1.5 million Polish homes to only have access to state TV after broadcast system switchover

As Poland introduces a new broadcasting system for terrestrial television, an estimated 1.5 million households that still have old receivers have lost or will soon lose access to most TV stations, including the country’s two main private broadcasters, TVN and Polsat.

However, at the request of the government, the telecoms regulator has allowed state broadcaster TVP to continue to be received in such households. That has drawn criticism from commercial stations and concern from the opposition, given that TVP is used as a mouthpiece by the ruling party.

State TV is Poles’ least trusted news source, finds Oxford University study

Terrestrial television in Poland is currently switching from the DVB-T system to the more modern DVB-T2/HEVC standard. The process is being rolled out in four stages across the country’s 16 provinces, with the first three already completed and the final switchover scheduled for 27 June.

After their region is updated to the new standard, users with old receivers lose access to two of the so-called television multiplexes (MUX-1 and MUX-2), which include TVN and Polsat. The National Media Institute (KIM) estimates that 1.53 million households have TV sets or tuners that do not support DVB-T2/HEVC.

Originally, they were also due to lose access to the third multiplex, MUX-3, which includes TVP1, TVP2 and news channel TVP Info. However, the interior minister, Mariusz Kamiński, requested that MUX-3 be exempted and that old receivers continue to receive it.

Noting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he pointed to the fact that the telecommunications law allows for such measures when there is “a threat to state security or public safety and order”. Kamiński also referred to the fact that TVP and his ministry operate a regional warning system through MUX-3.

The Office of Electronic Communications (UKE), Poland’s telecoms and postal service regulator, accepted the interior minister’s request and allowed MUX-3 to continue to reach households with old receivers until the end of 2023.

That decision angered private broadcasters, who argued that TVP was being given a monopoly in some households. “It is scandelous,” Dariusz Dąbski, CEO of Telewizja Puls, told Press magazine.

“It looks as if someone is intentionally weakening [private stations],” said Bogusław Kisielewski, CEO of Kino Polska TV. He argued that if the war was indeed the reason behind the decision, then UKE should have delayed the switchover for all channels, not just TVP.

The decision has also raised concern among opposition politicians, given that under the current Law and Justice (PiS) government TVP has become a mouthpiece for the ruling party, promoting its narrative while attacking its opponents.

On Tuesday, the prime minister’s secretary of state for digitisation, Adam Andruszkiewicz, was questioned about the issue by the parliamentary digitisation committee.

He argued that the decision was justified by Russia’s attack on Ukraine and “the escalation of disinformation activities of international scope carrying threats to the defence and security of Poland and to public order”, reports Wirtualne Media.

When it was suggested by opposition politicians that allowing households to receive TVP but not to commercial networks limited Poles’ access to diverse and reliable sources of information, Andruszkiewicz disagreed.

He argued that TVP is an outlet that “provides reliable and verified information” whereas commercial stations are often “not a reliable source of information”. The government has, however, proposed to subsidise some of the costs of upgrading to new receivers.

TVN “is not free media”, says Polish PM. Foreign-owned outlets are “used against us”

Media experts have in fact pointed to the fact that TVP has becoming an increasingly unreliable sources of information. Reporters Without Borders describes it as a “government propaganda mouthpiece”.

In the NGO’s annual World Press Freedom Index, Poland has fallen every single year under the current government, from a record high of 18th when PiS came to power in 2015 to a record low of 66th in this year’s ranking.

Regular polling by state research agency CBOS has found that negative attitudes towards TVP have risen to their highest ever level, and outweigh positive attitudes for the first time. An Oxford University study last year found that TVP was Poles’ least-trusted major news source.

Last year, PiS passed a bill that would have forced Discovery Inc., the American owners of TVN – a station that is often critical of the government – to sell the network. However, the law was vetoed by the president following public protests as well as criticism from the EU and US.

Main image credit: Slawomir Kaminski / Agencja Gazeta

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