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Cablegate: The (Last?) Battle for Public Media in Poland

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Anne W McNeill 10/19/2006 03:29:08 PM From DB/Inbox: Search Results

Cable
Text:


UNCLAS WARSAW 01523

SIPDIS
CXWARSAW:
ACTION: PAS
INFO: MGT POL GS

DISSEMINATION: PASG
CHARGE: PAS

APPROVED: PAS:EKULAKOWSKI
DRAFTED: PAS:CBEAMER,AJAKOWIE
CLEARED: POL: DVANCLEVE

VZCZCWRI776
PP RUCNMEM RUEHC
DE RUEHWR #1523/01 2071309
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 261309Z JUL 06
FM AMEMBASSY WARSAW
TO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES PRIORITY
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1461

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 WARSAW 001523

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO PL
SUBJECT: THE (LAST?) BATTLE FOR PUBLIC MEDIA IN POLAND

REF: A. WARSAW 05 03720
B. WARSAW 05 04079

SBU: NOT FOR INTERNET DISTRIBUTION


SUMMARY
--------

1. (SBU) Journalists and media observers continue to bemoan
the perceived loss of independence for public media. While
Polish Public media has ebbed and flowed with majority
politics since 1989 never has the division between
politicians and media been drawn in such sharp relief. The
dust is settling in the appointments fury following the
announcement of a coalition government between ruling Law and
Justice (PIS), Self-Defense (SO) and the League of Polish
Families (LPR). For the first time since independence in
1989 no opposition party holds a seat on the Boards of
Directors for public television, public radio, the Polish
Press Agency nor the powerful National Broadcasting Council
(KRRiT). This unique situation was brought on by the PIS
sweep of the Presidency, Senate, and Parliament in
conjunction with a new media law run through Parliament in
record time in late 2005 (see Reftel B). The cantankerous
environment has reached its apex with SO Chairman and Deputy
Prime Minister Andrzej Lepper calling for TVP President
Bronislaw Wildstein's dismissal over Wildstein's refusal to
name SO's candidate director of TVP 3 regional television; a
critical slot to guarantee positive rural coverage before
local elections in November. Andrzej Mietkowski, head of TVP
news and former President of the Polish News Bulletin, put it
bluntly: "I see the future of TVP in dark colors."

APPOINTMENTS
------------

2. (SBU) As is customary in many democracies, like our own,
political appointments of supporters is nothing new. What
makes the situation for public media in Poland unique is the
unprecedented PIS dominance across the government spectrum.
The Boards of Directors for public media have representatives
from the Senate, Parliament, and Presidency. Since Poland's
first freely elected government in 1989, no one party has
wielded the majority in all three branches of government.
The Boards of Directors are directly responsible for naming
the supervisory boards which work in cooperation with the
President of each organ (Radio, TV, Press Agency) to appoint
directors. In addition, the new media law passed in December
2005 dissolved the National Broadcast Council (KRRiT) and
reduced its membership from nine to five. Members that
previously rotated two at a time for six-year terms were
swept aside and replaced with an entirely new (coalition)
five member board. Hence, in a matter of six months, all
public media power positions have been replaced by PIS or one
of its coalition partners.

3. (SBU) LPR appointee to the Board of Directors at TVP,
Piotr Farfal, remains in his post despite media revelations
last month that he published a neo-Nazi newspaper as a
teenager. Farfal offered his resignation to the KRRiT board,
but they have, as yet, to act. Farfal, a 28 year old who
finished law school last year, is a notable example of the
ongoing politicization of public media jobs, and the failure
of any coalition party to vet candidates for virulently
anti-Semitic views that would bar their appointment in most
countries.

WILDSTEIN
---------

4. (SBU) One of the most influential appointments in Poland
is the President of Public Television. Public Television
still holds over 60% of the viewer market in Poland, rates
higher than that for news and current events, and
traditionally rates highest in public opinion polls on
credibility and reliability of information. PIS named
Bronislaw Wildstein President of TVP. Wildstein is a widely
respected right-leaning journalist famous for publicizing a
number of secret communist era security files exposing
communist sympathizers. The term "Wildstein's list" is now
synonymous in Poland with the archives at the National
Remembrance Institute. Being suspected of inclusion on
"Wildstein's list" can be the political death knell for
public figures. His "anti-Communist", "anti-corruption",
reputation and right leaning politics fit well with the
ruling PIS party while naming a respected journalism
professional appeased the media community with whom PIS has a
hate/hate relationship. Wildstein is in a tough position now
as political pressures mount against what many feel is the
integrity of TVP. Boleslaw Sulik, a former KRRiT chairman
and current employee of TVP's film production agency, told
post that "TVP has always been politicized but I don't
remember the situation ever being as bad as it is currently.
We allow Jaroslaw Kaczynski to say absurd things without a
reaction. Everything he does, whether Lepper, Giertych,
Radio Maryja, all those absurd things he says should be
considered publicly as extremely cynical political thinking."
On the flip side, SO Deputy Krzysztof Filipek has been
quoted as saying, "President Wildstein has been repeating
that he will not allow any politician to manage TVP. He has
forgotten that he was nominated thanks to political
agreement."
5. (SBU) For his own part, Wildstein has said he would strive
to keep his post at TVP until the current Sejm (Parliament)
term ends. He has also proven that he is not totally
malleable to political ends though by blocking the preferred
coalition choices for key directorships at TVP 1 and TVP 3.
"It is my role to give it (television) independence and watch
how it carries out its mission," he said. In support of
Wildstein the Polish Journalists' Association adopted a
resolution against "politicians breaching media law that in
no section gives them the right to intervene in the
operations of public media."

COMMENT
-------

6. (SBU) If Wildstein is dismissed (far from inconceivable in
today's topsy-turvy Polish politics) the media hailstorm
released against the ruling coalition will dwarf any previous
squabbles. Journalists see Wildstein as the last check for
media independence. Post suspects that PIS leaders are too
savvy to allow that, however, and in fact are secretly not
opposed to Wildstein's blocking of key directorships for
their coalition partners. As reported, it is widely accepted
that PIS strategy consists of a plan to swallow up its
coalition members on the right. Having SO control regional
television in the run-up to local elections would hardly fit
with that strategy and the last thing the Kaczynski twins
need at this juncture is to further alienate the press. End
Comment.

HILLAS

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