Report finds pro-government bias at state TV after Tusk takeover

State broadcaster TVP has shown a pro-government bias since its takeover by Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s new administration, a report by a leading factchecking platform has found.

Analysts from the Demagog website compared the output of TVP after the change of power in December with the reporting of the two largest private broadcasters, TVN and Polsat.

They found that state TV omitted information disfavouring the new government, criticised President Andrzej Duda – who is aligned with the former ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party – more than the other broadcasters, and marginalised the opposition.

📺 Czy nowe #TVP zostało „naprawione i odpolitycznione”, tak jak obiecał @donaldtusk?

Przeanalizowaliśmy wszystkie styczniowe wydania „19.30” @TVP i porównaliśmy je z „Faktami” @FaktyTVN i „Wydarzeniami” @PolsatNewsPL.

👀 Co zobaczyliśmy w TVP?

☝️10 stycznia nowy program…

— 🔎 DEMAGOG (@DemagogPL) February 19, 2024

Before the change of government in December, public media were used as a propaganda mouthpiece by PiS. When Tusk’s administration took power, it justified its takeover of TVP by arguing it had to be “depoliticised”.

Demagog analysed all January editions of “19:30”, TVP’s main daily news programme, and compared them with TVN’s “Facts” (Fakty) and Polsat’s “Events” (Wydarzenia) from the same period.

In their analysis, Demagog used the words of Marek Czyż, the main presenter of “19:30”, as a starting point. In the first edition of the programme, he promised to offer viewers “clean water” instead of a “propaganda soup”. However, according to Demagog’s findings, the station failed to provide depoliticised reporting.

“Our aim was not to equate TVP’s flagship news programme under the Law and Justice government with what is happening after Donald Tusk took power,” Łukasz Grzesiczak, one of the authors of the report told Notes from Poland.  “It was to verify the promise given by Marek Czyż to depoliticise the news.”

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

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 18, 2023

Grzesiczak stressed that in the past Demagog has repeatedly written critically about TVP when it was under PiS control.
In their analysis of output in January, “we did not pay attention to technical problems or the quality of the material being prepared”, says Grzesiczak.

Instead they focused on the omission of certain topics that “might have been unfavourable to Donald Tusk’s government” or “the exposure of issues favourable to the new government absent in competing programmes”.

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

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

Demagog found, for example, that in TVP’s coverage of two PiS politicians jailed for abuse of power then pardoned by Duda, the station did not include the position of PiS and the president. Expert opinions critical of the court’s decision regarding the pair were also not presented.

TVP’s viewers also did not learn that demonstrations in support of the two politicians were taking place in front of the prisons where they were incarcerated, whereas both TVN and Polsat reported this information. Demagog also pointed to TVP providing lower estimates of the number of participants in anti-government protests.

TVP’s portrayal of Duda also differed from what was shown by the other stations, with Demagog finding that “19.30” had a “strong anti-presidential character”. It showed, for example, internet memes in which users made fun of Duda’s facial expressions. No similar material was present on the other two channels.

State broadcaster TVP has been accused of bias towards the new government – which 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

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) February 16, 2024

TVP criticised a flagship PiS project to build a mega airport more than others the other two stations while also trying to present other PiS initiatives, such as a law on consumer pawn loans and expanding preventative gynaecological care, as successes of the current government.

Information disfavouring the currently ruling coalition was omitted. No criticism has been made of the abolition of homework in schools announced recently by Tusk’s government whereas both TVN and Polsat presented the critical opinions of a teacher and a PiS politician, respectively.

No information was also given on TVP about the fact that the opposition had filed a motion to dismiss the justice minister, Adam Bodnar.
Demagog positively assessed the execution of TVP’s promise to broadcast more material that deals with foreign affairs. In January, the station aired a total of 292 programmes, 32% of which were on international issues, making the number higher than in the cases of TVN and Polsat.

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

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

However, after the changes that took place in TVP under the new government, the station recorded losses in viewership in January. According to a report by news website Wirtualne Media, the station’s news channel, TVP Info, lost two-thirds of its viewers, dropping from its place as the second most-viewed news channel in Poland to fourth place.

Meanwhile, TVN achieved the station’s highest monthly result in its broadcasting history, while having the largest audience share among news channels. For the first time, Polsat’s news channels rose to second place, previously placing third.
Conservative channels TV Republika and wPolityce also saw a big rise in viewership after many viewers and presenters from PiS-controlled TVP migrated to them.

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 19.30 on 15 January 2024

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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