Poland: Regulator Fine against TVN appears to punish independent journalism

ECPMF

22 March 2024

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Poland’s politically controlled media regulator punishes private TV channel for a documentary on child abuse in the church

 

The undersigned partner organizations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today condemn the 550.000 PLN (approximately 127.000 EUR) fine issued by Poland’s National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) to TVN, one of Poland’s largest broadcasters. The fine is yet another reminder of the urgent need to reform Poland’s politicized regulator.

 

KRRiT issued the fine on March 6 following its investigation into a documentary film aired by TVN in March 2023. The documentary, which was part of a series on child abuse in the Catholic Church, delved into allegations surrounding Pope John Paul II’s potential involvement in covering up the scandal.

 

KRRiT is headed by Maciej Świrski, appointed by the parliament in 2022, who is known to be a close ally of the former governing Law and Justice (PiS) party. KRRiT remains an institution under PiS influence with a history of harassing independent and opposition media under the previous government. This included issuing arbitrary fines and delaying decisions on license renewals for TVN, TVN24 and TOK FM, which breached the body’s own rules and created economic uncertainty for targeted independent outlets.

 

Under Świrski, KRRiT fined TOK FM 80.000 PLN (roughly 19.000 EUR) in April 2023 for ‘inciting hatred’ when a commentator claimed that new school history books reminded him of language used in Nazi youth textbooks. It also fined Eurozet/Radio Zet 476.000 PLN for ‘promoting false information’ for a broadcast claiming US secret services had transported Ukraine’s President Zelensky through Poland without seeking assistance or properly informing Polish authorities.

 

KRRiT has yet to rule on two more cases against TVN, for a documentary on the Smoleńsk air tragedy and a report on police actions against a woman admitted to hospital after taking an abortion pill.   

 

The latest fine against TVN demonstrates the dangers that a politically captured media regulator poses to media freedom as it misuses its powers to punish independent journalism and curtail media freedom. KRRiT, left unchecked, is reaching beyond its constitutional role of media regulator and acting like a public censor by punishing outlets for legitimate, if uncomfortable, public interest journalism.

 

The independence of regulatory bodies is vital for the transparent and impartial oversight of broadcast media and to guarantee media pluralism and media freedoms. It is also a requirement of both the European Union’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive and the new Media Freedom Act.  

 

As part of the ongoing reforms of the media sector, we call on the new government led by the Civic Coalition (KO) to ensure that media regulators, as with the public service media, are entirely independent of political and governmental control, and have no power to interfere in the editorial decisions of newsrooms.

 

Signed:

International Press Institute (IPI)

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

ARTICLE 19 Europe

This statement was coordinated as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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