Back to the 1980s’ for Polish broadcasting?

New law means journalists report direct to government

Interview by Jane Whyatt, research by Christian Schult
A new law signed on 7th January by Polish President Andrzej Duda puts the Treasury Minister in charge of appointing the governing bodies of public service broadcasters TVP and Radio Poland.


KOD Demonstration in Warsaw of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy KOD Demonstration in Warsaw of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (photo: flickr/Grzegorz Żukowski)

And according to the Chairman of the National Broadcasting Council of Poland Jan Dworak, it turns the clock back to the 1980s. In those days Dworak was Editor-in-Chief of Glos Wolny. He played a big part in Lech Walesa’s Solidarity movement, agitating for human rights against the Communist government. Now Poland is an EU member state with all that that means for press freedom. The new law has caused outrage in Brussels and Digital Rights Commissioner Günther Oettinger is investigating whether it contravenes the rule of law.

A number of leading TV executives have resigned, including TVP’s Katarzyna Janowska and the famous moderator Tomasz Lis. The ECPMF has expressed solidarity with them and joined a chorus of disapproval against the new law from human rights groups and journalists’ unions across Europe.

Jan DworakInterviewed by ECPMF, Jan Dworak of the Broadcasting Council of Poland (KRRiT) commented that some of those who resigned are the same critical jounalists who were sacked the last time the ruling Law and Justice Party (pol.: Prawo i Sprawiedliwość/PiS) came to power, ten years ago.

ECPMF: What was the build-up to this new broadcasting Law? Did it come as a surprise?

Dworak: Actually the changes were announced by the Law and Justice Party before the election on October 25th, so we knew then.

What is its effect?

The new law has only just been signed so up to now, there is only expectation and nervousness on the board and also between the advertisers. The actual changes will bring a totally new reality very fast, even by tomorrow.

Several Senior TV executives, who are respected journalists, have resigned in protest. What is your reaction to these resignations?

This is entirely a personal decision for the persons concerned, and these decisions should be regarded with respect. Some professionals treat their work not as a job but as a mission and they are concerned about maintaining the highest journalistic standards. Some of them had previously been suddenly dismissed from their jobs the last time the Law and Justice Party was in power, ten years ago.

Extract from Polish Broadcasting Bill Extract from Polish Broadcasting Bill

How do you regard the international outcry and the fears that are being expressed for the independence of public service broadcasting in Poland?

We very much appreciate the support of international associations, journalistic institutions and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs). It’s very important. We had similar expressions of support during the 1980s under Communism. I am aware that the protests won’t change the state of the art in Poland … we have to deal with our challenges alone, but they show we have support in Europe.

How do you feel about possible EU intervention?

We are among friends so the concerns of the EU Commission are genuine, in a spirit of co-operation. But our problems have to be dealt with by Polish citizens, by society as a whole.

What more could we do to show solidarity?

The new Broadcasting Act is just a first step toward final reform of public service broadcasting. The second part will be presented by the end of June 2016. We advise you to constantly follow developments, be a constant follower and keep the European public informed.

How are the TVP viewers and Radio Poland listeners affected?

It is hard to predict, but there is at least a threat that this situation might lead to a state where government positions will be promoted more and the diversity of opposition opinions might not be adequately presented, as the journalists are now directly employed by the government. But this is just a threat and we are following the developments.

In a spirit of solidarity with our colleagues in Poland the ECPMF will talk with several Polish journalists and experts in the next following weeks. You can read their opinions and recent developments on our website