Media organisations and journalists linked to the ruling national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party – which is set to lose power after this month’s elections – have warned that media freedom will be threatened if the opposition takes power and carries out its promised reforms.
State broadcaster TVP – which under PiS rule has become a government mouthpiece – has set up a special hotline for viewers to express their support for “media pluralism”. The National Media Council (RMN), a state body created by PiS, has also pledged to protect public media and their employees.
Their actions have, however, been met with ridicule by many commentators, who argued that it is under PiS that media freedom has been under attack, with Poland falling to its lowest-ever position in the World Press Freedom Index.
A prominent figure from state TV admits they produced „worse propaganda” than under communism to support the ruling party’s election campaign.
But he thinks this „Stalinist logic” backfired and contributed to the negative outcome of the election for PiS https://t.co/8CsLIeVgNz
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 18, 2023
Last week, a group of over 50 conservative journalists – including prominent figures in public media, such as Michał Adamczyk and Samuel Pereira – jointly signed an open letter declaring that “freedom of speech is under threat like never before”.
They claimed there have been “disturbing statements” made by the opposition about carrying out “political purges” in the media once they take power, which is likely to happen by the end of this year.
“Political forces that consider themselves the winners of the elections, [who are] already powerful in the media and dominating in all areas, intend to completely eliminate freedom of speech and pluralism in Poland,” wrote the group of journalists.
This is “probably [because they want] to destroy the state and rob Poles in silence and darkness with impunity, as was the case in the past”, they added.
Ostrzegamy Polaków – wolność słowa jest zagrożona jak nigdy wcześniej! Ważny głos środowiska dziennikarskiego w obliczu zapowiadanych czystek https://t.co/OfoI26kh56
— Michał Karnowski 🇵🇱 (@michalkarnowski) October 26, 2023
The largest opposition group, Civic Coalition (KO), pledged before the elections to “depoliticise public media”, including abolishing the RMN, which is empowered to appoint and dismiss management boards at public broadcasters.
Last year, KO also supported legislation to abolish TVP’s 24-hour news channel, TVP Info, arguing that it has become a “propaganda” outlet for PiS. However, the bill failed to progress given PiS’s majority in parliament.
Speaking last month, before the elections, KO leader Donald Tusk said that they “have a very precise procedure prepared…to get the public media back” as soon as they take office. “Everyone will be thrown out,” he added, though “in accordance with the law”.
At the 15 October elections, KO and two other opposition groups won a joint parliamentary majority and have declared that they will form a coalition government, which is expected to take office in November or December. So far they have not confirmed what specific actions they will take with regard to public media.
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
On Friday, TVP announced that it had set up a “special hotline in defence of media pluralism” through which people can call or email their support. It said it had done so in “response to the increasingly frequent attacks on journalists and announcements by opposition politicians regarding the liquidation of public television”
Earlier the same day, the RMN had also issued a statement warning the opposition not to violate the law when pursuing their policies, for example by prematurely cutting short the six-year terms of members of the RMN or the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT), a state regulator.
“The very announcement of the liquidation of public media is an act to the detriment of Polish culture and the national interest,” they wrote, pledging to “defend public media and their employees against the law-breaking activities announced by the opposition”.
Telewizja Polska rusza ze specjalną akcją w obronie pluralizmu mediów. To odpowiedź na coraz częstsze ataki na dziennikarzy i zapowiedzi polityków opozycji dotyczące likwidacji telewizji publicznej.#wieszwięcej #wolnośćsłowa #walkazbezprawiem #standardyPOhttps://t.co/DFbFGJyiiF
— tvp.info 🇵🇱 (@tvp_info) October 27, 2023
However, while the three representatives of PiS on the council voted in favour of the statement, the two opposition members voted against it and issued their own statements criticising the politicisation of public media under PiS, notes news website Interia.
A number of commentators also criticised the statements made by PiS-linked organisations and journalists. Patryk Słowik, a journalist from Wirtualna Polska, a leading private news website, said that the open letter had been signed by “many people merely pretending to be journalists”.
“In fact, a significant part of the signatories are PiS functionaries sent to the media section,” wrote Słowik in an opinion piece, who noted that they are “getting millions of zloty from those in power”. This is “about cash and dividing the spoils, not democracy and freedom of expression,” he added.
International @OSCE observers have reported that Poland’s elections were an „uneven playing field” because the ruling party “enjoyed a clear advantage through its undue influence over the use of state resources and the public media” https://t.co/pZBE7UXvAR
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 17, 2023
While every government in Poland since 1989 has exerted a degree of influence over public media, that has happened to an unprecedented extent under PiS, with TVP in particular becoming a mouthpiece for the party.
International observers from the OSCE noted that, during the recent election campaign, TVP “deliberately distort[ed] events through the promotion of the ruling party…while heavily attacking its main political rival”. The OSCE filed similar reports after the 2019 parliamentary election and 2020 presidential election.
Shortly after the this month’s election, a prominent figure from TVP admitted that, under PiS, the station has been creating “worse propaganda than [under communism] in the 1970s”.
Long-running polling by state research agency CBOS shows that, under PiS, negative views of TVP among the public have reached their highest-ever level. An annual study by researchers at the University of Oxford shows that the station is now the least trusted source of news among Poland’s main media outlets.
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:
Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.