Polish ruling party resumes political and regulatory pressure on independent media
After a relatively quiet year for press freedom in Poland, independent media are again being threatened by baseless political accusations, opaque regulatory proceedings and a discriminatory bill. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the authorities to stop undermining the right to information.
It took Poland's conservative government just three days to start putting pressure on the country’s biggest independent media outlet, the privately-owned TV channel TVN, after it carried a report that was not to the government’s liking, namely that the late Pope John Paul II had been aware of cases of paedophilia in the Polish Catholic Church.
The foreign ministry described the report as part of a “hybrid war aimed at creating divisions and tensions in the Polish society” and went on to “summon” – a word later corrected to “invite” – the US ambassador to a meeting because it clearly labours under the misapprehension that, because the US media group Discovery owns TVN, the US government intervenes in its content.
This was just the latest of the attempts to challenge the right to information to which Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has returned in recent months. The head of the broadcasting regulator KRRiT, Maciej Świrski, who is a PiS ally, launched regulatory proceedings successively against three independent media outlets – TVN, TOK FM and Radio Zet – without making the precise reasons public.
The three outlets were targeted after programmes criticising the ruling party. TVN’s report was about the crash of the Polish president’s plane in 2010, TOK FM commented on a new school history textbook, and Radio Zet investigated Polish-American relations. When announcing the proceedings, the KRRiT cited the broadcasting law, which allows it to penalise “the promotion of false information, and actions contrary to the Polish raison d’Etat, and the threats to public security.” These terms are not clearly defined in the law, which nonetheless allows the KRRiT to impose heavy fines on broadcasters and even withdraw their licences.
“We regret that after a relatively calm year for press freedom in Poland, a year devoted to Poland’s support for Ukrainian democracy against Russian aggression, the Polish authorities are once again challenging the right to information. Political, regulatory and legislative pressure on the media, which has no place in a European democracy, must be replaced by press freedom, transparency and consultation with the media on measures affecting them.
Without consulting privately-owned TV broadcasters, which are firmly opposed to it, the government has unveiled a bill that discriminates against them in relation to Poland’s public TV channels, which have been turned into ruling party propaganda outlets.
Nicknamed the “remote control law,” it would force the providers of pay TV decoders to place public TV channels in the first five places offered. It would also give the ruling party-influenced KRRiT the power to arbitrarily determine which channels will be offered in the following places. Supposedly meant to guarantee better broadcasting quality, the “remote control law” is liable to make commercial channels, including TVN, less accessible.
When contacted by RSF, Poland’s digitalisation ministry denied that the law posed any threat to press freedom, insisting that its goal is to “facilitate the access of consumers to their preferred channels.”
Poland is ranked 66th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2022 World Press Freedom Index.