In the land of mediagenic happiness
Wieslawa Lewandowska talks to Witold Kolodziejski, Chairman of the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT), about the politicisation of the public media and the desire to silence obstinate journalists.
Wieslawa Lewandowska: – Just after announcing the victory the closest collaborators of the new President, speaking about the most urgent tasks of the ruling coalition mentioned the need to deal with the public media as one of his priorities; they stressed the necessity ‘to exclude the media from political debate.’ What will it mean?
Witold Kolodziejski: – Most likely, what the Civic Platform told a long time ago, proposing its ‘small novelisation’ of the media bill. They want to pass it quickly and without difficulties, and its essence is the possibility to recall the present supervisory boards of the public media still during their terms. According to the project of the Civic Platform the renewed Advisory Board of the Polish TV should include representatives of three ministries and the remaining members are to be appointed by the new KRRiT because the present board, with the support of the acting President Bronislaw Komorowski, was ‘neutralised’ several weeks ago. In fact, the ruling party will take over the public media. Is it the end of politicisation? It is hard to believe.
– In his pre-election interview for the weekly ‘Polityka’ Prime Minister Tusk speaks about violation of the public media by the politicians of the Law and Justice party (PiS) and the Democratic Left Alliance, and thus the necessity to depoliticize the media. You are claiming that it is only another way of their politicisation.
– The politicians of the Civic Platform really use all means to convince the public opinion that the public media are dominated by the political opposition and that’s why they have prepared a corrective project according to which the TVP chairman will be appointed by the Supervisory Board, the composition of which will be decided mainly by the government. Therefore, one cannot speak about depoliticisation of the media but rather about the desire to take them over by the ruling political coalition. Let us notice how very few spheres of our public life, not ruled by the Civic Platform, we have. One of the last free spheres is the public media, which they will take over soon…
– …but the media have not been violated!
– By no means! We will see a mild but quick action, some specifically understood ‘depoliticisation’ of the public media!
– With another politicisation, which can become more dangerous than it is now?
– Yes, since after the election the monopoly of the ruling party will be completed by the monopoly of the media. We have had no such a case in free Poland so far. And we should not have any illusions that they want some good, some concord. It is enough to recollect the words of Andrzej Wajda, who supporting Bronislaw Komorowski spoke about his friends in the commercial media and the unfriendly TVP, suggesting the need to win over the Polish television by the only right, only wise political option. So soon we will find ourselves in a land of eternal happiness…
– Since the media will speak with one voice of the propaganda of success like it was during the times of the Polish People’s Republic?
– It can be so. Now the situation of the media is alarmingly politically and ideologically unified. Lately the weekly ‘Wprost’ joined the binding correctness and before the elections in 2007 ‘Dziennik’ did it and soon TVP will do it… The second half of Poland, that actually lost during the last election to a slight extent, begins to lack a wider media forum.
– This ‘worse’ half has at their disposal small niche papers or the church media.
– Unfortunately, this is the situation after twenty years of Poland’s independence! This imbalance of the media powers will be in turn reflected in politics, the national matters and the formation of the public opinion.
– This opinion has been formed by the private, commercial media to a large extent but the public media have not been fulfilling their mission anyway – this is the accusation of the reformers – because they have not kept the principle of political objectivism.
– Every journalist, including those employed in private media, is obliged to present the reality in an objective way. But in practice it is far from ideal… That’s why it would be good if particular press, radio and television editorial boards preserve the principle of objectivism, giving reliable information, presenting various opinions equally. I think that they did it in the public television, which was criticised for an extreme (ruled by Law and Justice Party) politicisation because TVP allowed such political publicists as Wildstein and Pospieszalski on the one hand and Zakowski and Lis, who were critical towards PiS, on the other hand. Therefore, speaking about the extreme politicisation of TVP is a pure demagogy. The obligation of media – all media, not only the public ones – is to present the truth. If we cannot agree how to interpret this truth we should at least let others present their views. One cannot silence journalists.
– Do you think that we are dealing with this phenomenon at present, in the world of free media?
– I am afraid so. Are we not dealing with it when the Civic Platform says the programmes of Wildstein and Pospieszalski violate democracy and that’s why the television, ‘violated’ by Law and Justice, should be rapidly depoliticised? Consequently, there are no reservations towards Jacek Zakowski who does not hide his political preferences at all? Is Zakowski more politically correct than Wildstein? I don’t think so!
– However, recently TVP1 has been often accused of being the election headquarters of Law and Justice. Wrongly? Why?
– Perhaps the only reason was that TVP1 was not so critical and malicious towards Jaroslaw Kaczyński like the other TV stations and media. We made the efforts to measure the time of the statements spoken by this candidate, by members of his campaign office and those who supported him. It turned out that during the presidential campaign Bronislaw Komorowski had much more occasions to speak on TVP than the other candidates. The quality research conducted by the Stefan Batory Foundation, directed by Wojciech Mazowiecki, said that Bronislaw Komorowski was presented on TVP frequently but in a negative way. So if you recognise only one thing that he presented himself in a negative way you can really say that TVP presented him in a negative light… But the fact is that the public television, as always, dedicated much more time to politicians than the commercial stations.
– Why is TVP1 flogged so much for its politicisation?
– I think that the real cause of this criticism is the fact Pospieszalki and Wildstein have their very popular programmes on TVP1 and politicians must regard them as people of Law and Justice…
– Recently Jan Pospieszalski has become the first political enemy through his participation in the documentary ‘Solidarni 2010’. Aren’t you not astonished by this outrage of the ‘political correct thinking’ environments at this film, describing the painfully true attitudes of Poles after the plane crash at Smolensk?
– I saw this film and was more moved than outraged… I am surprised by the fanatic criticism of this documentary and its authors. Perhaps one could have made this extraordinary document is another way but let us remember that it was made in the atmosphere of great emotions, which the whole country was really experiencing. And it is the biggest value of this film, it is its theme…This film should have been received as a description of the unimaginable deep and true national emotions. And the critics accused the authors that they did not censor people’s statements, those that were politically incorrect. So I ask why we should censor such a wonderful recording of the history we witnessed. Perhaps in Poland we will not have such films because if the public television did not make them, who would?
– Do you think we will witness the end of public media in Poland?
– I fear the worst.
– The politicians of the Civic Platform prove that all the worst that could have happened in this matter has already happened and it is the KRRiT that should be blamed for ‘the catastrophic situation of the public media’, which you are directing. What do you say?
– I will say that it is Prime Minister Tusk and other politicians of the Civic Platform that are responsible for the really bad situation (financially). And recently Jerzy Owsiak has supported them by promoting the suggestion of the Prime Minister appealing to people not to pay the licence fee. I must reprimand Owsiak reminding him that it was thanks to this fee that he could promote his Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity on the public television. No commercial station gave him a chance… I lack words to comment his attitude! But it was Donald Tusk that did the biggest harm stating just before the elections in 2007 that the licence fee is archaic and should be abolished as soon as possible. Then as the appointed Prime Minister he eagerly reminded the society of this thesis, supported by his political colleagues. This brought about a 50% decrease in the income from the licence fee! If the same politicians inform about the critical situation of the public media, blaming the Council for that, this attitude is insincere and cynical!
– Don’t you accept the argument that Poles do not simply want to pay the licence fee and the politicians of the Civic Platform meet their desire generously?
– I think that Poles could accept the argument to pay the licence fee in order to save the common good, i.e. independent public media. I am sure that it will be possible to create a tight system of licence fee, reducing its monthly level at the same time. Such a solution seems most rational since it makes the public media not dependent on the budget money, and consequently on political influences and moreover, it gives a real possibility of development, the possibility to fulfil educational, cultural mission…
– Do you agree to the accusation that the present TVP is not fulfilling its mission obligations good enough?
– Yes, I do sadly. But it is easy to show the one who should be blamed most…If someone wants to ruin the public television by limiting its finances he must remember that he will be accountable to future generations for the shape and level of public debate in Poland, also for the collapse in culture. It may happen that we will be obliged to buy cheap Hollywood films and use them to complete the programme offer… By the way, we can see this phenomenon increasing; our television is becoming commercial because of economical necessity. The chairmen admit it frankly that the first and second TV programmes cannot exist on the income coming from the decreasing licence fee – they must earn money through advertisements. The commercials also support TVP Kultura, TVP Historia and TVP Polonia and the regional stations to a large extent. This year the TVP budget deficit is 250 million zloty but nobody cares that TVP does not get any money from the state because everyone looks at it as a profitable company. Today the public television must earn money for its programmes…
– But at the cost of lowering its quality...
– Exactly! Although one must stress that TVP tries to put a considerable part of its means in more ambitious projects. Fortunately, TVP does not interrupt its programmes with commercials like the commercial stations do (and this is the most profitable way to broadcast advertisements) although it was close to use this method. I think that when the Civic Platform was ruining the system of financing public media by proposing a new bill the defenders of the public media were desperately considering the possibility to increase its takings from advertising by giving up the limitation in question.
– Do the PO politicians want to marginalise or liquidate or perhaps appropriate the media politically in this confusion concerning the public media?
– It seems that now they are deciding to take them over, to win over the public media to have their own people there. And first of all, to get rid of Law and Justice!
– And perhaps we will not see a further destruction and weakening of the public television?
– Before the parliamentary elections in 2007 Donald Tusk said that the public television in Poland was too strong and he had no reason to weaken it. If he upholds this view he will show it in the future proposals of bills. It would be the worst scenario.
– Would it be less dangerous if the ruling party took over the public media?
– I must admit that after the uncertainty and threats of the last years such a scenario would not be the worst solution since we could hope that the government would care for the public media and they would be preserved somehow. And moreover, I hope that such a monopolised situation cannot last long, that such a situation will inspire the creation of new media because as the last elections show almost half of the society would like to speak and hear their uncensored opinions.