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Taking control of Poland's airwaves

A left-right coalition has taken control of public media as a presidential election approaches.

Jacek Sobala, the head of one of the public radio stations ("Three"), was one of the speakers at a recent overtly Law and Justice rally commemorating the first month after the air disaster. He exhorted the crowd: “Please believe me, it’s possible for Poland to be ours, for Poland to be for us.”

While Kaczynski and his Law and Justice party are by far the largest opposition grouping, the much smaller Democratic Left Alliance has been keen to grab its share of the airwaves. It recently managed to remove the director of the all-news TVPInfo network for not doing enough to promote the campaign of Grzegorz Napieralski, the leader of the Democratic Left Alliance, who is only polling at about 5 percent.

Reporters have long been familiar with these kinds of demands, and those who do not want to take part in the propaganda war try to spend their time covering non-political stories.

“We’ve learned to keep our heads down,” said a non-partisan producer at TVPInfo.

While the government does not have direct control of public channels, it does tend to get a very positive hearing in private television, particularly the influential TVN network, as well as the country’s largest serious daily newspaper, the Gazeta Wyborcza.

However, private television is doing well financially, while the public media are hemorrhaging red ink, and hundreds of thousands of Poles no longer bother paying the mandatory public media fees that are common in Europe.

Despite these problems, there remains a conviction that getting access to the airwaves is key to winning election campaigns — something that recent history does not actually bear out. The Democratic Left Alliance was shattered in the 2005 elections, despite having a lock on public TV and radio. Two years later, Law and Justice lost the parliamentary elections, although by then it was in charge of the media.

In light of that, perhaps Civic Platform’s reluctance to elbow its way into the public media makes sense.

“Fortunately in Poland those who control the public media don’t win elections,” said Donald Tusk, the prime minister, in a recent interview.