ARTICLE 19 is concerned by the conduct of the Polish state TV, Telewizja Polska S.A. (TVP), during the ongoing presidential campaign in Poland, which includes providing one-sided coverage of the political campaign and broadcasting footage. We are also concerned by TVP’s role in amplifying the government’s discriminatory rhetoric against minority groups throughout the campaign. Government media have a duty to be balanced and impartial in their election reporting and not to discriminate against any political party or candidate in granting access to airtime. TVP should respect this in the second round of voting on 12 July 2020.
The Polish Presidential elections, which have taken place in the context of the Covid-19 lockdown, have been highly problematic. Since the beginning of the campaign, the biased reporting of TVP on presidential candidates raised concerns of observers. According to the Press-Service Monitoring Media report, from all the materials of TVP Channel 1’s “Wiadomości” (“News”) 87% of coverage of the opposition candidate Rafał Trzaskowski was negative. At the same time, 97% of information related to President Andrzej Duda was positive, while the remaining 3% was neutral. Other candidates were mentioned only in 63 out of 227 news stories between 3 and 16 June. Additionally, questions during the presidential debate organised by TVP Channel 1 on 17 June were visibly tailored to support Andrzej Duda and focused on issues unrelated to the direct responsibilities of a president of Poland.
In addition to their mostly biased coverage, TVP has amplified the government’s discriminatory rhetoric towards LGBTQI people, Jews and refugees and claiming there would be negative repercussions for Poland in case of the presidency of Rafał Trzaskowski. The TVP’s coverage suggested that if Trzaskowski became president, he would destroy the traditional family unit by being an LGBTQI ally, and Poles would lose billions of zlotys due to the restitution of Jewish property. The TVP also alleged that Trzaskowski is supported by the Kremlin, without any substantiating evidence. At the same time, the TVP failed to provide any critical analysis of the 5 years of Andrzej Duda’s presidency.
The TVP’s coverage of the election night was no different. According to an analysis by Oko press, between 8 pm to 12 am, TVP showed speeches of president Andrzej Duda for 56 minutes, whereas Rafał Trzaskowski was given 8 minutes, and other candidates from 2 to 5 minutes.
These concerns around disproportionate and partial coverage are part of a wider context of a crackdown on media freedom and pluralism in Poland. Since December 2015, the Polish Government has passed a number of laws aimed at placing public service media broadcasters under its close control. An ARTICLE 19 report published in 2017, found that the freedom, independence and pluralism of the media are under severe threat in Poland.
International freedom of expression standards and access to information regarding political options
Under international human rights standards, voters must have access to information and opinions regarding their political options. It is particularly important in the period preceding an election for opinions and information of all kinds to be permitted to circulate freely, including through public campaigning. Voters are entitled to receive comprehensive, accurate, and reliable information about the voting process and each of the candidates.
Furthermore, publicly owned or funded media have a duty to be accurate, balanced and impartial in their election reporting and not to discriminate against any political party or candidate. This duty requires that news, current affairs, interview and information programmes must not be biased in favour of, or against, any party or candidate. If a media entity gives airtime to one political party then it is obliged to devote equitable coverage to competing political parties. The obligation of balance and impartiality derives from the fundamental rights of voters and candidates to freedom of expression and information, and non-discrimination in the enjoyment of these rights.
TVP’s Public Service Mandate under Article 21(1) of the Broadcasting Act 1992 is to provide services that are “pluralistic, impartial, well-balanced, independent and innovative, as well as of high quality and integrity.”
ARTICLE 19 calls on the TVP to uphold its mandate and provide balances in election coverage during the second round of voting in the presidential election.
In the long-term, the TVP as a public broadcaster must be independent, with a board appointed by public bodies. Its remit should include the provision of quality, independent programming that contributes to the plurality of opinions and information available to the public. A core element of the TVP, just like any public service media, should be to present accessible news and current affairs programming that is impartial, accurate and balanced.
This statement by ARTICLE 19 is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries. This project provides legal and practical support, public advocacy and information to protect journalists and media workers. The MFRR is organised by an consortium led by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) including ARTICLE 19, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the Institute for Applied Informatics at the University of Leipzig (InfAI), International Press Institute (IPI) and CCI/Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT). The project is co-funded by the European Commission.