Independence of public media

Lessons from Warsaw

Independence of public media

Lessons from Warsaw

The election of new members of the Czech Television Council in May raised concerns about the direction and independence of the Czech Television. One of the worst-case scenarios of what could happen to public service media is the TVP in Poland. Unfortunately, it has been transformed into a propagandist channel of the government party Law and Justice (PiS). The last months and weeks of the gripping presidential campaign between Andrzej Duda and Rafal Trzaskowski demonstrated, why we can’t just stand by while others are trying to delegitimize and paralyze the Czech Television.

Independence of the Czech Television

The Czech Television Council—as defined by the Act on Czech Television—is elected by the Chamber of Deputies and it has the power to appoint and dismiss the director and oversees the operation and management of the television. The composition of the Council should reflect the different political, cultural, social, and geographical trends in order to achieve a balance of opinion and objectivity. And the potential imbalance and one-sidedness of the Council is precisely what worries me.

The public service media play an indispensable role of watchdogs and are an integral part of a functioning democracy. The independence and balance of media are essential for unbiased scrutiny of policies and functioning of the government and the opposition, the administration of the state, and to provide media space for expression to all political entities in the state. This ensures that the political competition among political parties is not distorted.

The Czech Television and the Czech Radio must—in the Czech media scene—give a great example of balance of opinion. We must not allow Czechia to follow the Hungarian and Polish model, where public service media side with the ruling parties, remain silent about the potential negative consequences of their policies, publicly harm opposition leaders and critics of the ruling structures, and ignore the cases of state officials.

Similar functioning of any television is unacceptable in European democracies. A situation we could find ourselves in, where the majority of the broadcast time would be devoted to positive news about the ruling political party, would disrupt the functioning of the state and would return us to pre-1989 times when state television served only for the purposes of the Communist Party.

Public service television in Poland

In recent months, the TVP has broadcasted plenty of celebratory news and comments on PiS and especially about president Duda. At the time of the post-COVID19 crisis, the presidential candidates’ debate focused mainly on issues such as the marriage of LGBT couples, religion in schools, the issue of refugees and relocation quotas for them, instead of health care or economic recovery from the pandemic. Furthermore, the moderator of the TVP has mentioned that PiS had to reverse the damage done by the opposition party Civil Platform, as PiS opposed accepting refugees and stood up against the “dictate of Brussels”.

In addition to it, the allocation of time between candidates was not fair. The ruling Law and Justice party candidate received more than 70 minutes of airtime during February, while the Polish left-wing candidate, from a party which received 12.5% of the electoral support in the autumn 2019 election, received 44 seconds.

However, the disproportion of time allotted was not the only way TVP used to distort the political media space in favor of Andrzej Duda. In recent days, TVP has openly supported Duda’s campaign based on attacks against the LGBT community and non-Catholics and on criticism of foreign media and supported slandering Trzaskowski. The last disinformation released by the TVP was an accusation that Trzaskowski plans to return property of Polish people to Holocaust survivors.

However, it is alarming that 75 % of Andrej Duda’s voters consider TVP’s one-sided campaign balanced. According to media analysts, the TVP campaign definitely helped Duda win the election. It’s worth reminding that the result was extremely tight.

The European dimension of the Czech Television’s situation

Without exaggeration, interfering with independence of media is one of the most pressing problems in Europe, especially in V4 countries. That’s why I asked the CULT committee—as a Member of the European Parliament and a member of the CULT committee—to look into a possible future disruption of the balance of the media in Czechia. I would very much prefer that we avoid a similar situation as in Poland or Hungary. I consider this to be one of my duties as a Member of the European Parliament, and I believe that I was elected to defend democratic principles, freedom of expression, and the right to information. It is no surprise that the S&D political group made a request of a similar nature regarding the objectivity of the Polish public service media. It also suggests that this is a standard step in the functioning of the committee. The committee regularly draws up a report on the balance of media in the European Union and debates on potential threats are a regular part of the committee’s deliberations. The legitimacy of my question is enshrined in Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and it is the Commission’s duty to monitor respect for freedom and pluralism of media in Member States.

I stress that I do not question the democracy aspect of the elections in the Chamber of Deputies as such; however, I consider it necessary to address the situation, as the election of members who have long questioned the role of public service media is extremely worrying. I am struck by the practice of framing individual candidates and evaluating their benefits for the ANO party, which was the subject of an email from ANO MP Stanislav Berkovec, who circulated an e-mail in the Chamber of Deputies in March, which outlined ANO’s ideas on the “independence” of the Council.

I do not want us to find ourselves in a situation where public service media would not provide space for all social opinions; and conversely, they would silence investigative journalists who report on corruption and other issues related to political leaders. Since history has shown many times that for the triumph of evil, it is sufficient that good people remain silent, I will continue to be vocal on media freedom.