Poles voting in Sunday’s general election had limited chances of making an "informed choice" because of Poland’s state-owned media, a leading intergovernmental organisation has said.
The report published by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) adds weight to complaints that public radio and television have been reduced to the broadcasting arm of Law and Justice, Poland’s governing party that won the weekend’s vote.
"The distinct editorial bias of the media, especially the public broadcaster, and the absence of active oversight, adversely impacted the opportunity of voters to make an informed choice," said the report.
Further accusations of bias could also add to concerns that the Central European country is back-peddling on democratic values under Law and Justice, which have been sparked by a judicial overhaul some consider a threat to the rule of law.
The party was returned to power over the weekend with a parliamentary majority.
The OSCE report noted that in their newscasts TVP1 and TVP Info, two public television channels, “displayed a clear bias against” opposition parties and candidates with “journalists often referring to them as ‘pathetic,’ ‘incompetent’ or ‘lying.’"
Poland election results
Public television still holds considerable influence in Poland, with around 30 per cent of the population reliant on terrestrial broadcasting for their news.
The government has frequently defended public television, claiming that professional standards of impartiality have been maintained, and that a bias against Law and Justice has been redressed.
The Association of Polish Journalists attacked the OSCE report, saying it contained “superficial and harmful assessments of the politicians and journalists” and that it “presented a distorted picture of the election campaign.” But this has failed to qualm fears over the state of the media in Poland.
Since Law and Justice came into office in 2015, the country’s place on the Reporters Without Borders’ international ranking of press freedom in 180 countries has crashed from 18th to 58th.
“Law and Justice is a danger to press freedom,” said Andrzej Krajewski, who co-ordinates a team monitoring public media for the Polish Journalists’ Society.
“Press freedom is restricted in Poland by the party. The corner stone of democracy, which are the elections, are being manipulated and restricted by Law and Justice using this propaganda in public media."
He added: “This reminds me of Martial Law journalism," referring to the military crackdown on the Solidarity trade union in 1981.