Polish opposition ends boycott of state TV ahead of elections

Poland’s largest opposition party, Civic Platform (PO), has suspended its boycott of state television ahead of next month’s elections. Though it says that TVP remains a “propaganda” tool of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, PO acknowledges that it must reach out to a wider range of voters.

Since it was announced last week, PO’s return to TVP has already been marked by a number of incidents, including one in which a deputy government minister and then the presenter of the programme placed a German flag in front of a PO politician. PiS has regularly accused PO of representing German interests.


W rolach głównych: #PiS & funkcjonariusz #TVPiS 🤦‍♂️ pic.twitter.com/kR1icmjl0i

— 🍀 PSL (@nowePSL) September 24, 2023

During its eight years in power, PiS has turned TVP into a government mouthpiece. The station’s programming, including its news broadcasts, are used to promote the ruling party and attack the opposition, despite a statutory obligation to be politically neutral.

While PO has long complained about that bias, in March this year it announced a boycott of TVP and its news station, TVP Info, after the teenage son of one of the party’s MPs took his own life following reports in public media that the opposition said identified him as a victim of sexual abuse.

PO had already previously boycotted TVP in 2019 following the murder of Gdańsk mayor Paweł Adamowicz. Many, including Adamowicz’s wife (who is now a PO politician) accused TVP of inspiring his murderer by regularly vilifying the mayor in its news reports. TVP rejects that accusation.

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

In 2019, PO dropped their boycott a few weeks before that year’s elections, and they have now done so again ahead of polling day on 15 October.

“TVP is watched by undecided votes, and also our electorate, because part of it is deprived of access to media independent of the government,” PO spokesman Jan Grabiec told the Wirtualne Media website.

“Participating in public television programmes is therefore our only chance to reach social groups that are important to us,” he added.

Grabiec noted that the party’s representatives would be “shouted at and provoked” by presenters. That is why “we will delegate the most experienced politicians to participate in TVP programs, who have proven in the past that they can handle these types of situations very well”, he explained.

Donald Tusk is suing Polish public TV over repeatedly presenting him outlined in a red glow and with a focus mark resembling the sight of a gun on his chest.

He is demanding an apology, compensation as well as a ban on presenting him this way for a yearhttps://t.co/lp2ZVsK1xm

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 30, 2022

Grabiec’s remarks followed a press conference earlier in the week by PO leader Donald Tusk outside TVP’s offices in Warsaw.

“We have decided for our MPs to cross the threshold of this place and participate in government television broadcasts and propaganda programmes, so as to be able to take advantage of every opportunity for the recipients of government television to hear the truth,” he added.

The conference was interrupted by a prominent TVP presenter, Michał Rachoń, who tried to ask Tusk about his relations with Germany and Russia when he was prime minister.

“There types of people – who disrupt, among other things, opposition conferences – will be held criminally accountable after we win the elections,” responded Tusk.

Tak Tusk groził Rachoniowi#wieszwięcej pic.twitter.com/8Tle7DK9tY

— tvp.info 🇵🇱 (@tvp_info) September 19, 2023

Biases in TVP’s coverage were also highlighted last week by a member of the station’s oversight board, Krzysztof Luft (who is also a former PO election candidate).

Luft has issued a complaint to the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT), a state regulator, alleging “notorious violations” by TVP of the legal obligation for public media outlets to be “pluralistic, impartial and balanced”.

Luft calculated that, in the second quarter of this year, TVP devoted more than 80% of its political coverage to ruling party politicians and their allies. He also pointed out that the speeches of PiS figures are often broadcast in full, while those of the opposition “are never broadcast” live.

When they are shown, it is “only in excerpts and after editorial processing, usually with negative commentary”, he noted.  “These violations assume particular  significance during the election campaign period, and even raise questions about the integrity of elections in Poland.”

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

International observers from the OSCE noted the negative impact of TVP’s coverage on the last two elections in 2019 and 2020.

They wrote that the broadcaster had “acted as a campaign vehicle for the incumbent”, with a “lack of impartiality…[that] undermined voters’ ability to make an informed choice…[and] amplified the advantage of the ruling party”.

PiS argues, however, that the changes at TVP are part of a necessary re-balancing of the media landscape, which was previously dominated by liberal and leftist outlets. Its supporters note that public media in Poland have always been under the influence of whichever parties are in power.

However, since PiS took office, public trust in TVP has fallen to its lowest recorded level, according to state research agency CBOS. The channel is now Poles’ least trusted major source of news, according to an annual study by researchers at the University of Oxford.

State broadcaster TVP remains Poland’s least trusted major news source, finds an annual study by @risj_oxford, which notes that the station provides „skewed, pro-government coverage”.

The most trusted outlets are RMF FM, Polsat, Radio Zet and TVN https://t.co/nhxEaj9lS0

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) June 15, 2023

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Main image credit: Jakub Wlodek / 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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