Photo above: SvetaZi/Shutterstock
Here is an example of why media independence is vital to people everywhere.
In Poland, the ruling nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) alleges the media are controlled by Germany and says foreign control should be stopped. The real aim is to bring the media into line with the politics of a country whose ranking in the annual World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders has fallen every year that PiS has been in power – from 18th to 59th.
The influential state television station, TVP, has proved itself more valuable than any billboard or advertising campaign. TVP consistently puts forward a stream of fawning stories about the ruling party. It constantly reminds Poles of how much money the government is spending on social programs and warns that any swing to the opposition would lead to financial ruin for Poland. It is estimated that in the Polish countryside, 50% of residents get their news solely from the national broadcaster.
Here is just one example of TVP disinformation. When activist Greta Thunberg urged the United Nations to take seriously the need to tackle the climate crisis, Polish state television said viewers needed more context. It broadcast a photograph of Thunberg standing with George Soros, the billionaire investor and progressive political donor. TVP used it to allege that Thunberg is part of a global cabal that opposes Poland’s Law and Justice Party and populists around the world. Widely circulated online by far-right extremists, the photo combined the head of Soros with the body of Al Gore, former vice president of the United States. FactChecker.org exposed the fake photo on 30 September 2019.
During its four years in power, Law and Justice has imposed heavy restrictions on the Polish media landscape, establishing complete government control over TVP and cracking down on independent media. Today, TVP not only shapes Poland’s perception of the Law and Justice Party, but also of the outside world.
Why is this a problem? In the opinion of media guru Robert W. McChesney, in order to participate fully in society, citizens depend on media that play a genuine public service role: media that enable citizens to understand and challenge government policies and actions; media that facilitate and encourage informed public debate.
Vibrant, diverse and independent media are the bedrock of a well-functioning democracy in which both government and society can act with responsibility and accountability.