Elections in Poland: At meetings with RSF, government and opposition’s leading candidates commit to media freedom reforms
Ahead of the general election on 15 October, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) publishes 15 press freedom recommendations drafted in cooperation with Polish experts and media. In response to RSF’s call, an influential politician of Law and Justice has pledged to advocate in her party for the decriminalisation of defamation, while a former ombudsman running for the Civic Coalition has promised to strive for an in-depth reform of the public media.
No live broadcast of the meetings of the opposition, predominantly negative coverage of its actions and a preferential treatment of the ruling parties’ campaign videos. Although the Polish Broadcasting Act obliges public television TVP to respect "pluralism, impartiality, balance and independence" in its programming, the interim report of an observation mission by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) from 29 September raises the issue of "a strong bias in favour of the ruling party and its policies".
As the independent media such as the biggest private channel in Central Europe, TVN, struggle to provide pluralistic coverage of the campaign ahead of the general election on 15 October, their reporting is undermined by lack of access to the government politicians. It comes on top of the long-term systematic attacks on their independence. While the right to information continues to be under siege in the run-up to the election which will determine the composition of the future government, the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) fails to fulfil its legal duty to protect independence and pluralism of the media.
“The current government has perpetuated a vicious circle of polarisation. After having taken total control of the public media, it stigmatises the private media whose resistance is then used as a pretext for further political pressures on the whole media landscape. Substituting the right to information with propaganda undermines the fairness of the Polish election, as well as the country’s international standing. By improving press freedom according to our recommendations, Poland can win back the place its people deserve: the democratic core of Europe.
During his mission to Warsaw from 2 to 5 October, the head of EU-Balkans desk at RSF, Pavol Szalai, discussed the recommendations – aimed at strengthening the independence of public and private media, and the protection of journalists against legal and physical threats – with leading media outlets and political parties. In response to RSF’s call, an influential member of parliament for Law and Justice (PiS), who is also a member of the National Media Council (another media authority), made a commitment. “Abusive lawsuits (SLAPPs) are an existing issue for press freedom in Poland,” Joanna Lichocka recognised. “I am against prison sentences for journalists for defamation. I will advocate in PiS for legislation decriminalising defamation,” the candidate of the ruling party pledged.
At a meeting with RSF, a leading personality of the opposition Civic Coalition, Adam Bodnar, said: “The Polish public media and the oversight institutions need a systemic reform which will provide guarantees for their independence from the government.” The former ombudsman added: “The political influence in the selection of the leadership of the public media should be reduced to the benefit of the involvement of civil society and experts.”
The organisation discussed its proposals also with opposition leaders from the centrist coalition Poland 2050 and from the party The Left who both showed willingness to conduct media freedom reforms if they enter the government.
RSF’s recommendations – drafted in cooperation with Polish experts and addressed to the future government – aim for an in-depth and widely-consulted reform of the public media, the same level-playing field on the market and in access to information for both private and public media, measures against abusive lawsuits, as well as for guarantees of journalists’ safety and rights.
Out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, Poland is ranked 57th, which is the fifth worst place in the European Union.