A debate about media freedom and the role of public media has been sparked in Poland after a public radio station removed a chart-topping anti-government song from its website. 

By Chloe Howcroft

The Polish public radio station, “Trojka” (Radio Three), has been accused of censoring musician Kazik Staszewski’s song, “Your pain is better than my pain”, which was voted in by listeners at number one before being swiftly removed from the radio station’s website.

The song subtly criticises Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, for bending lockdown rules by visiting a cemetery at a time when all cemeteries in the country had been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Radio station boss, Tomasz Kowalczewski, denied that any tampering with the chart list took place, insisting that it had been “manually moved to number one”, according to BBC news. However, employees working at the radio station report that Kaczynski called for the song to be removed.

Several broadcasters, including the long-running host of Radio Trojka, Marek Niedzwiecki, have resigned from the station. Musicians have also joined a boycott by stopping their material from being aired, and journalists also demonstrated outside of Radio Trokja’s building in silence.

This is the latest in a series of incidents which have seen the ruling party consolidate their control over the public broadcaster, effectively turning it into a mouthpiece of the government since coming to power in late 2015.

Read more: Poland’s election without public media

As journalist, Dariusz Rosiak, former head of a current affairs programme at Radio Trojka, observes:

It is a Polish political custom that the public media is captured by the party that is in government…This is an example of the complete mess that has been created over the last three decades within this system of the public media in Poland.

With a presidential election due at the end of June, the alleged censorship does nothing to suggest a move towards much needed independent public media. Meanwhile, there has been a significant increase in the number of reported attacks and harassment of those working in Poland’s beleaguered independent media in the run up to the election.

Pavol Rvalai of RSF condemned the attacks, saying: “The attacks are all the more reprehensible for taking place in the pre-electoral period when citizens need reliable information in order to decide how to vote.”

Independent public media are fundamental pillars of democracy, with a role to universally inform the public and hold power to account. This role is especially important during election periods, when citizens should be able to turn to public media without fear of undue influence from the ruling government.

Header Image: Siedziby Program 3. Polskiego Radia i Radia dla Ciebie ul. Myśliwiecka 3/5/7 w Warszawie. Credit: Adrian Grycuk/Creative Commons