Polish public broadcaster peddles government hate speech in presidential election run-up
Poland’s public television Telewizja Polska (TVP) has openly betrayed its public service mission in the run-up to Sunday’s (28 June) presidential election, acting almost exclusively as the mouthpiece of the government and of President Andrzej Duda, who is seeking another term. In response, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Parliament to restore the powers of the public media oversight body and asks the European institutions to include press freedom in the procedure against Poland for violating European values that could lead to sanctions.
If TVP is to be believed, incumbent President Duda has no weaknesses while the most popular opposition candidate, Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski, is on the payroll of the biggest enemies of conservative and patriotic Poland. In the country, which is emerging from the sanitary crisis and risks entering an economic crisis, it’s the demands of the LGBTI - according to TVP - which represent the biggest threat.
According to a report published on 19 June by the agency Press-Service Monitoring Mediów, 97% of the items on TVP’s main news programme “Wiadomości” from the start of the campaign presented President Duda in a positive light and 3% were neutral. At the same time, of the 31% fewer references to Trzaskowski, 87% were negative and 13% were neutral.
Aside from the candidates’ unequal access to the public media and the lack of pluralistic election campaign coverage, the presidential debate that TVP broadcast on 17 June gave a clear impression of direct political intervention in the editorial decisions.
Most of the questions were tailor-made for the candidate of the ultra-conservative and nationalist government, focusing on such subjects as gay marriage, religious education and the relocation of refugees, while a viewer poll conducted live that declared Warsaw’s mayor to be the winner was voided by TVP itself on technical grounds. Five complaints were filed with the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) alleging, inter alia, that President Duda had been given the moderator’s questions in advance. But the government has little to fear because the Council is notorious for its inability to defend the independence of the public broadcasters.
TVP’s campaign against Trzaskowski has been so aggressive that he even filed a complaint alleging “violation of privacy rights” after a report broadcast on 9 June accused him of “representing [...] a powerful foreign lobby” because he “had supported the entrance of illegal migrants into Poland” and “had not wanted to defend Poles against mendacious accusations of complicity in the Holocaust.”
TVP also abandoned any pretence of being a public service broadcaster in the run-up to last October’s parliamentary elections, hewing closely to the government line and reproducing its hate messages. This included broadcasting a documentary entitled “Invasion” that claimed to reveal the “aims, methods and money” behind Poland’s LGBTI community. A Polish court finally ordered TVP to remove it from YouTube on 8 June on the grounds that it violated the personal rights of the community’s members.
Yet, according to President Duda, it is the foreign media that spread “fake news”. Their fault: having correctly reported his claims from 13 June that the LGBTI are not people, but “an ideology” comparable to a “form of neo-Bolshevism.”
“Instead of serving the public interest, TVP serves the government and instead of combatting disinformation, it broadcasts it,” said Pavol Szalai, the Head of RSF’s Europe Union and Balkans Desk, and called on the Polish parliament to restore KRRiT’s powers and independence in accordance with the Constitutional Court’s ruling from 2016. Szalai added: “The government’s systematic abuse of the public TV shows that press freedom should be included in the procedure under Article 7 of the Treaty on the European Union, which is discussed by the EU Council and could lead to sanctions against Poland for violation of European values."
Poland is ranked 62nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.