Swedish press on threats to Polish media freedom

An editorial in today’s edition of Sweden’s largest broadsheet, independent liberal Dagens Nyheter, illustrates several things. It highlights the differences between media systems, to use Hallin and Mancini’s terminology, or between cultures of media and politics, in democracies in the same political union. It is an example of agenda-setting by editor-in-chief Peter Wolodarski. And it illustrates a narrative technique that journalists sometimes use to make ‘foreign’ events more meaningful for domestic audiences. The agenda-setting is clear in the headline of the editorial: ‘Incomprehensible Swedish silence over the attacks on liberal democracy’. The differences in the relationship between journalists and government in the two states on different sides of the Baltic Sea are emphasized by a fictitious scenario Wolodarski invites his readers to imagine. One Sunday evening, the host of ‘Agenda’, the weekly news magazine broadcast by SVT, Sweden’s public service broadcaster, invites the Minister of Culture, Alice Bah Kuhnke, to the studio. The Minister of Culture is interviewed about a proposed new law that aims to put SVT under political control. Very soon, the management of the public service broadcasters is to be sacked, and the government will decide who replaces it. The new bosses will be close to the government. In the studio (in this fictitious Sunday-night scenario), the journalist poses critical questions about these plans, which have developed in the teeth of vociferous opposition by the country’s leading legal experts, and demonstrations by thousands of people in cities throughout Sweden. ‘In recent weeks’, the minister replies, ‘we in the government have noted that news coverage in the public service channels is unreliable. That means we must act quickly. If the media continues to criticise the changes we are making, then it must be stopped.’ When the journalist continues to question the minister, and asks how these measures are in keeping with the government’s express ambition of giving SVT and public service radio the mission of defending ‘Swedish national interests’, the minister replies: ‘What you are doing here is not journalism, but propaganda. And it will not continue.’ This has not happened in Sweden, writes the editorialist. On the contrary: the firewall between the government and Sweden’s public service companies has been strengthened of late, the management of those organizations has been professionalized, and the distance between the news desks and the government has widened. But the scenario is being played out not far from Sweden. Poland’s Minister of Culture recently appeared on Polish television and declared that the ‘propaganda’ spread by Polish public service broadcasters, and its ‘manipulations’ would soon be a thing of the past. ‘These are not empty threats’, notes the Swedish editorialist. ‘This past week, the Polish president signed a new media law, that lays the way for a massive political purge of the most important broadcast media.’ In an interview in the Swedish newspaper, the Polish Minister of Culture, Piotr Glinski, says that all  the journalists working for Polish public service channels could be fired. The editorialist notes similarities between developments in Poland and what has happened in Hungary under the leadership of Viktor Orbán, and sees similarities between the rhetoric of the Polish governing party and that of authoritarian leaders such as Erdogan in Turkey and Putin in Russia, and right-wing populists such as Le Pen in France and Trump in the US. The editorial ends where it began, by suggesting this be put on the political agenda. ‘Sweden is one of Poland’s most important neighbours. To date, the Swedish government has said nothing about the attacks on democracy in that country. The silence is imcomprehensible. It is a far cry from the state of war in 1981, when Sweden’s Social Democrats mobilized to support the trade union Solidarity and freedom in Poland.’


Picture: Polish Culture Minister Piotr Gliński. Photo by Piotr Drabik, via Wikimedia Commons


Read more:


Controversial bill signed into law by Polish President’, Euronews, 7 January 2016


Poland’s President Approves Controls on State Media’, New York Times, 8 January 2016


The view from Russia: ‘Let’s not overdramatize’, RT, 8 January 2016


The Dagens Nyheter editorial (in Swedish)


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