Media at the authority service
The freedom of word has been restricted for several years, both by the state authorities and the main media – such alarming conclusions were published in a report prepared by the Association ‘Poland is the most important’.
The authors of the report are convinced that the media ‘order’ existing in Poland has played a key role in the parliamentary campaign and had an indirect influence on the election among millions of Poles. – It is amazing that the biggest Polish media have been in ‘opposition to opposition’ for nearly four years. This situation leads to the pathology of our democracy – says Teresa Bochwic to ‘Niedziela’, the former member of the Council for the Ethics of Media, and co-author of the Report about dangers of the freedom of word in Poland in the years 2010-2011, and which was prepared by the Association ‘Poland is the most important’. (Please, do not mistake it with party called Poland is the most important).
The negative diagnosis of media in Poland is clearly noticed also by the chairman of the association, Professor Jan Żaryn, a historian from University of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński. In his opinion two parallel worlds are visible. The first one can be compared to matrix, that is, a ‘reality’ created by media. – On the other hand, we have got a real world which lives authentic problems but, unfortunately, is not allowed for public discourse, and each attempt to shout out the truth about the reality in Poland meets with repressions – emphasises professor Żaryn. Permanent lack of access to real information not only destroys our country but, first of all, makes Poles become slaves who are told by a narrow group of people what is the truth and what is not. If we do not stop the government from seizing more and more public space, then we will become the slaves in the hands of this giver of matrix – warns professor Żaryn.
‘Finishing a group of politicians’
According the report by the Association ‘Poland is the most important’, it is the ruling party which, via its several representatives, introduced insults and clowning into the public language, both in the parliament and media. Its representatives express their opinions in media very lightly on values important in the European civilisation such as respect to the dead and those who are mourning their widows and orphans, compassion to the weak or the right to express their religiousness publicly. Journalists also of the mainstream media often join this mocking choir. The example can be falsifying and mocking at the picture of the late President’s couple. – Only after their tragic death in the Smolensk catastrophe, shocked Poles saw nice photos which had never been seen– emphasise the authors of the report.
It was one of the government ministers who used a term ‘cattle’ towards the electors of opposition parties and another minister announced a fight with the opposition till ‘finishing a group of politicians’. The former vice-director of the parliamentary club of the ruling party was reviling at the former president on TV, he wished him his death and after the catastrophe he expressed his sorrow publicly that his brother had not died with him. If this kind of words were said by the opposition, it would meet with the great media campaign. Whereas indiscriminate statements by politicians of the ruling party are treated as something ‘normal’ – emphasises Teresa Bochwic.
As an example of the manipulation within the evaluation of the Polish political stage, we can use a generally cited fragment from a book by Jarosław Kaczyński in which the leader of the opposition wrote that Angela Markel became Chancellor of Germany not by accident. After the publicity of these words a great media campaign quickly began against the president of the Law and Justice party. However, the words of Minister Radosław Sikorski from WikiLeaks were treated completely differently; he said that ‘Germany is a Russian’s Trojan horse in Europe’.
‘Small acts of law’ of Jasna Góra
This kind of manipulations concerns not only politicians but also a large part of our society. We have seen many one-sided reports from the Presidential Palace when journalists were mocking at people praying at the cross in Krakowskie Przedmieście. Therefore, not only opposition politicians are stigmatized but also their supporters and potential electors. An excellent example for that can be incidents at the walls of Jasna Góra which were used by pro-government media – mainly ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’(‘Electoral Newspaper’) and television Polsat. The report of the Association ‘Poland is the most important’ exposes the manipulations and shows that those were ordinary provocations, the so called ‘small acts of law’, which were arranged first and then fuelled by journalists. Due to them one could devaluate a chosen group of the Polish society, suggesting hooligan behaviour of listeners of Radio Maryja.
According to the information in ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’ (‘Electoral Newspaper’) on 20 July 2010 Rafał Maszkowski, an internet publicist and author of a website criticising Radio Maryja, participated in the incident. Film crew attached a small microphone to his shirt in order to record reactions of people to leaflets criticising Radio Maryja. When the organizer of the pilgrimage, Father Andrukiewicz came up to Maszkowski, it came to a dispute.
The provocation of ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’ (‘Electoral Newspaper’) was exposed by the portal Frond.pl which stated that Maszkowski had planned his action earlier and it was him who brought a journalist from ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’(‘Electoral Newspaper’). However, a film director refused to make the fragment of the film available to Frond, which was supposed to show the attack of Father Andrukiewicz. He said that he had handed it to the television TVN and Polsat. Whereas, the chairman of TVN Karol Smoląg said that the scene of an attack is not seen in the film and the material is of low quality.
We could observe a similar situation in July 2011 on Polsat TV. According to the report of this TV station, an irascible participant of the pilgrimage was going to snatch the microphone and hit a reporter of the TV station and maul a cameraman. ‘In September 2011 the witnesses of the incident were wanted because law enforcement authorities did not consider amateur films in which it was seen that the attacking party was the journalist’ – we read in the report by the Association ‘Poland is the most important’. Mainstream media mostly keep silent about inconvenient information for the government, they manipulate materials in a way agreeable with their expectations and even they organize events in order to criticise or condemn unpopular and inconvenient environments. Therefore journalists do not often show the real reality but they create it.
Punishing ‘Rzeczpospolita’ newspaper (‘Commonwealth’ newspaper)?
The most worrying facts are extreme politicization of public media which belong to the whole society. Recently several journalists have been dismissed from TVP television and their programs were removed from the station. – This phenomenon is accompanied by the exchange of elites which are invited to television. Instead of the programs by prof. Zdzisław Krasnodębski, dr. Barbara Fedyszak-Radziejowska or prof. Andrzej Nowak we can listen only to those who favour the government. Some views and opinions were brutally amputated from the public space of TVP – says prof. Jan Żaryn.
Another worrying and strange phenomenon is the sale of the company issuing the newspaper ‘Rzeczpospolita’ (‘Commonwealth’) – one of the biggest Polish dailies which have diverse conservative and right-winged profiles. So far, the daily has been perceived as the only mainstream medium looking at the hands of the government. – It began when English newspapers wrote about the pressure put on the majority owner by the Treasury Minister in order to reconstruct the editorial office. The English refused the Polish minister but in September 2010, the Mecom Group dismissed its director, David Montgomery supporting the conservative trend in ‘Rzeczpospolita’ (‘Commonwealth’ newspaper) – reminds Teresa Bochwic.
Later the government decided to encourage the British publishing company Mecom Group to the sell its shares; this company had 51 percents of shares in the Presspublic Company, the editor of ‘Rzeczpospolita’. The takeover of the company is also connected with the control of the social and political weekly. ‘Uważam Rze’ newspaper has been a success on the press market. In the beginning of July 2011 the English sold their shares to Gremi Group, that is, Grzegorz Hajdarowicz, the owner of some newspapers not connected with conservative readers. ‘His business partner is Kazimierz Mochoł, the former director of counterintelligence and a vice-director of Military Information Services’ – we read in the report. The company declares to buy the remaining part of the Presspublic Company. In this way the country contributes to destroy the media representing a big part of the society and excludes their views from the public debate.
Slaves of Matrix
The defenders of the freedom of word in Poland must have more determination and courage. Unruly journalists can reckon with more and more serious repressions of the government. The examples of intercepted, beaten and thrown journalists have been known till now rather from the history of Polish People’s Republic and from our Eastern border. In 2009 it came to light that the special services invigilate journalists criticising the government and revealing links of the Military Information Services. Whereas, last year we witnessed a journalist beaten by town guards and arrested by the police, and even the intervention of the Internal Security Agency in a flat of a rebellious blogger. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has to deal with the matters of victims and intercepted journalists more often. Titles and media opposing to the authority are marginalized and ridiculed at present, and topics or uncovered scandals shown through them are not taken by the mainstream media. In this way a specific ‘media ghetto’ was created which, practically, is deprived of the access to the advertising market. A discussion between editorial offices is also limited. Criticism of, for example, ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’(‘Electoral newspaper’) usually ends up in the court. Adam Michnik , the chief editor of ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’ (‘Electoral newspaper’) is known for taking dozens of legal proceedings for libel. The paradox of the history is the fact that the former dissident, a defender of human rights and a political prisoner in the times of the Polish People’s Republic prosecutes others today.
The fight with the current system of media which favours the present authority is very difficult. In order to crowd out the large part of the public opinion into the margin of the social life, the whole state apparatus is used more often – like the police, courts and even special services. Step by step, the authority is stepping into more and more absurdities. It can not only extinguish candles at the Presidential Palace or ‘arrest’ flowers arranged in the street but it can also withdraw grants for universities. – After the defence of the Master’s thesis on the past of Lech Wałęsa by Paweł Zyzak, the Jagiellonian University did not receive any grant for the development of the university. One disloyal work was enough to start a gigantic apparatus of repression. In this way not only the freedom of word is restricted but also the freedom of study on the modern history – explains prof. Żaryn.
If the expansion of the authority increases, Poland may resemble Russia more and more where media and the whole state apparatus are used only to care for the authority. In Moscow mainly media are in ‘opposition to opposition’ and the environment where the authority on Kremlin is talked about in a bad light, are marginalized, ridiculed, omitted and....closed! Without media balance and journalists looking at the hands of the authority, only facade democracy is possible. – Although we see dangers, it does not mean that the freedom of word in Poland is completely restricted or closed. We are not Belarus or Russia. We are not them yet – warns Teresa Bochwic.