Polish Media under Pressure

Headquarters of the national television network TVP in Warsaw.

Press pluralism and freedom are central to an open and engaging media environment. Moreover, a free press is widely acknowledged as an important aspect of a democratic state. Following elections in October 2015 and the success of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), concerted efforts have been made by the right-wing government to alter the position of the media in Poland. Media in Poland has by no means been entirely free of government interference prior to the election victory for the PiS. What is especially alarming about more recent events is the extent to which the Law and Justice Party have sought to consolidate control, and paints a cautionary tale for press freedom in the future.

Perhaps the most prominent example of government dissatisfaction with the media is the December 2016 attempt to tightly control journalist’s access to parliament. Framed as a means of regulating the media’s presence in parliament and allowing fairer access to politicians for smaller publications, the decision ultimately sparked outrage. How could the public be reliably informed about the actions or discussions of their elected representatives, if press access was so heavily restricted? Removing opportunities to interview politicians within parliament, or to record committee meetings, does not therefore appear to be an altruistic move to ensure ‘equal access’, or to better regulate proceedings. The nature of resultant protests, both in their scale and inclusion of opposition lawmakers and the public, likely surprised the government, leading to the proposed changes being dropped. The blowback is particularly pertinent given the clearly established intention of the government to challenge critical journalism. Public protest over the issue does, however, show that ordinary Poles are unhappy about the situation.

This particular example can be seen in the wider context of other legislation and the government’s goal of exerting greater control over the press. Public media has been undermined through direct interference within the process of appointing supervisory and management board members to national TV and radio broadcasters. The ‘small media law’, passed in January 2016, and the subsequent creation of a National Media Council under newer legislation, represent a desire by the PiS to strip the public media of its independence. Controlling content and how it is presented gives the government a great deal of influence over consumers of news.

Government reform of the press, or their determination to achieve it, has further polarised what is already a divided media landscape. Self-censorship, through fear of repercussions, ultimately curtails opposition-friendly outlets and individuals. The fate of Polish democracy is therefore tightly bound to the state of its press.




What price Freedom of Speech in Russia?

In Russia, the opportunity for free expression is being thwarted.

Under Putin the content of mainstream media has become dispiritingly predictable. Fines and penalties are levied on media not conforming to the Kremlin’s political narrative. As a result independent outlets have either closed down due to lack of funds or been forced into self-censorship. The remaining mainstream media companies are either state controlled or funded by government loyalists, effectively silencing the voice of the opposition.

There are many examples. When the 2013 Moscow mayoral elections were on, the state run RIA media agency would often quote Alexei Navalny, the anti-government candidate, in its campaign news reports. Needless to say Putin’s deputy chief of staff, Alexei Gromov, contacted the agency’s editor-in-chief warning her that a state news agency must not work against the state’s own interests by promoting the opposition.

At the end of 2011, mass anti-government protests were organised through social media, highlighting the effectiveness of the internet as a tool for political mobilisation. In response to these demonstrations the government introduced new legislation allowing them to censor and block internet content.

Online space for the public debate of sensitive issues, such as Syria, Ukraine and LGBT rights, has begun to shrink and people have even been arrested for blogging. In the same way that media companies were forced into self-censorship, members of the public have now become increasingly insecure about limits of acceptable speech. Combine this with the spate of arrests during the 2017 anti-corruption protests and it becomes clear that the opportunity for public dialogue is being stifled in all areas.

Putin’s brand of authoritarianism treats freedom of expression not as a right but as an impediment. This ‘we-know-best’ policing of anti-government ideas reflects the insecurity of Putin’s government. 20th century political history tells you that fear mongering and the suppression of dialogue are the foundations on which oppressive governments are built. The Russian people must be granted their right to receive and disseminate opinions of all types.

International Media Awards 2017

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Copyright © Matthew Tomkinson 2017

 This year saw the return of the International Media Awards after a four year interval.  The awards recognise journalists and editors who have made outstanding contributions towards fostering understanding in the Middle East and around the world. Over 150 people from the world of business, politics and the media were in attendance to celebrate the work of some of the most dedicated journalists who in many instances have put their very lives on the line in the name of credible journalism and exposing the truth.

 The prizes are divided into several different categories including the Peace through Media Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award, the Cutting Edge Award, the Breakaway Award, the New Ground Award and the Outstanding Contribution to Broadcasting Award. As is tradition, winners are given the gift of an olive tree, a symbol of peace to represent their sacrifices and untiring efforts.

 “Thank you to all the people who work and worked with me, thank you to the people who risked their lives and lost their lives with me” said Fabio Scuto on the collection of The Peace through Media Award, given to journalists who have contributed to a more accurate understanding of the Middle East throughout their careers. His heartfelt words were a reminder of the overwhelming risks that journalists across the world take in service of the truth, and the tragic human cost of fighting for a more peaceful world.

 This year, prizes were won by Fabio Scuto of La Stampa; Imad Karam, a Gazan film maker; Rogel Alpher of Haaretz; Geoffrey Lean, Britain’s longest serving environmental correspondent; Adel Darwish, a veteran Westminster based reporter; Iona Craig, a journalist dedicated to uncovering the Yemeni crisis; Ohad Hemo, a correspondent for Palestinian affairs on Israel’s most watched TV channel; Gareth Browne of the Times; Jack Merlin Watling of NewsFixed; Christine Garabedian, a London based documentary film maker; Nomak Kroshnaw, a BBC freelance producer; and Lyse Doucet OBE, the Chief International Correspondent of the BBC.



It was with profound sadness that we heard the news of the Manchester bombing. This act of cruelty was all the more atrocious because it deliberately targeted the young and vulnerable.

Those who set themselves apart by committing acts of extreme brutality, and those who support them, have often been warned of the consequences of their actions.

Violence spawns violence.

Anger spawns anger.

Hate spawns hate.

Our response, however, will be different. We cherish our values. We stand for compassion. We stand for sincerity. We stand for loyalty. We stand for hope. We stand for an inclusive society rather than a small minded world based on exclusivity. We stand with all of good heart. We stand together, strengthened, not cowed, by this piteous act.

This act redoubles our resolve to protect our vulnerable, most particularly the very young and the very old, the weak and the dispossessed – And to prevent them from all harm. And in so doing build a world founded on love and fellowship and complete freedom from fear.

The 2017 International Media Awards

After an interval of a number of years the International Media Awards, are going ahead at last under the auspices of the International Communications Forum. They will take place on the 28th of June this year in Whitehall, London. Esteemed guests will be arriving from right across the Middle East, from places as disparate as Libya, Afghanistan and Israel.

The last time the International Media Awards were held was in 2013, in which there were seven award categories including The Peace through Media Award, Photography and Visual Media Award, Lifetime Achievement Award,  Cutting Edge Award, Breakaway Award, The New Media Award and Award for Outstanding Achievement. The 2013 winners include notable photojournalist Sir Donald McCullin CBE, the South-African born Israeli author Benjamin Pogrund. jounralist and author of the award-winning book ‘Not the Enemy: Israel’s Jews from Arab Lands’, Rachel Shabi.

Historically, The International Media Awards have been organised to celebrate principles of ethical journalism, including the precepts of truth and accuracy, fairness and impartiality,  humanity and finally, accountability. These concepts may have become neglected in the post-truth age we currently live in, where alternative facts are given as much credibility as honest journalism. It is, therefore, vital to honour the commitment and professionalism credible journalists have when uncovering the truth about the most complex political tides the world faces today.

Please see the following link for a collection of interviews from the winners and supporters of the 2013 International Media Awards held at the Oxford and Cambridge Club, Pall Mall, London on the 11th of May 2013.


The attack on Britain’s parliament

We are profoundly saddened, as is everyone we know, by the lone wolf attack on Britain’s parliament by an individual who must presumably be an ISIS / Daesh sympathiser.

What makes a man commit an atrocity of this kind in which innocent civilians are killed? Any attack that deliberately targets civilians is morally repugnant in the eyes of humanity at large, and is to be presumed utterly reprehensible in the eyes of any God the attacker may or may not believe in.

The worst of it is that any atrocity is by definition one of the worst crimes conceivable because atrocity breeds atrocity as retribution breeds retribution and a cycle of violence is spawned.

Forgiveness is difficult; moreso for some of us when we suppress our natural reaction to those that target the innocent. And in this instance a number of the injured were children. And the natural reaction of at least some of us is to wish any such attacker may burn in hell.

However there is a place beyond forgiving – for some acts can never be forgiven except by the righteous and there are precious few of those in this world. But there is a place beyond forgiving in which we show compassion, mercy and love to our enemies and their victims alike.

The enemies of humanity (whether Daesh / ISIS, or Al Qa’idah, or indeed any who deliberately target non-combatants of any kind) expect and deserve our outrage. Indeed they often act as they do in order to provoke our hatred.

We defeat them best, and their entire ideology of exclusivity, when we find it in our hearts to offer them our pity, and face down their self-consuming hatred with our own ideology of inclusivity, compassionate mercy, and love.

God will judge them, we should not. Nor should we allow extremists the satisfaction that their actions may have in some way instilled in us any sense of fear in regard to tomorrow. We have no need to worry about tomorrow. God is already there.

New UK Press Regulations: Are we Impressed?

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers” 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

A new press regulation plan has been proposed by the UK government, formally known as Section 40 of the Crime Courts Act 2013, in response to the Leveson Inquiry. The plan is being put forward to protect national interests by regulating and assuring only trustworthy and reliable articles are published.

Under the new scheme, publishers must sign up to the UK’s first ever independent regulator; Impress. If newspapers do not sign up, they would have to pay the cost of any legal action against them, regardless of the merit of the lawsuit. The ‘regulator’, however, would be funded by the kind of people who are often subject of investigations. The leaking of the Panama Papers is a good example of a situation which would not have been published under the new proposed regulations; the publisher simply wouldn’t be able to afford the defamation claims against the reporter. The new regulations do not protect the reporters, rather it ties their hands and benefits the oligarchs and the wealthy; the primary funders of the scheme.

The public relies on reporters to have a broad scope of information about what is going on around us and in other parts of the world. Their freedom allows a range of theories and ideas to be tried and tested. If their level of truth and accuracy is questionable, then as the public, we have the freedom to personally choose and filter our sources of information. Freedom of press is no threat to our nation, rather its censorship would undermine the very values which support the heart of our country’s freedom. We have to ask ourselves who the regulations have been set up to protect. It certainly compromises the investigation for reporters with a regulated frontier.

Furthermore, the regulation challenges the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which promises the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Although Section 40 seeks to generate ‘trustworthy’ resources, if there is such a thing in our post-truth political culture, it simultaneously breaches the public’s freedom of opinion and expression by withholding from them information which might be enlightening. The public can use this information to put pressure on to create a more accountable and transparent system. Perhaps Section 40 would be doing the nation more damage than good.

Imposing Section 40 in the hope of punishing reporters who care little for truth is being done at the expense of their freedom; the freedom of press. Reporters would no longer be able to exercise their right to circulate opinions in print without censorship from this independent regulator. It surrounds reporters with egg shells, threatens publishers with possible bankruptcy for crossing a line which seeks to silence them, and surrounds the few who are exposed to scandal with a protective bubble.

Social Media’s role in combatting extremism.

A recent Select Committee report has highlighted a number of issues regarding the Government’s policies on extremism.  Among them were calls for social media giants Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to take far more responsibility in tackling radicalisation and extremism on the internet.  The companies have inadvertently become a platform for Daesh’s ideology, and are consciously failing to implement the right strategy to combat it.  A large proportion of its propaganda, recruitment process and latest news are readily available to read through posts, groups, videos, photos and tweets.  Facebook and Google informed the commissioners of the report that they proactively inform law enforcement agencies about terrorist material.  On the other hand, Twitter told the commissioners it does not do this, explaining that the site ‘is public, that content is available so often it has been seen already’.

Is the report’s condemnation of social media companies enough?  Are their calls for greater transparency by publishing quarterly statistics on how much data has been taken down going to put an end to online extremism?  I believe more should and can be done to take on this growing problem, which left alone, could make the internet an even deadlier weapon.  Simply removing data and assigning small teams to monitor the situation makes very little sense when recognising that social media is the primary platform for extremist groups.  Companies with an enormous reach on the internet need to combat radicalisation and extremism with greater force.  The ease of creating a YouTube channel, a twitter account or a Facebook group in today’s world, and the fluency at which the information is duplicated and spread in a matter of seconds, paints a very threatening picture.

Resilience and faith have stood the test of time on countless occasions.  Online open movements for all faiths, ideologies in the name of love, empathy, forgiveness and freedom possess a robust and pure answer to radical ideologies.  We should be combating extremist ideology with our own extremist ideology, one of compassion and empathy towards people belonging to any faith and those belonging to none at all.

By Nihal Patel

A Biased Media – Us vs Them?


The tragic attack in Nice on Thursday 14th of June, Bastille Day, is one of utter heartbreak. Currently, 84 citizens are dead including 10 children, with 202 more civilians injured. Already the Western world is provoked and sympathetic towards the situation in France, with landmarks such as the Palace of Westminster to be lit up in the French colours to show the British people’s solidarity with the French, and the growing rise of Facebook’s “flagtivism’. This notion of solidarity is something which should be praised, as it highlights humanitarian support.

However, it must be noted that there was a considerable lack of solidarity, flagtivism and landmarks draped in national colours when just as horrendous bomb attacks occurred in places such as Turkey and Iraq. The most recent terrorist attacks in Iraq similarly happened on a national holiday, Eid, and during the holy month of Ramadan. Yet where was the media coverage? The bombings in the capital of Iraq killed over 200 people two weeks ago, but on the media it seemed to be less important than the terrorist attacks that happen here in the West. When media coverage has a greater focus and emphasis on what happens in the West it almost seems to suggest that the deaths of Westerners are far more significant than the deaths of those in Middle Eastern countries.

This is not to say that the tragic deaths of those in Nice are less important than those in the Middle East — they were equally as shocking and devastating. The media now needs to combat such acts of cowardly terror through pushing aside ancient orientalist notions of Us vs Them, and truly take up the belief of “#AllLivesMatter” by reporting with equal concern of those closer to home as well as further away. The only way we can fight such attacks is we support each other in solidarity — ethnicities aside.