Private news broadcaster TVN24 has been fined nearly 1.5 million PLN ($415,000) by Polish media regulators for its coverage of protests last year.
The National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) charges that the channel’s reporting violated the media code, which prohibits “promoting illegal activities and encouraging behavior that threatens security.” Though members of the ruling far-right Law and Justice (PiS) party have called the coverage “fake news,” no specific violations have yet been identified.
The regulator’s comes on the professional consultation of Hanna Karp, a Doctor of Theology at Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw. Karp called the punishment “symbolic” and told news site wPolityce that it should serve as “a red warning light for all stations and journalists.”
Media watchdogs worry that this is just another example of the erosion of press freedom by the Polish government since PiS came into power in 2015. New rules have placed public broadcasters under greater government control and restrict public advertising in independent opposition newspapers like Gazeta Wyborcza. They have also mulled placing restrictions on foreign investment in Polish media in order to “re-Polonize” it.
The protests last December for which TVN24 is being penalized for covering were against new restrictions on media access to parliament and its sessions.
These changes have led Reporters Without Borders to lower Poland’s ranking on its annual Press Freedom Index from #18 in 2015 (before PiS took power) to #54 of 180 this year.
TVN24 is the most-watched privately-owned news station in Poland. Its parent company, US-based media group Scripps Networks Interactive, said the fine is based on “an extremely biased and careless report” and plans to appeal against it.
Article 14 of the Polish Constitution guarantees that “The Republic of Poland shall ensure freedom of the press and other means of social communication.”
The appeal would most likely be heard by the District Court in Warsaw. But it is dubious whether TVN will find a sympathetic audience there. Polish Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro used controversial new court controls recently instituted by the government to dismiss three vice-presidents of the court and appoint its current president in September of this year.
Danielle Forest contributed to the reporting of this article.