Poland’s “political cleansing” of journalists

Mapping Media Freedom correspondent Martha Otwinowski details the changes sweeping Poland's public broadcasters

09 May 2016

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There’s no doubt that Poland’s media landscape is undergoing a rapid transformation. The country’s ranking in the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index plunged from 18 in 2015 to 47 in 2016. The government rushed through a law in the waning hours of 2015 that gave it oversight of the nation’s public broadcaster. Scores of veteran journalists have lost their jobs.

Further changes may be on the way as new media legislation, the so-called “big media law”, is being debated and proposals have been floated to restrict how journalists report from inside the Sejm.

Poland has been all about the “good change” since November 2015. The phrase goes back to a campaign video produced in May 2015 for the Law and Justice (PiS) party’s Andrzej Duda. The party went on to win the October 2015 elections and Duda became the sixth president of Poland.

Since the election, “good change” has been co-opted on Twitter as #dobrazmiana by critics opposed to the government’s legislation, which, in the case of the public broadcasters, is being implemented by Krzysztof Czabański, a former journalist and minister for culture and national heritage.

As part of the changes, a total of 141 journalists have been dismissed, forced to resign or transferred to lesser positions between the election and May 2016, according to journalist union Towarzystwo Dziennikarskie (TD). The “small media law” passed in late December 2015 meant the replacement of the managing board of public broadcasters TVP and Polskie Radio, which started a top-down dismissal process that is still ongoing.

Among the first wave of dismissals was Tomasz Lis, a TVP presenter who hosted a talk show and was a winner of the annual Hyena of the Year, an anti-prize for unreliability and disregard for the principles of journalistic ethics. The prize is awarded by the journalist union Stowarzyszenie Dziennikarzy Polskich (SDP), which is generally rather supportive of PiS. Teresa Bochwic, a member of the SDP management board, expressed a characteristic view in her assessment of the “good change”: “For better or for worse, the lying propaganda has stopped for good. On TV, there is regular information and pluralistic current affairs. Pro-governmental? Perhaps even sometimes pro-governmental, but at least not deceitful.”

Even among the sympathetic SDP, however, PiS’ moves towards increased restriction on the movement of journalists and the dismissal of Henryk Grzonka from Radio Katowice, where he had worked for almost 30 years and had recently served as editor-in-chief, has raised concerns.

TD, the youngest of Poland’s journalist unions, was founded in 2012 out of the realisation that “in journalism, we can no longer be together”, according to co-founder Seweryn Blumsztajn.

In an interview with Index on Censorship, TD co-founder Wojciech Maziarski said that the recent dismissals have the character of “political cleansing”, which started progressively from the top, and then moved gradually to the lower ranks of what he considers to be state media.

“The ones to bite the bullet first were journalists and editors of news and current affairs programmes, as they…have the biggest influence on public opinion,” he said.

“The state media is intended to shape citizens of the new, right-wing Poland, which means that gradually, all will be replaced who are associated with liberal thought, feminism, left-wing ideas, even if they don’t engage directly in topical political debates,” Maziarski added.

Apart from Lis and several other well-known personalities, dismissals included Dariusz Łukawski, vice-chair of the journalist section of TVP2, and lead correspondent Piotr Krasko at TVP1’s main news outlet Wiadomosci.

Later, the axings reached media workers from various programmes and ranks, which could also explain more recent dismissals or transfers in regional branches of the public TV and radio broadcasters. Throughout March and April, more cases emerged: Marta Bobowska from TVP Opole had to put down her work and leave mid-day on 12 April; and Wojciech Biedak, editor at Poznan’s Polskie Radio affiliated Radio Merkury.

According to Maziarski, the number of dismissals shows that state authorities view the media as “a frontline in a political war – and this line has to be stacked with trusted and tried soldiers”, which necessitates the exclusion of “not only critical journalists but everyone who thinks independently”.

This may have been the issue for TVP Info editors Izabela Leśkiewicz and Magdalena Siemiątkowska, who were dismissed from their posts in mid-March immediately after a dispute with station management. Leśkiewicz and Siemiątkowska disagreed with the portrayal of the anti-PiS NGO the Committee of Democratic Defence (KOD) in a segment to be aired. KOD was founded following PiS’s electoral success in late 2015 and has since been actively rallying public opinion to protest government policy around the country.

Monitoring body KRRiT has repeatedly accused TVP of bias in its reports on the civil society organisation. The day before another KOD demonstration, the managing board of TVP Info decided it would not air a live broadcast of the beginning of the march, and specific narratives on “how KOD is hating on normal citizens” would be shown instead. Leśkiewicz and Siemiątkowska were dissatisfied with this and offered an alternative, more nuanced programme set-up. TVP Info management then fired the pair. Two other TVP journalists, Agata Całkowska and Łukasz Kowalski, resigned in protest.

Currently, new media legislation is being considered in parliament. This draft law would amount to a structural and financial overhaul of the public broadcaster. Under the draft, heads of the new “national media” outlets would be “appointed by a six-person National Media Council elected by the lower house of parliament, the Senate and the president for a six-year term” with one of the council slots legally guaranteed for the largest opposition caucus, according to Radio Poland. The proposed law would also replace the current license fee with a monthly “audiovisual” charge added to Poles’ electric bills beginning in January 2017.

Unlike Poland‘s three other journalists’ unions, Towarzystwo Dziennikarskie is boycotting the draft media law consultation being conducted by the minister for cultural affairs. Maziarski explains the union’s standpoint: “A big problem for public media in Poland is their financing. The introduction of a general audio-visual fee has been one of the main demands of the journalist environment. However, the fee introduced through the proposed law is intended to serve the maintenance of an indoctrination machinery and the PiS propaganda rather than public media. In effect, public media in Poland have ceased to exist.”

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3 responses to “Poland’s “political cleansing” of journalists”

  1. boggled says:

    Interesting that an website about censorship actual feels the need for a moderation of comments and the right to censor them.

  2. Knight says:

    Yes, and Mrs. Otwinowski is organising a media Holocaust.

  3. boggled says:

    Today, as seen in relation to Ukraine and MH17, there are a lot of false narratives flooding the airwaves by booggers and journalists alike. All originating promoting a proKremlin theme.
    You also have the false ‘activist’ whose lifestyle is paid for by lying to people to get donations to keep the spin of lies going.
    One such is Josh Fox of the anti-Fracking group. A true waste and should be exposed for the fraud he is.
    The proKremlin groups are attempting to do anything to bring down a nations moral, sow chaos using deception and other items listed under the russian term – Maskirovka (Маскировка)
    Sorry I am not sure of the Polonia term for it.
    Activist use it, subversives use it, anarchist use it for their own little goals.

    What to do with people that do this? What crosses the line of treason to a nations security? What did people of Poland and other nations fight for? The release from Moscow oppression, which millennials seem to be fighting to reintroduce forgetting history? Should this be activity be marginalized?
    Do you want these groups creating chaos of the gullible to their message?

    In my opinion, yes it should be marginalized. I do not want to see children of 5 years old being taught to kill with Saturday morning cartoons as they do in Palestine.

    Something needs to be done to stop the false activism, because if it is not stopped, your children join Daesh or ISIS because they hear a message that is meant to coerce the gullible that are unable or unwilling to search for the real facts.

    Freedom of speech does not equate to endangering the lives of the nation by actions of subversives outside the country who play snake oil salesman.

    Those who forget history are those doomed to repeat it, and allowing subversives to hide under the cloak of freedom of lying is wrong.
    Russian media should be stood up to and even banned and repeatedly fined heavily for its repeated outrageous lies.

    Websites should be closed of bloggers that promote that same lying message.
    The fines are not heavy enough for the journalists and editors that promote lies.
    Kremlin with its barrels of money are willing to pay editors fines for them if they promote a false message of the Kremlin state message.

    That needs to be stood up to.
    Because it just creates chaos as it intends to do.
    You have the Kremlin state sponsored message because they want to re enlarge its sphere of influence and break a bond of what the free world has promoted.

    Freedom comes with responsibility, and if you break that responsibility, you lose part of your freedom.

    IF you kill someone while drunk driving you lose your freedoms to drive and also to live in normal society.

    Journalists and media who tell bold faced lies, should lose their freedoms.
    And face restrictions on their ‘freedom’ to spread a subversive message.

    The line of where it is a bold faced lie, can be a grey one.

    Let the courts decide it, but right now regulators of the communications industry should be doing their job of enforcement of subversive lying and slander, but they are not.

    Media usually is left to police itself in ‘free’ countries, but media and regulators are failing, so something needs to be done.

    Enforcement of media laws and regulations is correct, and stopping the subversive acts of outside countries is correct.

    Be it Muslim message of Sharia Law trumping a nations laws, be it communism, be it a rise of the Miem Kumpf (sp) message, be it a proMoscow message coming from the Kremlin, etc.

    They all seek to abuse ‘freedom of speech’so therefore they lose that freedom of speech and should be marginalized and pushed to the side and definitely not subsidized or promoted by the nation’s taxpayers, IMHO.

    Should they be banned? No, I do not think so, but they should be heavily watched and regulated to prevent the loss of freedoms that you do enjoy.

    There is a major loss of freedoms under communism and socialism and an Islam run nation which the subversive activists don’t want you to know.
    Capitalism needs to be watched as well.

    The current crackdown on lying media is part of the checks and balance equation.
    Lying subversive groups have been allowed too long a free hand in media.
    It has to be pushed against.

    Fare thee well