Poles Defend Freedom of Information in Brussels

Protests in Poland and Brussels to Defend the Right of Catholic TV

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ROME, JUNE 19, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The threat to freedom of information in Poland, with attempts to limit the broadcasts of the country’s only Catholic television station, is a little known issue in the rest of the world.

On Dec. 19, 2011, the National Council of Polish Radio and Television (KRRiT in Polish) did not grant the country’s only Catholic television station space on the new digital platform, which from 2013 will ensure Poles free access to a series of TV broadcasts.

At the beginning of January 2012 the Lux Veritatis Foundation, which is the owner of Trwam TV, appealed against this decision to the Administrative Court of Warsaw.

On Jan. 30, 2012, the Law and Justice Party (PiS) of Jaroslaw Kaczynski – brother of President Lech Kaczynski, who died tragically in an air disaster – presented a motion to the State Court and to some members of the National Council of Radio and Television.

In the meantime the Polish deputies in the European Parliament: Miroslaw Piotrowski, historian, professor at the Catholic University of Lublin, and Zbigniew Ziobro, former Minister of Justice, together with other Polish parliamentarians presented an appeal to the European Commission, asking what it intended to do to ensure transparency in the process of assigning rights on the digital platform.

Fundamental values

According to Piotrowski, the KRRiT’s decision goes against respect for the fundamental values of the European Union, among which is the principles of non-discrimination for religious reasons.

Deputy Ziobro, calling for a change in the decision of the KRRiT, stressed that “it is unacceptable that a state institution should discriminate against a Catholic television station, which already has a consolidated position, which is esteemed and respected, and whose programs enrich the spectator with a vision of life inspired in the moral and social teaching of the Church.”

More than 2 million people signed a petition of protest against the decision of the National Council of Radio and Television.

In face of the popular protests, the KRRiT representatives responded by saying that “the letters of protest do not count.”

Trwam TV is being defended by various organizations, including the Association of Polish Catholic Journalists. Their statement said that “the denial to the only Catholic television station of space on the digital platform is in contradiction with the principles of the democratic State: freedom of speech, pluralism of opinion and freedom of expression, equal access for all to the technical means which allow for the expression of different opinions.”

Meanwhile the permanent council of the Polish episcopate has stated that the exclusion of a broadcasting station of religious character violates the principle of pluralism and equality before the law.

On June 5 a group of Polish politicians organized in the European Parliament a public debate whose purpose was to make known to European parliamentarians and journalists the discrimination against the only Catholic television station in Poland.

The main organizer of the debate, Miroslaw Piotrowski, said that the decision of the Polish National Council of Radio and Television cannot be only a local problem because it concerns the fundamental values of the Union: the question of freedom of speech, of thought, of conscience; the question of pluralism of the media are rights inserted in the Treaty of Lisbon and also in the Charter of the fundamental rights of the EU.

Concern over the threats to freedom of speech in Poland were expressed not only by politicians but also by journalists. Polish journalist Bronislaw Wildstein stressed that the presence of Trwam TV would not change the balance of the Polish media scene, but at least it would be able to play a salutary role for Polish democracy, because it is the only one that “keeps an eye” on power. There is no democracy if there is no pluralism of the media and if the opposition does not also have free access to the media, then the situation becomes worrying, he said.

On the occasion of the debate in the European Parliament regarding Trwam TV, the Polish Catholic weekly “Niedziela” (Sunday) interviewed Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, director of the Catholic television station.

Family meeting blackout

Father Rydzyk stressed the importance of the presence of Catholic media by recalling a recent event: the World Meeting of Families with Benedict XVI at Milan.

The Pope gathered around him 1.5 million people but the Polish media was silent or spoke about marginal events, favoring only critical voices.

The same media gave prominence to news of demonstrations by some 4,000 homosexual protestors.

According to Father Rydzyk those in power would tolerate the Church if it were like the Chinese “Patriotic” Church: subjected to power. Because of this, attempts are also made in Poland to divide the Church, to “soften her.”

Despite the ostracism practiced towards Trwam TV, Father Rydzyk is optimistic because the defence of the only Catholic television station in Poland has shown that in the country there are still very many people with a right conscience who have understood what is at stake.

Father Rydzyk also expressed his pleasant surprise at the fact that in the course of the debate in defence of Polish TV so many non-Catholics and agnostics took part. One of them told him that he was present in the Parliament because he was simply committed to freedom of information in Europe.

The former head of Communist youth and former Communist President of Poland Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said: “If I were still in power, the Redemptorist Fathers (the broadcasting station Radio Maria and Trwam TV are run by the Polish province of the Redemptorists) would have obtained a just place on the digital platform. Even if personally I do not look at Trwam TV, in a pluralist society this TV station should also have its place.”

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