In a rather controversial move, Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, signed a temporary new law granting the country’s conservative government control over state media. His aid Małgorzata Sadurska said Duda signed the law because he wants state media to be “impartial, objective and credible” (which, like, yeah, okay), believing that current broadcasters are not providing objective information. As reported by the New York Times:
“The new legislation allows for the immediate ending of the terms of the heads of state radio and television, and gives the treasury minister the authority to appoint successors. It also limits the number of members sitting on the state broadcasters’ supervisory and management boards. The European Commission will debate Poland’s rule of law on Jan. 13, a step that could eventually result in the country losing its EU voting rights on matters that concern the entire 28-nation bloc. Poland joined the EU in 2004.”
This isn’t Poland’s first encounter with government-controlled media. Following WWII, Soviet communism quickly edged its way into Poland. While Poland experienced greater “boundaries of tolerance” than other countries in the Soviet bloc, a controlled vertical information flow came into effect during the Stalinist period from 1949 to 1953. There were two goals: to win the favor of those opposing communism in Poland and to “Sovietize” the people:
“To achieve these goals, the media were instructed to ‘be propagandists who day after day conveyed Marxist-Leninist theories, agitators who day after day spoke about the international political situation and about the Party’s and people’s government policies, and organizers who day after day mobilized the forces for their active part in Socialist construction’ (Mlodych in Curry, 1990, p. 39). Thus, the role of Polish journalists during this time was that of “middlemen” between the Communist party and society.”
Following Stalin’s death, journalists quickly replaced “political appointees,” establishing a period of greater freedom until Edward Gierek stepped in as the First Secretary of the ruling Polish United Workers’ Party in the ’70s. Until Gierek’s tenure came to an end in 1980, journalists were told what could and could not be reported:
“The new role of the media became ‘to shape the consciousness of the masses through a constant, systematic influence on the working people…by reaching them with the Party’s work, indicating the goal and the roads leading to it through the concentration and mobilization of all of the society around the party’ (Prasa Polska in Curry, 1990, p. 65). Thus journalists were turned into “political activists” and no longer were marginal political actors.”
Government-controlled media is like putting a saddle on a cow: it’s ridiculous and eventually you are going to fall off. However, no matter how short the ride, danger looms—innocent lives and progress are at risk at all moments. And while we aren’t trying to equate Duda to Stalin, let’s hope discussions with the EU prove to be constructive, peaceful, and beneficial for all.