European Values (I)

BERLIN/WARSAW | | frankreichitalienpolenungarn

BERLIN/WARSAW (Own report) - High-ranking German politicians are calling for punitive measures against Poland. The Polish government's measures neutralizing the country's constitutional court as well as its new media laws are "in violation of European values," according to Volker Kauder, Chair of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group. The EU member states must now "have the courage to impose sanctions." Earlier, EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger called for Poland to be placed "under supervision." Even though the new media law, formally placing public service media under direct government control, are in fact more drastic, the forms taken by this official media control are already widespread throughout the EU. Hungary is not the only country to have enacted a media law, a few years ago, showing striking similarities to the new Polish law. Former President Sarkozy had also adopted similar measures in France. The French rulers still exercise considerable influence over public service media. However, particularly in Germany, with its hubris in seeking to discipline Poland, sharp criticism is frequently raised against the state and state parties' control of the public service media.

The New Media Law

Several thousand had protested against the new media law in Poland over the past weekend. The law was adopted by the Polish parliament in late December and took effect, when it was signed by President Andrzej Duda last Thursday. It has largely disempowered the Polish Broadcasting Council KRRiT. Now the government has a free hand in the appointment of leading positions in the public service media and has begun to exercise that power with last Friday's appointment of Jacek Kurski, as intendant of the public service television, TVP. Kurski had organized the 2005 presidential election of Lech Kaczynski, the brother of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, current chair of the governing PIS Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc). Back then, Kurski referred to himself as "Kaczynski's bull terrier."[1] Other measures are planned. For example, all public service broadcasting company and the public service PAP news agency employees will be fired and only those, who accept the new guidelines, rehired. These stipulate that the media must "nurture national traditions, as well as patriotic and humanistic values."[2]

De Facto Subjugation

Even though Poland's public service media's complete subjugation to government control represents a new level of government repression of freedom of the press, these measures of state media control reflect forms of state repression of the media that are already widespread within the EU - not only in eastern, but also in western member countries, and not least of all, in Germany. Even in Poland, itself, massive government control of the public service media is nothing new. According to journalists, the accusation that also the government of the Platforma Obywatelska (PO or "Citizens' Platform"), under Donald Tusk, the current European Council President, had "de facto subjugated the public service media during its eight years of rule, ... is not completely false."[3] The members of the "previously totally autonomous broadcasting council," the KRRiT, were "always appointed by the parliament and president." Under Tusk, his successor Ewa Kopacz as well as the co-officiating President Bronislaw Komorowski (PO) this had "inevitably led to the council's - with its decisive influence over the media's management personnel -current clearly 'liberal' orientation." Therefore, the national conservatives in the entourage of the new ruling party, "have today, in fact, few friends at the TVP and Polskie Radio." Similarly, the PO and its coalition partners in the Farmers' Party (PSL) have initiated "a system of cronyism throughout the country," according to an associate of the Polityka Insight, think tank in Warsaw.[4]

Government Controlled Bullhorn

A few years ago, the Hungarian media law, which took effect January 1, 2011, provoked hefty debates. It had subjugated the public service media under the rigid system of a supervisory body, the NMHH (Government offices for Media and News Broadcasting). The public service radio and television along with the MIT news agency have since been monitored by the NMHH for "balanced reporting" and their orientation on the "reinforcement of the national identity." Since its founding, the administration has been managed by loyalists of Viktor Orbán's governing Fidesz Party. Nearly one-third of the 3,400 of the public service media employees have lost their jobs since that media law came into effect. "All decisions about content are being made in the upper echelons," as a Duna TV journalist was quoted, "personal ideas and creativity are no longer desired." A prominent investigative journalist referred to today's public service media as a "government-controlled bullhorn."[5] In the meantime, privately owned media organs are also coming under pressure - through paid ads. "Whereas pro-government journals are filled with ads paid for by the state and state enterprises," independent media can hardly find anyone to pay for advertisements, complains "168 óra" an independent weekly.[6] This mechanism is not unknown also in Germany.

In the Service of Powerful Interest Groups

Whereas Poland ranked 18, on the "Reporters Without Borders" regularly published list, with 12.71 negative points - just behind Germany (ranking 12 with 11.47 points) - EU member Hungary ranked 65, far below such countries as Niger (47), Mauritania (55) and Papua New Guinea (56), none of which are considered in Europe to be havens of liberal media policies. Ranking even behind Hungary was not only Kosovo (87), but also Italy (73), Greece (91) and Bulgaria (106, just behind Guinea, ranking 102). Journalists can again (!) "more critically report on politics" since Silvio Berlusconi, with his powerful influence over the RAI public broadcasting and his own Mediaset enterprise, more or less "vanished from the political stage," according to "Reporters without Borders." However, many journalists are "still seeing themselves in the service of powerful social, political and business interest groups." Low pay makes critical, "expansively researched articles nearly impossible."[7] With Mediaset, as well as his influence over RAI, Berlusconi controlled, in the heyday of his power, up to 90 percent of Italy's television market.

Taming the Heads of Broadcasting

France ranks only 38 on the "Reporters Without Borders'" list. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy had a media law adopted in 2009. According to a recent article, this law stripped the supervisory French Broadcasting Authority (CSA), "of its authority and re-imposed public television's direct financial dependency on the state." Throughout his reign, Sarkozy "made full use of this new law, permitting him to independently appoint and fire managing directors of the public TV and radio broadcasters." He "loved" to boast that, "as head editor, he could choose the programs on public service TV and radio."[8] For example, he appointed a friend to be director of the "France Inter" radio station, which "led to protests" but "ultimately tamed the broadcasting directors." Since the media law was revised under President François Hollande, the heads of broadcasting are again being appointed by the CSA. However, the chair is, himself, appointed by the president, which is why, as the saying goes, that body "remains dependent on the blessings of the Elysée Palace." In addition, the CSA's other board members are named by the French National Assembly and the Senate. "The possibility of political influence remains high."[9]

German Hubris

Strong criticism of political influence over public service media has been raised particularly in Germany, whose politicians still have the hubris to call for sanctions against Poland. german-foreign-policy.com will report on this theme tomorrow.

[1] Konrad Schuller: Neuer Fernsehchef in Polen ernannt. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 09.01.2016.
[2] Konrad Schuller: Polen könnte sämtlichen Rundfunkmitarbeitern kündigen. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 08.01.2016.
[3] Konrad Schuller: Mit System. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 07.01.2016.
[4] Florian Kellermann: Spitzenbeamte sollen von der Regierung bestimmt werden. www.deutschlandfunk.de 30.12.2015.
[5], [6] Keno Verseck, Claus Hecking: Was wurde eigentlich aus Ungarns Mediengesetz? www.spiegel.de 18.10.2014.
[7] Italien. www.reporter-ohne-grenzen.de.
[8], [9] Michaela Wiegel: Einflussnahme mit Tradition. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 05.01.2016.