Government control of public state media in Poland hasn’t faltered with at least 163 journalists and media professionals being fired or leaving their positions.

We have already expressed our concern regarding public media in Poland, particularly its independence from the State. In fact, earlier this year, the government passed a law that allowed the treasury minister to directly appoint the heads of public radio and TV.

People protesting for media freedom in January in front of the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza building in Bydgoszcz. Image: Jaap Arriens/Creative Commons.

Shortly after, the ruling Law & Justice party proposed further changes according to which the media had an “obligation to spread the viewpoints of the Sejm (lower house), the Senate and Poland’s Parliament.”

The situation has not improved. According to the Journalist’s Association in Poland, around 163 journalists and media professionals have been fired or quit the state media since the conservative government was elected in January.

This is the case of Piotr Maslak, a presenter for Telewizja Polska (TVP), who was fired because of “different perspectives” that allegedly did not allow him to fulfil his position.

During his mandate, Maslak and his colleagues encountered disagreements on what was going to be aired. For example, their bosses wanted them to prioritise the broadcast of the conference of the Roman Catholic episcopate rather than an anti-government protest taking place the same day.

Statistics indicate that the audience is responding with their remote controls, suggesting low compliance with these new turns of events. In fact, the main state channels are now suffering from a considerable audience decline. According to The New York Times in May 2015 their market share was 44.5% whereas this May it was 41%. However, it is possible that this change might mostly account for young people, as they divert to digital news consumption and production. Jacek Wasilewsky, a media analyst, told the New York Times that the Polish government focuses on TV especially because older people are more used to it.

Following recent investigations, Polish authorities have been in contact with European institutions who have demanded more clarity when it comes to selecting the New National Media Council. However, there have not been major improvements.

Media watchdogs, professionals and organisations continue to be concerned about the state of democracy and freedom of expression in Poland. However, the president Jaroslaw Kaczynski defends himself, affirming the opposite. “We don’t want to destroy democracy,” he said. “We want to make it real.” Reality however, currently suggests otherwise.

By Marta Catalano