Poland accuses BBC of bias after broadcaster alleges country is being ‘Putinised’

People attend an anti-government demonstration in front of the presidential Palace in Warsaw, on January 23, 2016. © Wojtek Radwanski
Poland has launched a formal protest against the BBC in connection with a film suggesting that its current government was “Putinising” the country. A letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the broadcaster of being biased in its portrayal.

The report in question was broadcast on the BBC’s current affairs program Newsnight, which featured interviews with a government official, as well as members of the Polish public who are against recently introduced changes affecting Poland’s judiciary and the media.

“In our opinion, the report Is Poland being ‘Putinised? presented the current political situation in Poland in a superficial and distorted manner, far from the journalistic merits expected from the BBC and in apparent contradiction to some of the broadcaster’s own editorial guidelines,” a statement from Artur Dmochowski, a spokesman for Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, read.

The letter from the Polish government also accused the BBC report of failing to provide a balanced argument, saying it lacked background information and situational context.

In addition, BBC reporter Katie Razzall was accused of “falling for the spin of one of the sides of the political spectrum.”

It’s only been in power for two months,” Razzall said, “But already the ruling Law and Justice party here made some pretty big changes. It pushed through reforms to increase its influence in the highest court in the land. It sacked managers and reporters in state-owned TV and radio stations. It’s purging the civil service and it’s boosting the surveillance rights of the police and secret services.”

The Polish government also faulted the BBC for involving the daughter of a political opponent of the ruling Law and Justice Party in the program.

Appointing Maya Rostowski to take part in the production of a news item about politics in Poland raises our deep concerns about Newsnight impartiality,” the letter stated.

Rostowski is the daughter of former Polish Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Jan Vincent Rostowski, a high ranked Civil Platform politician who is a fierce opponent of the Law and Justice Party.

Poland fell under the scrutiny of the Western media and European Commission after Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s conservative Law and Justice Party was elected to power and promptly adopted new legislation affecting the country’s constitutional court and media.

Under the new laws, the treasury minister will now have the power to appoint and sack senior figures in public radio and television, as opposed to them competing for the appointment that was made by the National Broadcasting Council under the previous rules.

Several key figures in the Polish media resigned in an act of protest, saying they would be sacked if the new laws were passed. These included the heads of three of Polish public broadcaster TVP’s TV channels, and the head of its human resources department.

No one can force Poland to shut its mouth. No one can force me to shut my mouth,” Tomazs Lis, one of Poland’s most well-known journalists, told the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper in explaining his resignation.

In a move that led protesters to take to the streets, Warsaw introduced changes to the Constitutional Court raising the quorum for deciding the most contentious cases from 9 to 13 judges out of 15 – thus making it harder to secure rulings.

In January, as MEPs were debating the state of the rule of law in Poland following the contentious changes, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo scolded the EU for wasting “so much time” monitoring Warsaw’s internal issues at a time when it had its own urgent problems to address.

I must say I do not see the need to devote so much time to Poland ... I think you have many important issues to address,” Szydlo told Members of the European Parliament, while rejecting the EU’s harsh criticism of her government’s policies.