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24.08.2017

"The most dangerous are the threats from politicians” - press freedom in Poland

by Jessica Jacques, ECPMF

The ECPMF is investigating reports of hate speech and disrespect towards journalists at broadcaster Polish Television TVP. The TV network has been the subject of intense discussions about its political agenda since the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power in 2015. 

 

Protests against journalists in Poland Protests against journalists in Poland

Five members of the TVP Working Group of Journalists, including two Vice Presidents of the SDP (the Polish Journalists Association) have written to the ECPMF to draw to our attention a number of attacks on TVP journalists by members of the public, and by some political parties and organisations.

The ECPMF has been in touch with one of these journalists, Piotr Gursztyn, who has been working for TVP since January 2016. An author and journalist for over 20 years, he has worked for a number of radio and television stations, and newspapers. He was head of the history channel ’TVP Historia’, and then head of the Programming Bureau.

Gursztyn reports that, “these attacks on journalists - who are just doing their job - are not just verbal, but more and more often they are also physical assaults.” According to Gursztyn, those assaults are directed at employees of TVP, whose only ‘fault’ is “their aim to report events and relay their knowledge to the viewers of Polish Public Television.” He cites as an example Jakub Wątły, a journalist at the Polish news and entertainment channel, Superstacja, who rudely attacked TVP journalists on the private television station, calling them “dirty, stinking scumbags.” More worrying still is that some politicians and party leaders, who have recently held high office in official Polish bodies, are encouraging such attacks.

Matylda Falkiewicz, a Polish supporter of ECPMF, observes that there is general hate speech and disrespect from both sides: “This problem is not limited to TVP journalists.”

Polish Television (TVP)

TVP is the oldest television station in Poland. It is a member of the European Broadcasting Union and its partners include BBC World Service, ARTE and RAI. TVP covered the 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw, the Pope's visit at 2016 World Youth Day in Krakow as well as US President Donald Trump’s 2017 visit to Poland.

As we found in our media freedom fact-finding mission in January 2016, many anti-PiS broadcasters in TVP have been removed or resigned from their jobs in the winter of 2015. So it is not surprising that there is now a backlash against the now largely pro-government state broadcaster.

It is reporters covering political demonstrations who have been the victims of these incidents: they have been pushed, shoved and threatened and above all this interferes with their work of recording and broadcasting the demonstrations. 

Gursztyn is clear: “The most dangerous are the threats from politicians.” And this is where the situation has changed: “Previously there was no top-level inspiration.” He claims that now those who were, until recently, in top-level government positions (and who will probably get into office once again) are taking part in these assaults. To Gursztyn it seems obvious that the attacks are politically motivated. Polish society is deeply divided. Before the last election, as our fact-finders observed, the liberal message dominated the media. Since the parliamentary elections in 2015, more conservative journalists have been employed at the national TV station TVP. According to Gursztyn this is “a shock for many liberals.”

The ECPMF has observed how the new conservative PiS government has threatened press and media freedom in Poland, culminating in the fact-finding mission to Warsaw and Wroclaw in January 2016. Yet the case of the TVP journalists under threat demonstrates that the issue is not one-sided and there is a more complex interaction between different media and political actors. Although the aggression is the work of a minority, the lack of opposition from politicians, and moreover the participation by some of them, will only encourage further attacks, notes Gursztyn.

 

This video which was recorded on December 17th 2016 during a demonstration by government opponents near the Sejm (parliament), shows a large crowd abusing and drowning out the words of a TVP Info reporter. Jacek Kozłowski, the former Governor of Masovian District and a Civic Platform election candidate for the European Parliament and the Sejm, was one of those who allegedly physically attacked the reporter. 

While some TV crews in Germany only attend demonstrations with their own private security guards, Gursztyn thinks that, for the time being, no additional security measures are needed in Poland: “At this stage it is enough to explicitly condemn the perpetrators of the attacks.” He also remarks on the fall in prestige for the profession of journalism: “Once [journalists] were highly respected by society and reporters were welcomed with kindness.” Recently, on both sides of the political spectrum, many journalists have been too involved in the story and biased - thus respect for journalists has dropped significantly.

Piotr Gursztyn’s reports have been substantiated by Dorota Zielińska, Foreign Cooperation Officer at the Polish Journalists Association (SDP), a member of the European Federation of Journalists.





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