Poland’s independent media harassed in run-up to presidential election
Two journalists have been accused of violating sanitary rules while covering anti-government gatherings. In another case, the private television channel TVN has been a target of repeated attacks. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) asks the Polish authorities not to abuse the sanitary crisis to sabotage the work of independent media as they report on the electoral campaign.
Intensity of attacks against Poland’s independent media is growing in the run-up to the presidential elections that the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) and President Andrzej Duda insisted, until yesterday, on holding on 10 May despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
Two journalists are subjected to judicial proceedings for covering anti-government protests. One is Wojciech Jakub Atys, a photographer with the daily Gazeta Wyborcza, who has been summoned to appear in court for covering a protest outside PiS leader Jarosław Kaczynski’s Warsaw home on 29 March. He is facing a possible fine of up to 60,000 zlotys (approximately 13,000 euros) for allegedly failing to observe social distancing rules by gathering in a public place with other persons. In fact, only a handful of people attended the protest, called to oppose electoral law changes allowing voters to cast their ballots by post because of the pandemic.
A video-reporter with the independent OKO.press news site, whose name has not been given by the portal, is currently subjected to a similar judicial harassment. For going to cover a planned protest outside Kaczynski’s home on 10 April that eventually did not take place, she is facing a possible 13,000 euro fine on two absurd charges – failure to respect social distancing and organising a public gathering.
When another journalist, the freelance reporter Włodzimierz Ciejka, filmed an anti-government protest on 28 March, he was detained at a police station for two hours on the grounds that he had violated a Covid-19 lockdown ban on public gatherings.
TVN, a commercial TV channel owned by the US media group Discovery, has meanwhile been targeted by an aggressive smear campaign. The public TV broadcaster TVP, known for its close relationship with the government, attacked TVN’s main news programme every day from 14 to 18 April, accusing it of lacking professionalism or of having links with the pre-1989 Communist intelligence agencies. The attacks were clearly designed to undermine the credibility of TVN – which is critical of the government – in the run-up to the election, in which President Duda is seeking another term.
“The unjustified pressions against independent media on the pretext of combatting the coronavirus pandemic or supposed links with the former Communist regime are unacceptable,” said Pavol Szalai, the Head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans Desk. “The attacks are all the more reprehensible for taking place in the pre-electoral period when citizens need reliable information in order to decide how to vote.”
Poland is ranked 62nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index, three places lower than in 2019.