‘Journalist Mariusz Kowalewski noticed something was amiss when his editors came to him with a new assignment: follow an outspoken critic of Poland’s ruling party with a drone.
“The idea was to send this drone over to his house in order for him to notice it and to feel threatened, like he was being watched,” Kowalewski recalls. “This was an intimidation method straight out of communism.”
The order came from his editors at TVP, Poland’s largest broadcaster which oversees a vast network of public television and radio stations.
Kowalewski says he sabotaged the plan by giving the drone operator an outdated address, but he says the episode taught him public television is no longer serving the public. Instead, he says, it’s serving Poland’s governing right-wing populist party, Law and Justice. “Instead of information, viewers now get blunt propaganda that is meant to assure them that Law and Justice is the best party to rule this country,” he says.
The party believes it is fighting an infiltration of liberal European values, spread through foreign-owned media, in this largely conservative Catholic country. Since Poles first voted Law and Justice into office in 2015, its government has not only taken control of the country’s largest public broadcaster, but it has also vowed to “re-Polanize” the national media. Critics say this is code for turning them into government propaganda outlets. The government’s moves to control the country’s media have become a political flashpoint in this European Union member state, which the EU is investigating along with other various rollbacks of democratic norms in Poland since Law and Justice took office.’
TVP is taxpayer funded and previously was editorially independent. But in 2015, Law and Justice began passing legislation that led to a purge of the public broadcaster’s editorial leadership and replaced them with party loyalists. It also put TVP under the supervision of a new National Media Council.
Protester chants echoe through the empty city streets of Warsaw: “TVP Lies! TVP Lies!”
The news was propaganda then — and it’s returned to propaganda now, says protest organizer Karol Grabski. “We’ve come here every day since the death of Mayor Adamowicz, who was murdered in Gdansk,” he says.
Gdansk Mayor Pawel Adamowicz — a liberal critic of Law and Justice — was stabbed to death while he was on stage at a charity event in January 2019. Adamowicz had been a target of dozens of TVP news stories criticizing him for real estate dealings, his openness to migrants and his support of LGBT rights. Critics blame the network for creating an atmosphere that led to his murder.