Politicians from the ruling camp started talking about what they would do with Poland after winning the presidential election after Andrzej Duda’s election evening on Sunday 12 July.
Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro talked about how he saw the government’s continued rule on Monday 13 July 2020, on Tadeusz Rydzyk’s TV Trwam.
This was not an announcement of reconciliation in a country divided in two, but rather of final reckoning with the remaining independent institutions in Poland, and of taking control over more areas of social life.
Ziobro is pushing for a quick end to the PiS revolution because the results of the next elections in Poland depend on it (the next ones are coming in 2023).
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Mariusz Jałoszewski w tekście „Plan Ziobry: przejąć media, sądy, a nawet szkoły i uczelnie. Cel: władza totalna” pisze o prawdopodobnych dalszych krokach Zjednoczonej Prawicy w celu konsolidacji władzy nad różnymi aspektami życia społecznego.
In the presidential elections, Andrzej Duda was mainly supported by the elderly (about 60 percent). Rafał Trzaskowski was the candidate of up to 64.4 percent of young voters. To maintain its rule in the future, PiS must gain more support from young people.
A blow to the private media
On TV Trwam Zbigniew Ziobro laid out his plan. At the beginning, there will be a reckoning with the independent media.
Before the election (9 July) Jarosław Kaczyński, the chairman of PiS, also spoke about it on Radio Maryja: “Every self-respecting state makes sure that the media are in the hands of the citizens of that country or the institutions of that country.”
Law and Justice have been hurt by articles about President Duda’s pardon of a man convicted of raping his daughter. The cover story in the tabloid Fakt especially hurt. PiS defended itself by striking out at the newspaper, accusing it of having “German connections”.
Ziobro said: “The scale of the manipulations, the scale of the distortions, the scale of showing the world in a distorted mirror [during the election campaign – Ed.] was so great that, unfortunately, it must have affected many Polish people. If I didn’t know about the matter of the pardon, which was one of the elements of the provocation, (…) perhaps I would also have been appalled that the president made such a decision. Unfortunately, the media presented this story in a completely distorted mirror.
This is just an example of one of the very many media events that brought hypocrisy into this campaign and caused confusion in the minds of many Polish people who, because they were busy with various things, did not have the time to thoroughly verify the report, and sometimes limit themselves to acquiring information in those media that turned themselves into – we can say that – into Mr. Trzaskowski’s electoral campaign staff.”
Ziobro spoke of a great “imbalance in the media”, especially the commercial companies. He forgot to add that the public television TVP was working on behalf of Andrzej Duda during the campaign.
“When I look at the internet, these huge websites have almost turned into the electoral campaigns of one of the candidates, President Duda’s competitor,” Zbigniew Ziobro said on TV Trwam.
That is why the Minister of Justice believes that it is necessary to draw “conclusions” concerning the private media.
“In view of this huge disproportion, in view of this extremely aggressive behaviour by Mr Rafał Trzaskowski’s campaign, I believe that this result [the victory for Duda – ed.] gives us hope for the future, gives us hope for the continuation of the good changes in Poland, but it also obliges us to draw certain conclusions about the situation in the media.
If we do not draw these conclusions, if we do not translate them into specific decisions aimed at equalisation, at balance in the media, then in three or five years we may wake up in a different Poland,” Ziobro emphasised.
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Re-Polonising the media and regulating the profession of journalist
Drawing these “conclusions” about the private media is a preview of the introduction of tight control over them. The independent media have been a thorn in PiS’s side for many years. Drafts of the relevant acts have even been prepared, and PiS has only been waiting for the current election in order to complete its work.
Jarosław Kaczyński’s party could gain control over the media in several ways. The main idea is referred to as re-Polonisation.
This idea conceals behind it the takeover of media companies that publish and own websites, newspapers, radio and television. PiS wants to take over media published by foreign companies. This mainly concerns media published and distributed by the following groups:
- Ringer Axel Springer Polska, which owns Fakt, the Onet website and the weekly magazine Newsweek, among others;
- Polska Press Group, to which various regional newspapers belong, and
- Discovery, to which TVN belongs.
The idea is that these titles should be voluntarily purchased from their current owners by large state-owned companies, such as the PKO BP bank, the PZU national insurance company – or by private investors linked to PiS.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the chairman of PiS, talked about this option of voluntary re-Polonisation before the election. The takeovers would be voluntary, because the PiS president is afraid of the EU’s reaction if the authorities try to expropriate the media businesses by force.
This deconcentration act could in fact lead to expropriation, as it would introduce limits on the publishers’ shares in Polish media companies (e.g. up to 20% of the media market share) and on the advertising market.
The idea of a deconcentration act has also been mentioned by PiS in previous years. Such an act would force foreign media concerns to sell their shares in Polish companies. If it were introduced, however, it would be against EU law.
But these are not the only ways to take control of the media. PiS has also talked about introducing regulations on who can become a journalist, a profession which at present is free.
The idea is to create a governing body for journalists which, like lawyers and doctors, would observe standards and ethics. It would also educate future journalists and subject them to disciplinary measures.
How could this work in practice? One can imagine that this governing body will be ruled by pro-government journalists. Independent journalists would be removed from the governing body, and maybe even from the profession entirely.
Finally, it’s possible that such a governing body could be authorised to verify all current journalists.
The government could also influence independent media in the following ways:
- by harassing them with criminal and civil lawsuits to win damages for printed articles, something which has already happened, for example to Gazeta Wyborcza;
- changing the press law to make it less favourable for journalists, and
- introducing high fines for publishers, to be imposed by the state office for so-called fake news, i.e. for inconvenient or critical publications (PiS MP Dominik Tarczyński wants to propose a law on this matter, suggesting fines of up to 1 million zloty).
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Takeover of the courts, verification of judges, dismissing defiant judges
In his interview on TV Trwam, Ziobro also talked about the need to complete the “reform” of the courts. Jarosław Kaczyński and Andrzej Duda also spoke about this necessity before the election.
PiS will want to deal with the free courts quickly. It has already taken control of the Constitutional Tribunal, the prosecutor’s office and the National Council of the Judiciary (which decides who becomes a judge and which judges may be promoted).
The authorities have also filled the position of President of the Supreme Court and replaced the presidents and vice-presidents of the courts. They still don’t have full control over the judges of common courts in district, regional and appeal courts.
In recent years, some judges have shown that they will remain independent, will not let the government buy them off by offering promotions, nor will they be broken by repression.
That is why Zbigniew Ziobro wants to deal with them in one fell swoop.
The Justice Ministry already has plans to flatten the court structure.
Instead of three current levels, two would be created. This would mean the creation and reorganisation of new courts. PiS can make such a move thanks to Article 180 of the Constitution. It says that judges are irremovable, but in the event of a change in the structure of the courts or the borders of the judicial districts, a judge can be transferred to another court or retired. PiS wants to take advantage of this loophole.
The reorganisation of common courts will, above all, open the doors to a mass-scale verification of all judges in Poland, because they will all have to be called to new courts. And this means that there may suddenly not be any room for independent judges in the new courts, or they will get assignments away from home. Some may retire early. And the most stubborn ones, who choose to remain in the profession and continue to act independently, must take the prospect of disciplinary hearings into account.
Will schools and universities be next?
But that’s not all. In his interview on TV Trwam, Ziobro spoke not only about taking over independent institutions, but also about the fight for the souls of the Polish people. And that sounded just as threatening as the statement about the media and the courts.
Ziobro emphasised that the authorities must deal with education and the universities in the context of the values of the right, and which should now be present more strongly in political life.
“We are obliged, as Solidarity Poland [the name of Ziobro’s faction in the ruling United Right coalition] is to encourage our coalition partners, especially Law and Justice, to pay more attention to the agenda of values. We would like the sphere of values, the sphere behind the white and red colours (…) to be much more present in the next few years of our government than it has been so far.
We have to protect the Polish family, we must protect Polish children against depravity, against manipulation, against everything that carries the danger of those bad civilisational elements that are imposed on us by the liberal Western world controlled by the left,” Ziobro told TV Trwam.
He spoke about what the right must do to “save Poland from corruption” (we’re reporting on the interview with Ziobro based on the link on Radio Maryja’s website):
“We are facing a huge challenge. If we don’t do it now, if we don’t deal with education, if we don’t deal with the sphere of teaching at universities, if we don’t deal with the media, we’ll lose the battle for Polish souls.
And then, when we hear the results of the next presidential election, this enthusiasm which we heard today could turn into sadness and tears. This is about Poland. I hope that this slight advantage over the Civic Platform candidate, with a great president, a very good presidency, a good campaign, will lead us to change the emphasis which has been placed on certain things, and to a fundamental discussion, especially in the area of media and education,” the Minister of Justice warned the right on TV Trwam.
Ziobro believes, then, that the government should educate its future voters from an early age. That young people, once they gain the right to vote, should vote for PiS themselves.
This plan was explained by Jarosław Kaczyński, among others, before the parliamentary elections in 2019.
How to take over the schools and universities
Ziobro did not say how the government can gain influence over the education of children and the young. He did not say more about how universities should teach either. But control over schools and universities could be obtained in the following ways:
- limiting their autonomy,
- controlling the teaching process and the curricula,
- introducing more supervision of teachers,
- rewarding ‘their own’ teachers and lecturers,
- placing ‘their own’ people in managerial positions to supervise teachers and lecturers.
For now, only Zbigniew Ziobro is speaking so loudly about the need to fight for the souls of Poles in primary and secondary schools and universities. But it has long been known that PiS wants to level the entire state in order to wield control over it in all its dimensions.
It is not a foregone conclusion that the plans Minister Ziobro spoke about on TV Trwam will come to pass. Much will depend on the European Union’s response, especially if the media and free courts are taken over.
In the case of the media, the position of the US is also important, because the TVN group belongs to an American media group. Another question is whether the government will want to deal with the courts and media very quickly, or whether it will wait for the negotiations on the new EU budget to be completed.
Translated by Jim Todd. The article was published in English at Rule of Law in Poland.