Global Independent Analytics
Bojan Stanislawski
Bojan Stanislawski

Location: Poland

Specialization: Eastern Europe, Labor movement

Who and what really endangers the Polish media

Purges in the Polish media are a fact. The top managers are being replaced with people loyal to the new government, same goes for the top journalists.

However, no substantial changes can be expected as to the general consignment. One can hardly make the national TV and radio more right wing.

The European Union has an obvious problem with priorities. Until just a few weeks ago the major problems were the stance of David Cameron, Alexis Tispras in Greece not being obedient enough, and recent sexual assults in Koeln. Suddenly, the the dominant theme became Poland and the need to defend democracy and freedom of speech there.

The new government is not only portrayed as dictatorial, but even described as “putinist”. This was the exact adjective used by Martin Schultz, the president of the European Parliament, a German social democrat, in the most recent edition of “Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung”. And this is not the end of the story. Schultz considers the new government not only frightening because of the alleged dictatorial measures it introduces in Poland, but of spreading the general threat of “putinization” of the political arena in Europe. What exactly does he mean by that depends on how rich a potential reader’s imagination is. However, one thing is certain -- the European bureaucrats really want Kaczyński to get it from them.

Shultz’s panicky statement about the situation in Poland is neither first nor last. He is one of quite a few leading German and European politicians who openly side with the part of the Polish right that has just been removed from power. A day earlier, last Saturday, we had the chance to read the CDU/CSU parliamentary club leader’s reflections on the recent developments in Poland. Of course, Volker Kauder is deeply concerned with the new political circumstances, he explained it all in quite a touchy way to the journalists of “Der Spiegel”. And earlier last week he expressed his preoccupation in a speech delivered in the Bundestag calling for economic sanctions on Poland. In December we had another statement, also full of concern and affect, this time calling for the introduction of special supervision from the side of the European Commission. It was made by Günther Hermann Oettinger, a German Christian Democrat and a European commissioner. It is actually thanks to this call that was later taken up by EC’s president Jean Claude Junker that things are tightening up. A special session of the European Commission where Poland is to be separately discussed will be held this week and on the 19th of January a special hearing in the European Parliament is planned. This is all pretty ritualistic for now, but considering the amount of barking one could easily conclude that the public opinion is being taught to perceive the new Polsh government as a bunch of dangerous lunatics.

Honestly speaking, this is not far from the truth. However, their detachment from reality or potential threats is far behind the aggressive and superficial criticism from the side of the EU functionaries. Until the new year they have hysterically “defended” the Polish constitutional court from “devastation” and “being taken over”. While this question is frozen they went on another hysteric rampage “defending the public media and the freedom of speech” from the dirty dictatorial hand of the new government. The local democracy defenders organized under the banner of the so-called Democracy Defense Committee (Komitet Obrony Demokracji) also organized their ritual demonstrations in a few big urban centers in Poland giving their priority to “the civic and public media” suppressed by Law & Justice -- the ruling party of Catholic hardliners.

There are numerous worrying aspects of the government’s assault on the media and they cannot be left unnoted. However, they are problematic for different reasons. Neither Kaczyński, nor the Polish PM Beata Szydło, dream of or need a total war on the media hostile to them (that would still be significantly more than 50 per cent of the market, not just the national TV and radio). They do not attempt to carry out a revolution in the so-called public media either. If Law & Justice would have liked to do that they could have really shut the entire state TV and radio down for a few weeks and then wipe it all out without any concerns. KOD is able to organize less and less and the Hungarian PM, Viktor Orbán, during his short unofficial meeting with Jarosław Kaczyński, reassured him that the EU is really impotent and is only good at bullying and wagging its finger. Actually, some politicians have advised the government to carry out such a media blackout and only then “hew the anti-Polish elements” to restore “balance” and “normality”.

Had they done anything close to that it would at least resemble these notoriously repeated “dictatorial measures”. What happened really is -- for now at least -- rapid changes in the boards of the national TV and radio, which are a bit more intense in terms of quantity, but in the quality, politically speaking, there is very little difference. We can see typical replacements which come naturally to every sane observer; the hostile people, who were the most ardent squires and aides of part of the establishment that was removed from power, are removed as no government can function, let alone rule, in such a contentious environment. That Law & Justice do it all with the temperament and countrified style of low-level county clerks is another question. This time, quite undialectically, the form and content can be viewed separately, as the esthetics of the recent situation are really much more appealing and shocking than the political substance. After all, the entire Polish transition has been marked by three leading values: neoliberalism, nationalism and clericalization. How much more right wing can Law & Justice make the state owned media? There is not much room left for further maneuvers in terms of political range. Unless of course someone imagines priests leading managerial positions, but the powers that be do not pursue a circus, but seek a real impact.

Also if one looks at the new regulations which are soon to be proceeded through the parliament -- we can see only a few clarifications and formalizations of the status quo. The fact that the new bill that will oblige the management of the national media has “to be guided by Christian values and principles” will change exactly nothing. The national media have been long ago part of the right-wing propaganda scheme and are co-responsible for the massive destruction of collective sentiment in the society and the total clericalization of the public sphere and general culture as well as for locking the public debate firmly in the framework of the false contradiction between rampant neoliberalism on the one side and a peculiar pulp made of fundamentalist backwardness, bigotry and national chauvinism on the other side. And on top of everything, that outcome is exactly the achievement of all those who have united today to “defend democracy” or the “freedom of speech”. For more than two decades now we are witnessing massive formatting of absolutely perverse political and social atmosphere, where expressing the most stunning libertarian nonsense or a Catholic-integrist babble, one has always passed the argument in a discussion. It could have been a controversial discussion, but still, it was seen as normal. At the same time expressing any kind of left A, B, C... has always been dismissed as utter idiotism not even worth confronting. People were taught to look at those expressing such views as if they just fell from Mars. The tone has been always set somewhere between the political parties HQs, the episcopate and big business; the largest publishers have their emissaries in all these circles. This status-quo is not undermined in any aspect, only the addresses have changed (except of the one of the episcopate that is).

The effect of the new media law that will be noted by a large audience is that there will be, probably, a bit more of a Catholic and nationalist narrative. Some celebrities who are not right wing enough will be removed, but they will immediately get a job in the private, mostly German owned, media. Besides, they have their own platforms which they have been developing on the side, so there is always room for them to continue being propagandists and agitators. If we take the most important dismissals of top-journalists (who have, by the way, resigned themselves and were not fired) like Tomasz Lis or Piotr Kraśko, it is obvious that the spectacular adieu is staged by figures who have a clear and completely unhidden positive sentiment for those removed from power - the Civic Platform - part of the right wing who were were pushed out by – let us not forget - the voters in the legal and officially recognized general elections last October.

The most worrying aspect of the entire process is the inclusion into the management of the national media people who are members of sectarian informal right wing groups who, until now, were kept aside from the mainstream and were only allowed to transmit their dangerous nonsense on the fringes. The Polish liberals and some lefties have expressed their “deep concern” with the return of people like Rafał Ziemkiewicz or Mariusz “Max” Kolonko to the public media and their worries have some foundation. Both are right extremist agitators, the first specializing in warming the image of the Polish antisemitism of “certain types” of which he officially stated he is “proud of” and the second being a typical US-adoring think-headed racist and bigot. However, what the critics seem to conveniently skip is the fact that both have already been part of the media mainstream even without being part of the national media cadreship. They have a large audience and many fans and they will continue to have them. Paradoxically the fact that they will become “official” can -- in the long run -- have the effect exactly the opposite of the one expected. They had build up their authority for the last decade posing falsely as “antisystemic” and “defiant” and this was their only capital as their views are hardly different from the ones of Tomasz Lis, for example. The difference lies in the form and not in the content of the general message. Thus both Kolonko and Ziemkiewicz are likely to face a drastic fall in their popularity rating as they will not be able to pose any more as “the excommunicated”. The only credibility in this aspect that can be delivered to them is the liberal extravaganza of KOD and the truly intelligence-offending assault from the side of the European Union institutions. The more actively they stage their festival - the more Law & Justice’s march through ‘the democratic institutions of the state’ will be likely to be publicly perceived as a fight in a besieged fortress and the more credibility will be be attached to the actions of Kaczyński.

Much more stunning and quite inexplicable is the huge lift up to the boards of the national media given to people like Marcin Palade. A person linked with a very small sectarian right-wing paper called “Gazeta Warszawska” - the reading of which is a fairly shocking experience. People familiar with extremist right-wing publications from the `90 will get a deja vu. Such kind of anti-semitic aggressive slur can only be compared to the long-time-ago popular brochures like “How to recognize a Jew” and this, combined with elements of Holocaust denial plus eclectic apologetic pieces in praise of Vladimir Putin or Barack Obama (yes, they do not see any contradiction in it) makes it relatively easy to understand why “Gazeta Warszawska” has such little audience. What is this person doing in the board of the national radio is a huge question mark, just as the question of how many characters of this quality will he be allowed to drag in there. It is very unlikely that Holocaust denial will now become a view allowed to be freely aired, but this is a very dangerous sign. What links does Law & Justice have with these circles and what (or who) obliges them to make nods in their direction, considering that by playing with such personas Kaczyński and Szydło can only lose and expose themselves to credible attacks? At the same time -- they can win exactly nothing from it. For the moment one can only move in the area of conjecture and speculation, but it could be a symptom of Law & Justice leadership having made a deal with a truly dark caste, namely an informal group of Polish millionaires living abroad who have dedicated a lot of effort and money to rebuild the ethos of Polish antisemitism and right-wing terrorism. The most famous exponent of them is Jan Kobylański who resides in Uruguay, but there are a few others in Canada, US, South Africa and in other places.

How things are going to unfold? We shall see. One thing is certain -- as the popular saying goes -- the best is yet to come.

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