The process of television digitization in Poland progresses. It is delayed but it speeded up when the new members of National Broadcasting Council (Krajowa Rada Radiofonii i Telewizji, KRRiT), a constitutional organ, got elected by the parliament and the president in 2010. The chances of fulfilling the international agreement on switching off the analogue transmitters (or converting them into digitally modulated ones) are high. But the opposition vehemently protests. Why?
Demonstration of the TV Trwam supporters at the entrance of the Regional Administrative Court, May 25th 2012 (display just the picture to enlarge)..
Current plans include starting three multiplexes of the ground based (vs. satellite) digital television, each capable of carrying seven to eight channels. The mux number 3 contains seven channels of the state owned television TVP. Mux 2 – channels of four broadcasters that use the analogue transmitters now. Some got additional channels. Mux 1, currently temporarily still partially used by TVP, will be used by broadcasters which did not have access to the ground based analogue transmission, those already sending via satellites or completely new ones. The concessions’ assignment process carried last year was going smoothly. Of the eighteen applications one was refused because of somewhat artificial condition of having Polish satellite TV concession. This condition was introduced by the previous council to bypass lacking legal regulations. Of the remaining seventeen stations six were qualified as not able to pay for broadcasting (total yearly cost of one channel and concession fee is about 8 millions zł – some 2 millions euro). The council had only four free channels to assign this time and it has chosen that number of applicants from the remaining eleven. One station decided to not to use the concession finally so another one was chosen leaving six stations with funds sufficient for broadcasting digitally without concessions assigned. Thus we have now four stations on the multiplex 1 (Eska TV, Polo TV, ATM, TVT), six stations with funds allowing them to try to get concessions in another concessions’ assigning process due to start later this year (4fun.tv, Next HD, RMF TV, Superstacja, Orange Sport Info, TVN Meteo) and six stations without sufficient funds unless they are able to increase them (iTV, CTV, Tele 5, Machina TV, TV Trwam, Radio na wizji). There were four appeals concerning two stations from the financially able group (Next HD and Superstacja, both owned by Astro) and two from the group without sufficient funds: Tele 5 and TV Trwam. All appeals were rejected by the National Broadcasting Council and the companies owning Tele 5 and TV Trwam continued fight for their cases by passing them to the Regional Administrative Court. On May 25th also the court rejected these cases. At least owners of TV Trwam announced that they will continue in Supreme Administrative Court in Poland and in European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg, France.
All these procedures look quite boring but I describe them only to elaborate on the special case of TV Trwam („I last” or „I endure”). This TV is owned by Lux Veritatis foundation created by two private persons: Tadeusz Rydzyk and Jan Król. Both of them are members of Catholic Redemptorist Order and their activity is supported by the Catholic Church. Fr. Rydzyk is known from establishing Radio Maryja (1991), a very conservative, politically biased, xenophobic (including anti-Semitism and strong homophobia), insulting, manipulating and falsifying history radio station. The TV created by him privately is of the same genre. After not quite successful attempts to create also an own political party Fr. Rydzyk got into alliance with the PiS (Law and Justice) party and was supporting their successful election campaign in 2005. The rule of PiS finished with scandals in 2007. The PiS government tried to transfer significant funds to the Fr. Rydzyk’s foundation (some 10 millions euro of European Union funds) but its premature fall prevented it from doing this. With PO (Citizens Platform) party at the power already in its second term (second term winning happened last year only first time after regaining independence in 1989) PiS needs to mobilize to have chances to win the 2015 election. Part of this machine are Radio Maryja and TV Trwam where PiS can advertise their candidates without interruptions or baffling questions. Fr. Rydzyk uses this party and a smaller one SP (Poland of Solidarity) party formed by PiS members outplaced for excessive independence of opinions. PiS and SP compete for Fr. Rydzyk support organizing demonstrations, sending support letters from the local governments controlled by these parties and collecting signatures of misinformed under a petition to the National Broadcasting Council (over 2,2 millions people now). Since January PiS has organised also 16 sessions of parliamentary committees devoted to the case of TV Trwam. The attitude of these people to the case of TV Trwam but also complete misunderstanding of democracy and its mechanisms was expressed by Wojciech Reszczyński, creator of one of the TV news programs during the communist rule in Poland. During the 20 thousand people demonstration in Warsaw in April he appealed to the president of Poland: „Mister president, these are officials of yours! They depend on your will and on your decision. One phone call to Mr. Dworak or Mr. Luft [another NBC member] and the social conflict disappears!”. Also Andrzej Jaworski, an MP from PiS has used similar words in Radio Maryja programme. Fr. Rydzyk and PiS activists complain on discrimination and lack of freedom of speech but they do not talk at all about the other stations which did not get concessions, neither about those with sufficient funds nor those without. The political interest of this campain is obvious. But why they do not try just to collect the missing funds instead of insisting on bypassing the democratic rules?
The financial gap of Lux Veritatis foundation is large. It makes business (own TV, university, bookshop) and collects donations. The income allows to finance the foundation activity and even transfer some money to formally independent „Nasz Dziennik” daily which barely survives with 36000 of copies sold. But a substantial part of the foundation income during the last 9 years was a large loan of 68 millions zł (some 16 millions euro) from the Redemptorist Order Polish Province. It is supposed to be paid off until 2019. The total amount to be paid was not revealed even to the NBC which should not have been even considering such incomplete financial information. Such a loan with an interest rate of 10 percent only would grow twice during some 10 years it was taken for. The foundation does not have and is not likely to collect additional 8 millions zł per year for digital broadcasting, it has to return the loan (14-20 millions zł yearly if we assume 10% interest rate) and it may have serious difficulties to survive without taking another large loan. It also may have problems with donations which decrease and which are collected in way breaking the law. Fr. Rydzyk was already fined by a court in Toruń for this (but he did no pay). The council did not take these details into account when considering concessions. The missing 15-20 millions zł yearly, which is some 150-200 millions zł during the 10 years concession term probably cannot be supplemented even by cooperative bank SKOK strongly connected with PiS which is lobbying for it in the parliament. Fr. Rydzyk boasts on 90 millions zł property of his foundation but he has not tried to change it into real money. It would be to little anyway. He did not try to get a bank loan as the stations which got the concessions did (and some have support from their owners with property of much over billion of zloties). It is possible that the Catholic Church could invest money into the Fr. Rydzyk’s enterprise but even though most of the bishops and priests are enthusiastic about the Fr. Rydzyk’s media the bishops did not call his TV ‚Catholic’ in their support letter to NBC, they have described TV Trwam as a ‚religious TV’ only. And investing in Fr. Rydzyk may be a very risky business (e.g. his cellular phone network collapsed in 2010 after a year of operating, a next one he started does not do well). Neither the TV Trwam viewers can help much. Radio Maryja has some 1 million regular listeners (and increasing recently) some 100 thousands of whom (very rough estimate) send money to Fr. Rydzyk. But his TV all the time illegally advertised in RM (it has a free concession but cannot broadcast ads) did not get much viewers during its 9 years of activity. It has 5500 viewers on average and some 40 thousands at the peak during two hours with bigger concentration of religious programs. It has some 75th place between some 100 TV channels in Polish. The televisions which got digital concessions have overtaken it in number of viewers even before their mux I reached broader coverage. Even though most of these stations have started only quite recently some of these channels has several times more viewers than TV Trwam. Also several of the religious programs in the state owned TVP gather about 1 million of viewers. Those at TV Trwam – few thousands or at most few tens of thousands. Catholics prefer other televisions. The number of viewers was not taken into account by the NBC but if we try to calculate how much money would have each viewer to give to close the financial gap of the Fr. Rydzyk’s foundation it is 4000-5000 zł (1000+ euro) per person for 10 years concession term. Definitely not cost effective. But for Fr. Rydzyk spreading his ideas (and those of the Church) is worth any amount of money, even if the state or other mux users would have to pay for him.
The Lux Veritatis propaganda talks about broad popular support. Two millions of signatures, (if really that many were collected) is significant but much more Poles are against privileges for TV Trwam and even for the Church in general. Also public officials seem recently to not to give to the Catholic Church everything it wishes. It looks like the public opinion starts to influence them. The ad hoc created Palikot Support Movement (RPP) party of Janusz Palikot, former PO activist, had good results in recent election despite that its stance is explicitly against the privileges of the Church. The members of RPP in the parliament include social activists like Wanda Nowicka, a feminist acting against ban on abortion, gay activist Robert Biedroń and a transgender movement activist Anna Grodzka who is herself trans M/F. Surprising results as for a Catholicism dominated country. After long years when conservative Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), PiS and PO where or are at the power this movement’s moderate ideas look almost crazy but its position is fairly strong. People have enough of conniption around the pope’s death and the Smoleńsk plain crash.
Also the Polish model of Ceasaropapism crumbles. One of the first symptoms was a funny affair with a priest aspiring to become a military bishop. As many priest he was talking in a church in a typical way, similar to the Radio Maryja and TV Trwam propaganda. It just happened that it was an official occasion and the president (from PO party) was present. He was not delighted with all the nonsense he has heard, he has scolded the priest and said that he is not going to promote him to a degree of a general. In normal circumstances even if some president would attend church ceremony officially he cannot influence fate of a priest in the Church structures. Church could nominate a military bishop or a fire service bishop and it would not be a business of the state. But in Poland it would be a disgrace for a military bishop to not to be a general and to not to have an appropriate salary. The pope and the Holy Spirit had to change their plans. Another quite recent case that I know comes from my birth place, a small city in Western Pomerania – Szczecinek. During the ceremony of our first constitution anniversary (1791) a priest was preaching in such a way, and with such amount of nonsense, including the alleged discrimination of TV Trwam and insulting homosexuals that the city mayor dared to criticize him publicly in his consecutive address.
The chairman of the National Broadcasting Council Jan Dworak is known as a Catholic and even a Catholic activist. Despite that he was not eager to bend the law severely to assign a concession to the Church supported TV Trwam. The concession for the Radio Maryja was given in the beginning of 1990-ties with breaking the rules of the law. At that time nobody dared to challenge the Church. It does not look that the current members of the council, even if most or all of them are Catholics, want to risk their reputation for the Church advantage. On the contrary. Unlike the bishops the Catholic intelligentsia sees the Fr. Rydzyk’s media as very harmful to their Church. The NBC members also seem to have enough courage and enough expertise to carry the concession process without faults and bias. The joined forces of the conservative opposition and Church may be too weak to break them and the courts in Poland are also independent. The only way for TV Trwam to stow away is a political campaign, propaganda against the stations which got the concessions and attempts to make the problem international. You may hear about it the European Parliament or during the football competition soon…