Who closes the mouth of journalists? – Świebodzin debate on the media (reporting activities)

Can public authorities have their own media? What is the difference between media whose head is the mayor of a city and the politicized public television?  Is it possible to make efficient regulation around active citizens’ activity in the Internet? Do parties have any idea how to make public media independent? Do they want to have it? And what public television do we need if it is needed at all?

On November 18,  Świebodzin TV together with the Citizens Network Watchdog Polska organized a media debate entitled “Who closes the mouth of journalists?” in Świebodzin (West of Poland, above 21,000 inhanbitants). This is one of the series of debates that take place within the “Common Denominator” – Traveling Discussion Club. The Club is an idea for talks about Poland. We would like to start spontaneous movement of places where local leaders raise issues important for all Poles to be discussed in their communities.  So both themes and places will be different. But they are linked by the quest for ideas and solutions through debating.

The Club is a result of an initiative started by the Political Capital Institute in Hungary and the Institute for Public Affairs in Poland.  In Poland they are joined by us – the Citizens Network Watchdog Poland, the Autonomy Foundation and the Soclab Foundation. Other partners are the organizers of the debates. For now it is Świebodzin TV. The next round of debates will build a snowball of people and initiatives involved.

The debate was divided into three parts. In the first one we focused on local press. As an example we took a magazine sold in the neighboring city of Nowa Sól and the sub region, namely Tygodnik Krąg (a weekly).  The publisher of this weekly is a profitable municipal company. 100% of the shares are held by the mayor of Nowa Sól. The mayor – Wadim Tyszkiewicz – was present at the debate. He argued that this is beneficial for everybody. In his opinion, the weekly has good quality – often better than private media. It also does not need financial support from the city as it makes money itself.  It has been running for 25 years and has the widest coverage among local newspapers. In turn, some of the people listening to the debate claimed that the newspaper belonging to the mayor had no chance of fulfilling its oversight function. Such a function in the case of media is pointed out next to the informational and educational one. This is confirmed by Article 1 of the Press Law:

The Press, in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, enjoys freedom of expression and realizes the right of citizens to fair information, transparency of public life, oversight and criticism.

There were also arguments about unfair competition against private newspapers. They cannot count on help from public money. Doubts also aroused from the legal point of view whether such a press can be sold.

Although the opposite stands have finally not been agreed, we – Watchdog Poland and Świebodzin.tv  – felt encouraged to seek further arguments. In the next – election – year we will also look at how many self-governments  such newspapers operate.

In the next session we talked with an expert, dr. Jack Wyszyński from Adam Mickiewicz University. We wondered if it is possible to stop the flood of false information with legal means. Here we found a common denominator, which is education. Any bans will be easily circumvented, as the creators of new technologies are always faster than the creators of the law.

In the last session we dealt with the public media and the idea – or rather its constant failure – on their reform. Politicians from .Nowoczesna (Modern), Platforma Obywatelska ( the Civic Platform) and Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice) were invited to discuss. Questions were asked by an expert from the Adam Mickiewicz University – dr. Marcin Piechocki. This part shows that everything will happen – if at all – above the heads of citizens. That is why we feel the need to recall the Civic Pact for Public Media. Perhaps it is worth talking about at such debates.

The debate was recorded by Telewizja Słubice (Słubice Television). It was broadcasted in two parts: Are public media politicised? (the topic also raised a discussion in comments below a recording) and I am a type of the Mayor-Chief Editor in one.

We are happy  that we were invited to Świebodzin and that local community joined efforts to organize the event. We received an in-kind contribution from the local bakery. It belongs to Iwona Balcewicz. The Culture Community Centre in Świebodzin gave the room and microphones.

We hope this first debate within the “Common Denominator” – Traveling Discussion Club is a good start. We look forward to more topics, organizers and debates. And we encourage all readers to get interested in the freedom of the media. More info in English on the problem is also available on our website.

The project, within which we organized the “Common Denominator” – Traveling Discussion Club  is titled “Building Constructive Dialogue in Central Europe”. It is financed by National Endowment for Democracy.

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