This piece is published in collaboration with Gazeta Wyborcza as part of a content series on threats to independent media in Central Europe. Read more.
The article is translated and adapted from a longer Polish-language version, which is available to read on Gazeta Wyborcza’s website.
If you have just read an interview in Polish media with Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jarosław Kaczynski or Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, or are reading a flattering comment about the government, you should know that some of them are ready-made articles created by the Chancellery of the Prime Minister or the ruling PiS party’s headquarters, rather than by the media outlets that published them.
According to Kaczyński’s classification, there are two types of media outlets in Poland: those he has control over and those independent from him, which he dislikes due to their criticism of him and which he characterises as untrustworthy.
In an interview with Gazeta Polska, a pro-PiS weekly, Kaczyński defined the latter category as follows: “The media is still a powerful ball and chain in our public debate. We have a total opposition backed by a media capable of creating a counter-reality that people believe in. In Russia, the media feeds people messages that have nothing to do with reality, even denying it brutally and crudely. We, too, have media outlets that operate in a similar way, at the very least.”
However, there is considerable evidence to show that it is the pro-PiS media which send out false messages, sometimes created directly by the government to further their political purposes.
Just as oxygen is needed to live, Kaczyński needs media helpers to govern.
Take a recent event: on June 21, he left the government. He – rather than the prime minister or president – decided when, how, and who will replace him. Kaczyński even controlled the media coverage.
It was the Polish Press Agency (PAP) which confirmed the news of his departure: a PAP wire with the conversation was published at 6.17 a.m. on June 21. Kaczyński clearly did not give the interview in the morning, so someone from PAP must have interviewed him the previous day.
Danuta Holecka, the head of TVP’s Wiadomości, the main news program of formerly public television, also interviewed Kaczyński on the day he announced he had left the government.
But there is a nasty suspicion that the questions were fake journalism – a suspicion that comes from the private emails of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Michał Dworczyk (head of the Prime Minister’s Chancellery) and their colleagues revealed by the Poufnarozmowa [meaning ‘secretive conversation’ in Polish] website.
Leaks from Dworczyk’s emails have been appearing since June 4, 2021, and constantly provide new insights into Poland’s current leadership. The correspondence’s authenticity has been confirmed many times, the facts described in it fit, and (some of) the protagonists have admitted that this is what happened.
The authorities simply order articles about themselves or even write them themselves, and then choose the optimal place and time for publication.
The media outlets that Kaczyński himself gives interviews to all receive streams of advertising from state treasury companies. These ads do not pay off for the state, but they pay off for the party.
Media expert Professor Tadeusz Kowalski sums it up as follows: “Under the United Right [PiS with its junior coalition partners], there has been a strong increase in propaganda and promotional efforts serving party and state interests. However, the huge amounts of public spending have not served to create social cohesion. Rather, they have served to manipulate and to polarize attitudes in society, and have been largely ineffective in economic terms.”
TVP and Polskie Radio have another source of state financing. They have been receiving money as compensation for subscription concessions – almost PLN 2 billion per year.
In one of Dworczyk’s emails revealed by the Poufnarozmowa website, his boss, Prime Minister Morawiecki, writes: “I would like someone to take responsibility – someone who calls TVP about this, who calls more normal websites like Interia, who calls identity- and independence- focused websites”.
Dworczyk immediately reported that he had already “spoken to Kura [TVP chairman Jacek Kurski]; he accepted”.
Ready-made interview published within four minutes
One of the more recent leaks from Dworczyk’s inbox revealed the unseen details of the production cycle of articles defaming the milieu of judges.
It is autumn 2018, before the second round of the local elections. Prime Minister Morawiecki has lost a court case in election mode and must rectify his claim that Kraków’s mayor has not done anything to fight smog.
Morawiecki emails Dworczyk and Jarosław Gajewski, a former journalist who is clearly advising the prime minister. He sends them part of an article from the wPolityce.pl website (run by brothers Jacek and Michał Karnowski, who are pro-PiS propagandists), and asks that in the phrase “Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is meant to apologize to the mayor of Kraków for his words about the city authorities’ lack of action in the fight against smog”, ‘apologize’ is changed to ‘rectify’.
Gajewski reports: “I have already written a ready-made interview for him [Dworczyk]. He is meant to send it quickly to wPolityce.pl. It’s rather powerful :)))”.
Dworczyk: “I fixed a few little things and sent it to Jacek Karnowski. It ought to be on the website in a moment.”
And it was, after just four minutes. The government wrote, edited and had it proofread itself. The “ready-made article” is a flagrant baiting against the judge who ordered Morawiecki to rectify his lies.
Dworczyk’s ready-made article about the judge who ordered Morawiecki to rectify his lies, and apologize, is not the only case in the former’s leaked email correspondence that illustrates this phenomenon, which is a threat for Polish democracy: the authorities’ servile relationships with their helpers in the media.
‘We request that tomorrow TVP should attack those people very nicely’
September 2018. In another case, the Court of Appeals ordered that Morawiecki publish a correction on TVN and TVP. This related to the prime minister’s words at a rally during the local election campaign, when he had said that, when they were in power, PO and PSL politicians said “Let us build bridges and roads, not politics”, but “there were no roads or bridges” at all.
Mariusz Chłopik, Morawiecki’s informal image adviser, emailed Jacek Kurski and Jarosław Olechowski, chief editor of TVP news show Wiadomości:
“Jacek, Jarek [addressing both by their first names] – I am sending you the result of deliberations between a few eminent people who have been catching certain links in the judiciary and connections between judges and various matters. Following talks, we request that tomorrow TVP attack very nicely the people who issued this ruling (…). The members of parliament invited on TVP the following day can safely be asked questions about this. We, with Michał Dworczyk, need to know who is going and we will then prepare him appropriately. In this way, the court ruling could de facto become good for our formation. I think that this material is very good for warming up with publicism, too.”
Of course, Jacek Kurski “attacked very nicely.”
President Duda gets a ready-made interview, too
March 2020. Morawiecki emails Wojciech Surmacz, the head of PAP: “Wojtek, could you provide some shrewd journalist to conduct an interview with the president regarding the [medical] fund very urgently – the narrative is ready, it all just needs to be nicely put and interspersed with questions”.
After a moment, Surmacz replies: “We are taking action, the questions are ready already, they will go to Błażej Spychalski [the president’s spokesman at the time] and I am just sending them to Mariusz Chłopik [an informal adviser to Morawiecki at the time]”.
Morawiecki: “Make sure it gets done, Wojtek!”.
Surmacz: “Keeping an eye on it 24/7”. He adds a red-and-white flag emoji. (A ‘patriotic’ gesture, red-and-white is a national flag of Poland).
The “interview” was published by PAP a few hours later. Why the rush? Because earlier, the president had agreed to give TVP and Polskie Radio almost PLN 2 billion.
In the “interview”, Duda does not spare Morawiecki any compliments: “The government has repeatedly shown itself to be managing public funds skilfully and responsibly”. Unsurprising, given Morawiecki’s involvement in creating the text.
‘I suggest that the Prime Minister appear together with this topic’
April 2020. There is a wave of infections at nursing homes. Prime Minister Morawiecki does not think about how to resolve the problem; instead, he sends PiS politicians to the media to highlight that the nursing homes are run by local governments or private entities.
Mariusz Chłopik, former deputy director of the Government Information Centre, sent photos of newspapers and online articles describing the situation at nursing homes to Morawiecki and Dworczyk, among others: “The topic is gaining social traction. I propose that the prime minister appear next to this topic”.
Dworczyk proposes “a sharp media campaign about how nursing homes are run by local governments and private foundations – they screwed up, not the government!”. “We cannot say this, but perhaps some kind of media outlets and inquiring journalists will go about it – we have spoken about this already. Can something be done?”. And he writes: “The truth needs to be shown; that is, local governments’ responsibility. And if we want to convince someone, it should be done like TVN, not TVP.”
Obviously, he meant that TVN, an independent television, is more credible than TVP.
These examples show how captured media are used as mouthpieces for the PiS party, which has considerable influence over the messages which are spread, sometimes directly creating these itself, and thereby limiting citizens’ ability to access trustworthy and objective information. This is evident in other examples – such as when PAP regularly reports on national opinion polls but omits editions which give a critical view of the government – but the leaked emails show a new level of media control.
This piece is part of a content series on threats to independent media in Central Europe in collaboration with leading independent media in the region. Any viewpoints expressed in these articles do not necessarily represent the views of IPI. Read more.