Polish National Broadcasting Council has just imposed the biggest fine in its history. It claims that by reporting on anti-government protests of December 2016, a private television station TVN24 has been “propagating unlawful actions”. The appeal, if made by the broadcaster, will end up in The Supreme Court - currently being taken over by the government
National Broadcasting Council (a media regulatory body) decided on the 7th of December 2017 that TVN24 violated the Radio and Television Act with its reporting of the events in and around the house of parliament on the 16th-18th of December 2016. It was a time of parliamentary crisis, which started after the Marshal of Sejm (lower house of Polish parliament) Marek Kuchciński excluded an opposition MP Michał Szczerba for protesting against limiting media freedoms. Most opposition MPs reacted with blocking the podium in his defence. The marshal responded with moving the proceedings to a different room, repeatedly violating the Rules of Procedure. These events sparked large spontaneous protests around the parliament buildings during which a group of people tried to block the exits for government cars leaving the premises.
According to the Council TVN24 reports of these events violated The Radio and Television Act through “propagating unlawful actions and encouraging dangerous behaviour”.
KRRiT did not specify which parts of TVN24 reports were violating the law or what was the exact nature of these violations.
The body that imposed the fine has five members – three of them have been elected by the parliament – currently under control of PiS. The remaining two has been hand-picked by the president (who ran as a PiS candidate).
When deciding on severity of the punishment the Council was – as it stated – “considering the financial capabilities of the broadcaster”. According to The Radio and Television Act the body can impose a fine of up to 10% of broadcaster’s annual income. In the case of TVN24 the limit around 148 mil PLN, according to KRRiT. Therefore the punishment could have been up to ten times higher.
„The suppression of private media outlets has begun” – says Krzysztof Luft, a former member of the Council. “Up until now the Council members were rather modest when it came to such matters. They knew their decisions would most likely get overturned in court. Now they have no such reservations” – he adds.
TVN24 will refer this decision to court. However, after recent judiciary “reforms” all instances will now be under control of the ruling party.
Both US Department of State and Reporters Without Borders are on the list of institutions that expressed concern with what happened to TVN24, followed by critique from numerous international media outlets.
A political order?
Adam Pieczyński, TVN24 editor in chief, told us that according to the documents, the decision was supported by the expertise delivered by Hanna Karp, a lecturer at the College of Social and Media Culture in Toruń. It is a private school founded by Tadeusz Rydzyk – a catholic church hierarch with numerous ties to the current government.
In its statement, TVN24 claims that the expertise is biased and its sample choice was designed to support the initial claim. It did not mention the fact that reporting included numerous statements from members of the government, PiS MPs and parliament authorities.
Not the first time
It is not the first time TVN is facing a threat under current government. In July 2017, the tax authorities demanded 110 mln PLN of outstanding tax to be paid by the company for a fusion of its digital TV platform “n” with its main competitor back in 2012. TVN authorities paid the sum while announcing they will appeal from this decision. The transaction was consulted with the Ministry of Finance at the time and a tax control performed in 2013 did not show any irregularities.
przełożył: Szymon Grela