onet and another leading news website, Wirtualna Polska. The media were unable to contact Montusiewicz himself.

Ręczne sterowanie? Czemu nie? Dyrektor lubelskiego oddziału #TVPiS już przed marszem wiedział jaka będzie frekwencja 🤦‍♂️😂 ciekawe czy sam wymyślił czy dostał przekaz z centrali. Tak czy owak ani chwili dłużej nie powinien być dyrektorem. pic.twitter.com/oId6KCESuS

— Jakub Stefaniak (@Stefaniak__) October 2, 2023

A day later, TVP3 Lublin published a statement by Montusiewicz in which he accused Stefaniak of “composing a false narrative…based on manipulation plotted consciously and, I believe, deliberately, in pictorial and verbal communication”.

However, Montusiewicz’s statement did not specify in what way the emails had been manipulated and did not explicitly call them fake. He nevertheless demanded that Stefaniak issue a correction and apology.

Stefaniak responded that it is “Montusiewicz who should apologise to TV viewers and resign”. Speaking to Onet, he noted that Montusiewicz “does not question the credibility of the pictures I published. I perceive his statement as an attempt to intimidate a citizen”.

Since PiS came to power in 2015, public broadcasters, and in particular TVP, have been turned into government mouthpieces. While every Polish government has exerted some influence over state-owned media, experts and opinion polls suggest that under PiS this has taken place to an unprecedented degree.

Regular polling by state research agency CBOS shows that public opinion of TVP has fallen to its lowest ever levels in post-1989 Poland. An annual study by researchers at the University of Oxford has found TVP to be Poles’ least trusted major news source.

During the current election campaign, the station has provided news reporting that boosts the government’s narrative and is critical of the opposition. At the last two elections – in 2019 and 2020 – international monitors from the OSCE noted that TVP’s biased coverage negatively impacted the campaigns.

Five of the 15 members of state broadcaster TVP’s oversight board have called for the broadcasting regulator to take action against the station for its coverage of Sunday’s anti-government protests, which they say was “extremely unreliable and biased” https://t.co/FZtrOdXXjX

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) June 6, 2023

Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.

Main image credit: Maciek Jazwiecki / Agencja Wyborcza.pl

Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.

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