Letter to EFJ by Krzysztof Bobinski on behalf of Journalists’ Society:
Dear friends, please take note of a recent development on Poland’s media freedom front where since coming to power in the autumn of 2015, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has sought to limit the activities of independent media, narrowing the space for views other than those approved by PiS.
Poland’s independent print and electronic media are protesting, en masse, against an official move to censor a documentary called the „the Force of Lies” broadcast in September 2022 by TVN, the US owned television broadcaster, about an air crash in 2010 in which Lech Kaczyński, Poland’s then president, his wife and 94 other senior officials died on their way to Smoleńsk in western Russia.
The protests which see publishers running the documentary on their websites, mark a new major confrontation between Poland’s free media and the government since 2021 when TVN called on their viewers to demonstrate in the streets to force the authorities to renew its broadcast license. The license was finally renewed.
KRRiT, the government controlled electronic media regulator charges that TVN “propagated false information” and „threatened public security” in its film. TVN rejects the charges saying „the public has a right to know those facts which the authorities want to keep under cover”. The KRRiT investigation could lead to major fines and even a revocation of TVN’s broadcast license, which will expire in 2024.
The 77 minute documentary revealed that a PiS controlled enquiry initiated six years after the air crash had ignored evidence in its possession which proved that the crash had been an accident. The PiS enquiry reported that the plane had crashed as a result of a bomb explosion planted to murder the Polish president. Antoni Macierewicz, the head of the second enquiry, has argued that the Russians were behind the crash.
An earlier, government enquiry had reported in the summer of 2011 that the crash had been the result of human error compounded by poor weather conditions and that ‘third parties’ had not been involved.
The KRRiT investigation into the broadcast is being led by Maciej Świrski, KRRiT’s new chief, who was appointed in autumn 2022 and who makes no secret of his hostility to TVN. The theory that the Smolensk air tragedy was a Russian plot has become an article of faith for the present government’s supporters and the charge is often repeated by Jarosław Kaczynski, the head of the Law and Justice (PiS) ruling party.
Commentators argue, however, that the case against TVN marks the start of an assault by the authorities in a battle to bring Poland’s remaining independent media under control before parliamentary elections in autumn 2023, thus marking a major threat to media freedom in the country, as PiS bids to win a third term at the polls.
Warsaw, January 5, 2023.