Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Law and Justice censors and propagandists as defenders of “freedom of speech”

TVP’s news service mostly praising the government and criticizing the opposition after Tusk’s takeover, just like before

After the ruthless takeover of Poland’s public media by the new government of Donald Tusk, which most legal experts say was done in breach of the law and the Constitution, the Law and Justice party (PiS) is calling for a demonstration on January 11 “in defense of free speech” and “media freedom.” Right-wing conservative journalist Łukasz Warzecha explains why he won’t be attending.


Łukasz Warzecha

The new government’s actions are questionable to say the least. They can be seen as directly contrary to the law, and they are certainly destabilizing Poland’s legal order. It is hard to accept the claim that what has been left by the previous government can be repaired by further destabilizing the situation and further violating the law. And it seems that the last word here has not yet been said: we still don’t know what the registry court will do. If the new state media directors appointed by Culture Minister Sienkiewicz are not entered into the national register (KRS), we will find ourselves at the next level of legal dualism and chaos, adding to the chaos that is already there. Until now, no government, in taking over the media, had caused two channels to disappear from our screens, in this case the news channel TVP Info and TVP’s regional television.

Add to this the amateurish preparation of the main news program, huge technical and journalistic errors, the disappearance of other news programs, the unclear situation of the employees of the TVP television service, the PAP news agency and Polish public radio, alongside President Duda’s decision to veto budgetary legislation that threatens to deprive the public media of money without which they may not survive.

The consequence of the government’s actions will likely be a flood of lawsuits in labor courts, advertising losses, and the need to pay compensation. At the end of the road, the nuclear option may be looming: the total or at least partial liquidation of public media.

“It is necessary to defend the legal order and go to the January 11 protest!” – some claim. Well, no – not really. The fact that the new government is clearly doing much damage to the Polish state with its ruthless actions does not in any way mean that anyone should legitimize and support the protest of the other side of this dispute. Indeed, not only can the other side be credited with the “merits” that are the direct cause of the current state of affairs, but it has also not renounced its former line of conduct in the slightest. On the contrary: it has put at the head of the protest people who embody the pathologies from which Poland’s public media suffered during their years in government.

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Let me start with a personal thread. Before the new team took over [before Christmas], TVP Info was happy to recall several times a scene from 2015 [before the parliamentary elections won by Law and Justice, when Donald Tusk’s friends were still in control of TVP], when, during a talk show in which I participated together with Norbert Maliszewski, the host Jarosław Kulczycki suggested that I was being paid by Andrzej Duda’s staff. I left the studio at that point.

The problem is that, although the behavior of Mr. Kulczycki – who is now about to take over the management of the Panorama news service [on TVP2] – was scandalous, until that moment I had been a regular guest on TVP Info, even if I presented views fundamentally different from those held by the authorities of the time. By contrast, when I upset the new authorities, I was blacklisted at TVP in 2017, and from then [until the takeover of TVP by the Tusk government] I did not appear on TVP Info a single time. This was never mentioned in the materials stigmatizing Kulczycki.

The National Media Council – which absolutely should be suppressed, except that this should be done by amending the law – has made Michał Adamczyk TVP CEO “in exile.” As a journalist and, until recently, the host of TVP’s main evening news, Adamczyk is a symbol of the worst kind of propaganda practiced by government television. People like Samuel Pereira, another completely subservient media worker, who strictly carried out party directives in the media and ensured that nothing heretical appeared in them, are now shown as fighters for freedom of speech.

Law and Justice (PiS) politicians claim to be defending freedom of speech, while during their rule freedom of speech was stifled when anyone went against the official government line. And they acted particularly fiercely toward people and organizations that were closer to them ideologically. It was PiS that used the counter-intelligence services to shut down access to the websites of first wRealu24 TV, and then the weekly Najwyższy Czas!, two right-wing media outlets. It was PiS, in the name of the public health ideology of Covid times, that caused TVP to part with Jan Pospieszalski, who had survived Donald Tusk’s previous era there. Joanna Lichocka, the National Media Council member who is now thundering in defense of “freedom of speech,” then spoke with satisfaction about the sacking of this conservative talk show host from TVP. It was PiS that had Stanisław Żaryn, the government’s delegate for security in the infosphere, spew accusations of ties with Moscow left, right, and center, trying to exclude from the public debate people with different views on Ukrainian politics than those held by the Polish government.

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Can anyone not belonging to the hard-core PiS electorate take seriously the declarations that this political party is now standing up for free speech? If PiS cared about getting the support of more moderate voters, instead of taking us for fools with this freedom-of-speech narrative, they would emphasize the legal aspect of the issue more, and make sure to withdraw people like Mr. Adamczyk and Mr. Pereira from the front line. But apparently, Jarosław Kaczyński’s party is thinking mainly of profiting from the further deepening polarization. Law and Justice politicians have not learned from their election defeat: they still think they can rely solely on a hard-core electorate that will believe in earnest that Lichocka and Adamczyk are fervent admirers of freedom of speech. Good luck with that!

This opinion piece was first published in Polish on the website of the Do Rzeczy weekly in December 2023.