How Poland’s public service TV was turned into a government mouthpiece

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Detailed monitoring of the news output on Polish public service television (TVP) during nationwide local and European elections has revealed how it has been made into a propaganda mouthpiece by the current government. AEJ Poland’s Krzysztof Bobinski relates the main steps by which the Law and Justice (PiS) Party-led government has engineered the effective capture of TVP. The result is that Poland’s most influential source of news and information displays systematic editorial bias in favour of the government, in a clear breach of accepted national and European standards of accuracy and impartiality for public broadcasters.

Changes in governance of Poland’s public service media at the beginning of 2016 and later again in July of that year have transformed the country’s public service television broadcaster (TVP) into a mouthpiece for government propaganda, independent monitoring of The News (Wiadomosci), the TVP’s main news programme, have shown.

The monitoring conducted by the Society of Journalists (Towarzystwo Dziennikarskie) for two weeks before local government elections in the autumn of 2018 and then two weeks before European Parliament elections on May 26 show a major bias towards the ruling Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc – PiS) and a lack of unbiased reporting on opposition parties from the far right to the left.

The two elections were the first to be held after PiS came to power in the autumn of 2015 and are to be followed by general election in the autumn of 2019 and a presidentia l election in 2020.

The pre election news reporting of TVP gave credence to warnings by press freedom and media organisations including the European Broadcasting Union, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Reporters without Borders (RSF) and the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) at the beginning of 2016 that the changes would make the public service media „more political and thus less independent”. The organisations urged the Polish authorities „to resist any temptation to strengthen political control over the media”.

The AEJ followed up this warning with a statement dated 17 May 2017 on a new law dated 7 July 2016 which said that public service media in Poland „ are very much under the political and economic control of the government authorities whose policies and actions thus continue to contravene Council of Europe standards”.

A week by week study of public service media brodcasts commissioned by the National Council for Radio and Television (Krajowa Rada Radiofonii i Telewizji – KRRiT), Poland’s electronic media in 2017 confirmed that the main TVP news programme favoured the governing party. For example the study conducted by the John Paul II University in Krakow reported for the week of 10 -16 February 2017 that „political and economic items were too one sided” and that the ‘News’ „ lacked pluralism and unbiased reporting” and the „governing party dominated the programme”. The researchers noted that the ‘News’ carried „propaganda items which praised the government’s successes”. The study was published by KRRiT in mid 2019

The coverage of the local government election by TVP prompted the State Election Commission (Panstwowa Komisja Wyborcza PKW) to write on 11 February 2019 to the KRRiT regulator asking the KRRiT to monitor media coverage of the coming European Parliament election. The PKW argued that monitoring would help the media to focus on ‘equal treatment of all the parties participating in the election” and noted that such media monitoring had been conducted by the KRRiT during elections in previous years. The KRRiT refused the request on 11 March 2019 citing lack of funds, lack of personnel and lack of time as the reason.

During a parliamentary hearing on 11 June 2019 on the KRRiT’s performance in 2018 , Witold Kolodziejski, the head of the KRRiT, acknowledged that the public service media were bound to deliver „objective and pluralistic” programming. But he argued that were the KRRiT to attempt to police the level of objectivity and pluralism in Poland’s electronic media then it would find itself limiting freedom of speech as „ each broadcaster has the right to shape his company’s programme as it sees fit”.

On 4 Janaury 2016 the AEJ submitted an Alert to the Council of Europe’s online Platform for the protection of media freedom, concerning a serious threat to media freedom from Poland’s newly-adopted Law on Public Service Brodcasting. The Alert was further updated on 04 July 2017.

The current behaviour of the Poland’s public service television and in the past three years suggest that it will retain its pro government bias in the forthcoming election thus breaking the country’s broadcast laws which task the public service media to be fair and unbiased and underscoring that the orginal Platform alert remains unresolved.

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