Recent transformations in the structure and coverage of public media is a result of the political interference of the ruling Law and Justice party. The implemented changes, rather than cherishing the mission of public service, show a huge disregard for the basic values of impartiality and pluralism the public broadcaster should adhere to.
Polish national media are increasingly climbing the rankings of the least reliable sources of news in democratic Europe that not only breach the basic principles of objectivity but also threaten democracy. With the bill giving full control over the appointments of the most important people in the state media signed by President Andrzej Duda, Polish national TV has become an official channel for the government’s ideology. The bill also automatically removes the previous board members, leaving the offices for the agents of Poland’s current reign. The regulation puts the PAP news agency and Polish national radio and television in the same row of fully controlled organizations as other state-owned cultural institutions, including the Polish opera or museums. This attack on objectivity has faced a lot of criticism and generated considerable confusion among the public.
This is not, however, the first time that a Polish government formed by the politicians of Law and Justice has violated essential principles of democracy. Their first operation was targeted at the judicial independence in Poland with the desire to replace the active justices of the Constitutional Tribunal with new ones, favorable to the Law and Justice government. This campaign ended with success, with Andrzej Duda’s signing the regulation which overthrew the regime of the Constitutional Tribunal current at that time and installed new justices. The actions of Law and Justice in that matter encountered massive outrage and resulted in the forming of numerous movements, including the famous Democracy Defense Community (KOD).
According to the spokesperson of the president, the head of Poland ratified the bill granting the government full control over national media in order to improve the current state of Polish media outlets in terms of credibility, impartiality and objectivity, as President Duda “did not believe broadcasters guaranteed objective information in their current form”. Yet the actual state of those media channels is an absolute opposite to the one at which the Polish government supposedly aimed. Since the victory of Law and Justice, the content and quality of news broadcasts by the public media has been gradually deteriorating. There are lots of aspects that Polish media have completely disregarded. Among one of the most important ones, many journalists mention a complete lack of impartiality. News transmitted by public television tends to focus only on the Law and Justice party, shedding a positive light on its politicians and actions, while other parties are either overlooked or horribly slandered. Such schemes are the last nail in the coffin for many people’s political awareness, as it is very often really poor, even without additional pressure.
One cannot deny that the Polish national media try to cover most of what is going on in the country and the world. However, viewers should definitely not expect any neutrality from the reporters and broadcast materials. One of the victims of L&J censorship and, hence, selective coverage was WOŚP (Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy). This charity organization, led by Jerzy Owsiak, raises millions of Polish zlotys every year and has already saved the lives of numerous children and elderly people. Apparently in the government’s view, such a feat deserved only an insignificant mention on the news. The TVP journalists purposely devoted to the coverage of the issue only a small part of an everyday evening news program, which, given the scale of the event, is simply unacceptable. Comparing the coverage of WOŚP by the national TV to other reports in different mainstream news outlets, one cannot help but think that national journalists aimed to disgrace and disregard the organization and its founder Jerzy Owsiak, just because he presents political views in contrast to the ruling party. Similar cases of disinformation presented by the public TV include utterances of opposing politicians taken out of context, anti-government protests ridiculed by journalists while glorifying the efforts of the politicians of the ruling party. All that, taken straight out of the best authoritarian schools of propaganda, is present in the new, tyrannical reality of Poland.
The government’s actions have prompted sharp criticism not only among the Polish opposition but also raised concerns among the representatives of the European authorities. Even the commissioner of human rights appealed to the president “not to sign” the regulation. Such actions of the Polish government may have detrimental effects for Poland as a member of the EU. There are some voices suggesting that if Poland continues to engage in activities hurting democratic values, such as politicization of the public media, in the future it may lose voting rights in EU cases concerning all 28 members. Being left out by the rest of the EU member states would definitely reduce the significance of Poland in the international arena, and, consequently, harm the country both economically and financially. However, Law and Justice is too preoccupied with spreading its influence in the country to see the long-term consequences of their actions. With perfectly orchestrated plans, L&J politicians are gradually taking over the most important offices of the Polish government, judiciary system, and now – media.
Having considered all the above consequences of the ruling party’s actions as far as the political interference in the public media is concerned, it seems that the quality of news presented in the national news agency stands in complete opposition to what could have been expected from a democratic state. Just as in an Orwellian reality, Polish citizens are subjected to a constant indoctrination since the Law and Justice party has turned public TV into an instrument of political propaganda. Yet the public TV still enjoys a tremendous viewership, which proves that many people are simply unaware of the abuse of power on the part of the reigning party. Nevertheless, for those seeking the truth, there are still many alternatives to choose from. It is just depressing to see that times when you could rely on the most basic source of news – the national media – are gone. At least while Law and Justice is in power.