AEJ Poland and Polish Society of Journalists declare ‘blatant’ pro-government bias in public TV election coverage
On World Press Freedom Day AEJ Poland journalists announced interim results of an exercise in ongoing monitoring of media coverage of the forthcoming European Parliament election. They also appeal for consideration to be given to a new system of European Union monitoring of media coverage elections in order to prevent suspected ’rule of law breaches’ by Poland and other EU states.
AEJ members Andrzej Krajewski and Krzysztof Bobinski are working together with the country’s Society of Journalists to monitor Poland’s main public service TV news programme ahead of European Parliament elections on May 26. In their provisional interim report Krajewski and Bobinski say their monitoring shows massive bias in favour of Law and Justice, the country’s ruling party.
Such blatant bias in the public service media runs counter, they say, to Poland’s media laws which demand that their output be fair and reflect all points of view. It already became apparent in the coverage of local government elections last autumn. Indeed so great is the concern on this issue that Poland’s official National Election Commission (PKW) has called on the KRRiT, the official media regulator, to monitor the media coverage of the EP election. The KRRiT which is headed by Witold Kolodziejski, a Law and Justice politician, has refused to do this, arguing that it lacks funds and expertise.
The private monitoring, which will be continued until the election, is showing that while the election will be free it will not be fair. Poland has commercial media which is more even handed in its coverage but the public service media has far greater access to viewers and its coverage is seen by Law and Justice as a key factor in its success in the election.
„We are being criticised by the battleships of the commercial media so we need the fire power of our own battleship, which is the public service media” says Zbigniew Kuzmiuk, a Law and Justice MEP who is running for re-election.
The Society of Journalists has appealed to the European Parliament and to the Commission to take into account this blatant transgression of the rule of law by Poland’s public service television, which de facto means, they claim, that Polish voters are being deprived of their right to accurate information about all competing alternatives in the election. The SoJ is arguing that this seriously impairs the quality of the electoral choices which people are able to make, given that they are subject to intensive government propaganda.
Moreover, since the RSF Press Freedom Index places several EU member states at around the same level as Poland, it is probable that MEPs who win seats to the Parliament in the election elsewhere might are also benefitting from unfair advantage because of manipulation of the media in favour of the governing political forces.
Those engaged in this pioneering broadcasting monitoring exercise believe is time for the European Union to ensure, as part of it commitment to being a Union of values founded on the rule of law, that a competent and independent European specialist organisation should be entrusted with monitor the elections in member states to assess where there have been such rule of law breaches. Until now the EU has always maintained that the conduct of elections and media freedom issues are national competences which should be left to state institutions to resolve. The Polish case shows that this is not enough.