Polish Defenders of Free Speech Journey to Rome (Part 1)

Radio Maria Founder Comments on Pilgrimage and Challenges in Homeland

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ROME, NOV. 14, 2012 (Zenit.org).- At last week’s Wednesday general audience, some 5,000 Polish pilgrims were part of the crowd — pilgrims united by their support for radio and TV stations in Poland that are fighting for their right to survive and expand.

Radio Maria listeners and Trwam Television viewers enjoyed during their pilgrimage a Mass celebrated near St. Peter’s tomb by the Pope’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education. More than a dozen bishops from Poland joined in, including Archbishop Waclaw Depo of Częstochowa, president of the Polish bishops’ Commission for Social Communications. 

They came as pilgrims eager to show Polish support for Benedict XVI, but also with the hope that their presence would bring light to the fact that free speech is under threat in Poland, and that eminent Catholics who refuse to bow to the dictatorship of the «politically correct» and to the dominant mentality of relativism are being discriminated against.

ZENIT spoke about these difficult issues with the Polish Redemptorist, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, founder and director of Radio Maria in his country.

Part 2 of this interview will be published on Thursday, November 15, 2012:

ZENIT: One of the Church’s priorities is the attention and concern paid by Catholic media to communicating the message of the Gospel. What is the situation of the Catholic media in Poland?

Father Rydzyk: I remember many years ago, John Paul II asked me during a conversation about the possibility of founding a Catholic television station. When one of those present remarked that there was already a small Catholic TV station in Poland run by the Franciscan fathers (which unfortunately closed a few years later), John Paul II replied: «It’s very good that there’s one station, but it would be desirable that the percentage of polish media outlets in Poland correspond to the percentage of Poles, and that the percentage of Catholic media outlets correspond to the percentage of Catholics.”

ZENIT: Do you mean to say that the Polish media outlets are in foreign hands, and that the percentage of Catholic media outlets is relatively small?

Father Rydzyk: Exactly. Catholic media – and independent media in general – account for only a small fraction in the whole spectrum of media outlets in Poland. This was understandable during the Communist era, when everything was controlled and regulated by the regime. But with the advent of the independent trade union Solidarity, we expected a plethora of Catholic media to arise, as well as the freedom to broadcast the Holy Mass on the radio.

ZENIT: But the coup of General Jaruzeski in 1981 halted these aspirations …

Father Rydzyk: The state of war blocked democratic life until 1989. With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, an agreement was made between the government and the bishops. From then on, all dioceses were able to have their own radio stations. The Bishops gave us their radio frequencies and so we founded and broadcast Radio Maria.

ZENIT: What problems do Catholic media face in Poland?

Father Rydzyk:  When we talk about media, we can’t limit ourselves to considering the technical aspects or the equipment. First, we need to think about the reporters.

Under communism, students were formed in the spirit of Marxism. Today, unfortunately, the Marxist model has been replaced by radical libertarianism. In order for Catholic media to grow, we need to begin by forming journalists in schools and Catholic universities.

Generally speaking, the situation with Catholic media is difficult. To give an example: the Catholic weekly ‘Niedziela’ (Sunday), founded 86 years ago, has been closed down twice: the first time was in 1939, during World War II, and the second time was in the 50s, when it was closed by communist authorities for some 26 years. It was revived in the ’80s thanks to Monsignor Ireneusz Skubis and has become one of the most popular and well-published Polish Catholic weeklies.  It’s still holding on today, although there are economic problems. Radical libertarian circles have made huge investments in the media, something the Church is simply unable to do, even though it’s always being accused of being rich. This simply doesn’t correspond to the truth.

There are also difficulties in obtaining work permits and licenses. It’s relatively easy to obtain permission to publish newspapers and books, but when it comes to radio or television, there are still ideological barriers. The people in power in Poland would be willing to grant such permission if we were more «politically correct» or submissive to their cultural model. But yielding to such blackmail would mean limiting the possibility of evangelizing. Catholic media must be independent of any political-economic system, and independent from the great powers of this world.

ZENIT: The media outlet you founded, Maria Radio and TV Trwam, are paying a high price for their independence …

Father Rydzyk: In the beginning, in 1991, Radio Maria was granted permission to broadcast from only two small stations. Following this, there was enormous pressure from civil society. Millions of people and various organizations expressed their support for us, so that Radio Maria was granted a license to broadcast throughout the entire country. However, if you compare this to the power of private broadcasters, we remain at a great disadvantage, because while it’s true that we cover the whole country, it isn’t in ‘stereo’ like other broadcasters. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court of Control (NIK) and Parliament have recognized that we are being discriminated against and that there isn’t equal treatment, nothing has changed.

Given that Radio Maria is still alive and holding on, they are trying to penalize us economically. The same thing is happening with the TV Trwam. Certain powerful groups want to prevent Catholic TV from being present on the digital platform, which beginning next year will ensure that Poles receive free access to a number of TV stations. We were denied a single license, while they’ve given 13 places to a single group and two to another. Furthermore, they have granted licenses to broadcasters who don’t meet the criteria necessary for obtaining them.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

Part 2 of this interview, on battling the remains of Communism, will be published on Thursday, November 15, 2012.

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