Warsaw, March 3 2016
To the members of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
I am writing to present the views of the members of Poland’s Society of Journalists on the occasion of your meeting on 8 March 2016 in Paris which will hear an exchange of views on the state of democracy and the rule of law in Poland.
Our society was established in 2012 to ensure a plurality of views on media matters in Poland’s public debate and has since sought to defend the freedom of speech and journalistic standards in our country.
Most recently we appealed to the Polish Ombudsman to ask the Constitutional Tribunal to examine the law entitled „on changing the law on radio and television” passed by Parliament on December 30 2015. In our view this law runs counter to the guarantees of freedom of speech enshrined in our Constitution.. This law puts the government in direct control of the public service broadcast media and severely limits the powers of the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT). The KRRiT is the constitutional organ established to protect freedom of speech and ensure a fair and full representation of public opinion free of political influence in the electronic media .
Since the beginning of this year the authorities in our country have taken full advantage of the new law to appoint new heads of public television and radio who have proceeded to ensure that these media primarily now represent the views of the government. Mr Jacek Kurski, the new head of public television, said on taking over as head of public TV that he will conduct personel policy with „a surgical scalpel and not a lawn mower” and indeed this selective policy of sackings has the resulted in the resignations, dismissals and transfers of over prominent 70 media employees and managers in the past eight weeks.
The new law passed on December 30 is to be superseded by a further law which will establish new ,National Media, in place of the existing radio and television stations but as yet few details have emerged of the forthcoming legislation. However judging by statements made by the authors of the new draft law and the practices followed in the past weeks by the new managers of our public media there is little chance that the new law will follow the Declaration on Public Service Media Governance made in 2012 by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe which urges that these media should remain independent of political and economic interference and should be accountable and transparent.
It has to be said that commercial media , both broadcast and print, retains full ability to put forward views which are independent of the government and to crititicise government policy as they see fit. However we fear that , in time, our present authorities will move to influence commercial television where the owners have other business interests such as in the energy sector or in telecommunications and are thus vulnerable to government pressure. Also government advertising flows can also be used to influence recalcitrant media. Already our country’s courts have been told to stop subscriptions to the Gazeta Wyborcza daily and the Polityka weekly. Such moves have led in Hungary and in Russia to the marginalisation of independent media.
In defending their present policies government representatives have quoted statements issued by the Association of Polish Journalists (SDP) which describe the situation of the public media under the former government „as reaching a state of pathology characterised by political partisanship and a lack of pluralism”. We reject this view. Studies of the public media done during elections in this period showed a lack of bias towards competing political parties, for example. What the government representatives fail to add is that the SDP has for some years been controlled by supporters of the present ruling party and their view is necessarily biased. If there is any criticism which we would make of the former government it would be that it showed too little interest in supporting the public service media. This was symbolised by a statement by the then Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk who publicly suggested that people should stop paying the licence fee which to a large extent funds the public media.
The experience of the past few weeks has shown that the present authorities have no intention of respecting the principles of public service broadcasting as developed by the Council of Europe in the near future. It is also evident that Poland needs strong and independent publicly funded public service media. We look to the Council of Europe and its parliamentary assembly to help us to work to achieve this gaol.
President, Society of Journalists
PS I enclose a list of journalists and media managers in the public media who have been sacked, forced to resign and demoted in the since the beginning of this year.