Polish state TV promotional video sparks accusations of bias towards new government

Poland’s state broadcaster TVP has been accused of political bias towards the new government – which controversially took control of the station after coming to power in December – by publishing a promotional video in which all politicians featured are aligned with the ruling coalition.

Meanwhile, the only non-politician in the spot, a journalist, expressed anger at being included in the advert without his permission and accused TVP of distorting comments he had made about the station. TVP apologised and promised to remove him.

@tvp_info, po co robić takie spoty? A już szczególnie z politykami… pic.twitter.com/aU0kTfE6h1

— Mateusz Tomczak (@TiMProdukcja) February 13, 2024

The advert is a compilation of clips with guests who have recently appeared on TVP Info, a 24-hour news channel. Its aim was to advertise positive changes at the station after it was removed from the control of the former ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which had turned public media into a propaganda mouthpiece.

“After almost nine years, I am back on public television,” says a smiling Bronisław Komorowski, who served as president of Poland from 2010 to 2015 and is associated with the current main ruling party, Civic Platform (PO).

“I’m on public television for the first time in six years and I’m happy,” says health minister Izabela Leszczyna, also of PO. Others featured in the advert are PO foreign minister Radosław Sikorski and MEP Robert Biedroń, one of the leaders of The Left (Lewica), PO’s junior coalition partner.

The only non-politician to feature was Jacek Nizinkiewicz, a journalist from the Rzeczpospolita newspaper. He is shown saying “I’m here [in the TVP Info studio] for the first time since 2017”.

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

Under PiS, TVP was used to promote the government and attack the opposition, while politicians who were then in opposition and journalists critical of the PiS government were rarely invited by the public broadcaster, while some refused to appear in PiS-controlled state media.

The new advert was apparently meant to show that his has changed. However, critics pointed out that such a selection of guests gives an impression of perpetuating the same kind of one-sided coverage for which TVP under PiS was so often condemned.

“This spot shouldn’t have been created. It’s a bit in the style of the old TVP”, Nizinkiewicz told Press magazine. “Public television should not promote itself using the statements of politicians of one side”.

Revelations of the high level of pay for key figures at state TV under the former PiS government – which used the station to promote its agenda – have prompted anger.

But PiS argues there were similarly high salaries at the station before it took power https://t.co/ZuBewtKXkb

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 29, 2023

Nizinkiewicz had other concerns over the spot too. In his post on X, he explained that he never consented to be included as he only came to TVP to talk about Poland’s biggest annual charity fundraiser (WOŚP). He demanded to be removed from the video.

“I’m glad that there is no more hatred pouring out of TVP,” he told Press. “I went there to say that I am glad that there is no more censorship against WOŚP on TVP.”

He also explained that only part of his comment was presented in the video and that it made his words misleading. “It looked like I was happy to return to TVP and I was happy to be able to come there.”

Zostałem przeproszony przez TVP.
Spot ma zostać zmieniony i nie będzie mojego w nim udziału.
Sprawę uważam za zamkniętą. https://t.co/U22CHlUFZa

— Jacek Nizinkiewicz (@JNizinkiewicz) February 14, 2024

The journalist added that he had declined other invitations to appear at the station “because I think that the recent changes in these media have not been implemented according to the law”.

The new government’s takeover of public media in December has been criticised not only by PiS – which is now the main opposition party, but also by many legal experts. A number of court rulings have also effectively rejected some of the methods used to replace managers at state-owned outlets.

The government insists it has acted legally and points to other court rulings that have gone in its favour.

Yesterday, Nizinkiewicz announced that TVP apologised to him for the situation. “The spot is to be changed and there will be no participation of mine. I consider the matter closed,” he wrote on X.

A court has refused to register the government’s move to put public radio into liquidation.

The decision was welcomed by the opposition, which says it shows the government acted unlawfully.

But the culture minister notes it can still be appealed https://t.co/Y0XxvcUhQm

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 22, 2024

The advert prompted other critical comments. Patryk Michalski, a journalist from Wirtualna Polska, a leading news website, pointed to the fact that many people who worked at TVP under the previous government still hold their positions and work in similar ways.

“The same people who served PiS still work there. Now they are trying to serve the new government,” he wrote on X. “They try to score points, please, suck up, because that’s how they’ve earned money for years.”

“I am not at all surprised by the row over this spot,” said Professor Jerzy Kopania of the University of Białystok, cited by Wirtualna Polska. “The new TVP authorities announced that [the station] would now be objective and diverse. But what is it like? Absolutely one-sided.”

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: screenshot from TVP Info spot

Agata Pyka is an assistant editor at Notes from Poland. She is a journalist and a political communication student at the University of Amsterdam. She specialises in Polish and European politics as well as investigative journalism and has previously written for Euractiv and The European Correspondent.

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