If the government puts a gag order on a broadcaster simply because it finds its reporting unfavourable, the same fate will await the rest of the free media in Poland.
In Poland, whose position in the World Press Freedom Index prepared by Reporters Without Borders falls year after year, independent media are facing yet another threat.
The country’s ruling coalition is pushing for legislation aimed against TVN, the largest independent television broadcaster with nationwide coverage. According to the proposed new law, the broadcaster’s owners – American company Discovery, Inc. – will be forced to sell its stock to an entity that is looked upon favorably by the current government. Simultaneously, the state authorities are delaying the extension of TVN24’s broadcasting license (it expires in September).
RSF warned in April 2021 that the Polish government is moving forward in pursuing the so-called „repolonisation” of the privately-owned media with the declared goal of influencing their editorial policies or, in other words, censoring them. Current developments are a confirmation of these fears.
In an act of solidarity, more than 180 journalists from other remaining independent media in Poland signed a letter in defence of the TVN network. “We do not want to live in a world where truth cannot be heard. This would violate the very foundations of our profession and the reason we become journalists” – the letter says.
A letter in defence of the TVN network (full text)
We, journalists representing the media sector in Poland, would like to protest against the actions of the country’s United Right government, which is acting to undermine the independent status of the TVN network. We hereby pledge not to allow media freedom to be destroyed in Poland and we call on the international public opinion to intervene.
TVN is Poland’s largest independent television broadcaster with nationwide coverage. PiS, which has ruled Poland since 2015 together with its coalition partners, has repeatedly attacked TVN for reporting abuse of power and standing in defence of democratic values. Public and pro-government media have stigmatised TVN journalists and conducted a propaganda campaign against the network.
In recent months, the PiS government has put words into action. The United Right government has no plans to extend TVN’s broadcasting licence and is pushing through legislation in the Polish Sejm that would force the owner of TVN to sell its stock to an entity that is looked upon favourably by the current authorities. This scenario is unfolding despite numerous warnings and appeals, also from abroad, to stop the offensive aimed at silencing the broadcaster.
During the sixth year after taking power, the United Right government has violated numerous democratic standards, gained control of the public media, and taken over private media outlets. It has also intimidated journalists by filing lawsuits against them and is actively dismantling the independence of the country’s judiciary.
The United Right government stands in contempt of the rights and fundamental democratic values of the European Union. It is taking advantage of every chance it gets to uproot signs of independence. Neutering TVN and subordinating it to the state is to be one of the final stages of taking control of one of the last institutions that holds the country’s authorities accountable and defends such democratic values as transparency, tolerance, and equality before the law.
Thirty-two years after the fall of communism in Poland, history comes full circle. The ruling party wants to take over the media, whose freedom is vital for the functioning of democracy. We simply cannot let it happen.
We do not want to live in a world where truth cannot be heard. This would violate the very foundations of our profession and the reason we become journalists.
If the government puts a gag order on a broadcaster simply because it finds its reporting unfavourable, the same fate will await the rest of the free media. We cannot afford to lose this fight. It would be a defeat for democracy in Poland.
The list of the signatories of the letter available here.
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