‘Janosik’ and other serials – to come under the hammer

Wieslawa Lewandowska talks to Witold Kolodziejski, the chairman of the National Council of Radio and Television Broadcasting (KRRiTV), about the order and disorder in the media.

Television is something more than the market; more than earning money… It is an institution that sets the level of public debate, institution that influences the level of culture, and it should shape our tastes.

Wieslawa Lewandowska: – So far you have been the only chairman of the National Council of Radio and Television Broadcasting that has been criticised for your political relations, and it is said that during your term the National Council is too politicised. Does this not disturb you?

Witold Kolodziejski: – No, it doesn’t. I simply reconciled myself to the fact that becoming the chairman of so important, and after all constitutional institution, I have assumed a political function. I realise that this unique criticism of my person results from the fact that people associate me with the right wing party. If I had been connected with the former Freedom Union or even the Democratic Left Alliance there would have been no big uproar, but a relationship with the right wing parties, especially with Law and Justice, is a mortal sin! Despite that I am happy that I have been ascribed to the right wing since my point of view is, of course, right conservative and I can see no reason to be ashamed of that although for many environments, including journalists, it is a reason for criticism and exclusion.

– The politicians from the liberal circles, allegedly in the name of freedom of speech, undermine the sense of the existence of such a controlling body, which is the ‘disruptive’ KRRiTV. Perhaps we do not need it any longer?

– It is needed. And we should not plead liberal ideas since referring to the market of the media: wherever these ideas have been implemented they have turned destructive, and anyway, they have evoked many bad social and cultural phenomena. The electronic media have a natural tendency to be entertaining media. And the more they serve entertainment the more profitable for their owners they are. Thus, we have a model of completely pauperised, tabloidised television programmes. The American experiences show that where there are no proper regulations one can see a decrease in the quality of television programmes. Additionally, there is a very clear crack between the rich and the poor parts of the society: the poor use the rubbishy, free offer whereas the rich pay for the access to the codified, slightly better (but not too much) and ambitious programmes.

– What are the effects of the KRRiTV watching the quality of media productions in Poland?

– Our concession policy leads to the rule that a broadcaster is not the one that can offer more money but the one that can create a worthier programme. We try to develop new and valuable projects in the concession policy. That’s why I think that today in Poland the radio market is developing fairly well and correctly. We have succeeded in developing Radio RMF Classic; there are new radio networks having more and more ambitious programmes and those who apply for concessions compete in proposals concerning subjects and the number of special talk programmes on the air. In spite of the increasing financial problems the public radio has not limited its offer for the last three years. On the contrary, the radio has widened its offer.

– If the KRRiTV is needed, it can exist not in the present form but as a completely ‘new’ body, which we can hear in discussions concerning various projects of the media bill. What kind of council – depoliticised?

– It is demagogic to speak about depoliticisation of such a ‘new’ organ. The question arises: who and how is to select apolitical professionals… In any case we will always have to do with some form of politicisation. Depoliticisation has no chance because it cannot be implemented. And no bill, even the best one, will force that. I can give the example of the project by Mrs Sledzinska-Katarasinska (the Parliament fortunately did not pass the bill when the MPs voted the President’s veto) in which one paragraph referred to the recommendations of the artistic environments to appoint the Council members whereas all other paragraphs completely demolished the legal media order in Poland. But nobody spoke about that. People demagogically repeated only the demand to depoliticise the Council.

– If that bill had been passed in the Parliament what would the Council have looked like?

– It would not have had any greater meaning and actually it would not have existed. But what would have been worse is that the effects of this bill would have been catastrophic for the media, especially the public media. All things would have fallen prey to the telecommunication markets.

– What would that have meant?

– It would have been a very wide conception of deregulation of the Polish media market. The media market would have been completely beyond any control and would have been managed by various corporations and not by the concession policy. One could have hardly imagined any policy of the state in the field of electronic media. The authors of that bill did not seem to notice that television was something more than the free market, more than earning money; that television was an institution that set the level of public debate, which influenced the level of culture and should shape our tastes, etc. All these things would have been completely cancelled, razed to the ground, by that bill.

– New projects have been proposed. Do you think they are better?

– Unfortunately, they are not since they contain no vision of public television. Of course, the ideas to define the ways of choosing the members of the National Council return, as if it were most important… There are no ideas how the public television is to function in the future!

– Perhaps we lack these elements because the initiators speak about ‘the necessity to turn the public media from head to feet’?

– And it seems to me that it is rather changing the media order from the vertical to the horizontal position, and speaking concretely, to knock out the public television. The project of the bill (which we had a chance to read and evaluate) proposes the so-called fund for public mission, the money of which would be directed to concrete mission programmes and not, which is more meaningful, to mission channels. Therefore, there is no single mission public television. The mission programmes are to be ‘distributed’ in various channels, for which the broadcasters would receive financial means from the state budget through the KRRiTV.

– It seems fairly reasonable under the condition that the budget gives large amounts for worthy programmes. However, you may doubt whether this is possible...

– I share these doubts. I think it is a weird idea. Especially, if we take into account the proposed sums which are to be the revenues from the licence fee in 2007, i.e. 880 million zloty a year, for all mission programmes in all channels… And in 2007 it was known that it was far too little! This sum covered only 25% of the expenses of the public television, which forced it to become commercialised beyond measure, to the dissatisfaction of all people, broadcasting little ambitious programmes that drew advertisement-givers.

– So perhaps the licence fee is not a good solution?

– I don’t think so. Although we have one of the lowest licence fees in Europe it would be enough to ensure its collection to warranty its worthy existence and worthy programmes of public media. You can solve this problem. The ‘mission fee’, proposed by the initiators of the new bill, is so small that certainly we must expect even greater commercialisation of the Polish public media if they survived somehow. And if they survived, the more ambitious channels would be necessarily cut off (e.g. TVP Info). Perhaps the commercial competition will fill this gap. Perhaps that is what is all about… In my opinion financing the mission from the state budget is to delude people that the government is so good since it relieves the society of the burden of this unpleasant tax in the form of the fee.

– Do you know a better solution?

– Yes, I do, for example President Sarkozy proposes such a solution to his countrymen. Under the pressure of the wide social discussion he pusses his project in France. He wants to limit advertisements in the public television and gradually withdraw them but in exchange he introduces a special tax on telecommunication services, e.g. on the Internet so that he could lead a co-ordinated media policy.

– In Poland the situation is the other way round?

– It seems so. Evidently, we have to do with the action destroying the public television. Unfortunately, you cannot repair the damages today. We have no substantial debate on this project and we cannot expect any… Additionally, those who speak about the media bill have nothing to do with the media. I am horrified by some politicians’ statements concerning this subject and the reason is that they look at them only from the perspective of political clients of television stations.

– And not from the perspective of those who aim at privatisation of the public television, which the left-wing politicians are very much afraid of?

– Today, when we have the digital technology we do not need to privatise the public television at all. This is not a desirable thing. It will be enough that TVP makes room on the market; that it will make its part of ‘the advertisement tort’ available. Therefore, it is enough to marginalize it so that the advertisement-givers go to other broadcasters.

– Does it mean that TVP can simply, slowly, as if at its own request, plunge into non-existence?

– We do not know the final version of the project of this new bill but it seems that the bill aims at marginalizing or commercialising the public television. In both cases the sense of existence of this television as a public media will be doubtful.

– And what will be only left from the public television is its rich and valuable archives…

– Unfortunately, they will not be preserved! The bad thing in this new bill is the idea of parcelling out the TVP archives. If they are given to the commercial media in any way it will be the last nail in the coffin of the public television.

– Why?

– The public television should guard this cultural heritage that it took over in 1993 from the Radio Committee. It should pass it to all those who pay licence fee. As the BBC does it, making its archives available through the Internet. But the bill proposed by the Citizen’s Platform would cause that the most popular productions will be bought by the commercial stations at once. The TV serials ‘Janosik’, ‘Czterej pancerni i pies’, ‘Czterdziestolatek’ and other popular ones will go under the hammer and the ambitious documentaries and concerts will remain in the under-financed storage rooms. They will get mouldy and be lost forever.

"Niedziela" 11/2009

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl