Poland: International support for TOK FM amidst regulatory pressure
The renewal of Polish radio station TOK FM’s broadcasting licence is still pending after a six-month delay, casting doubt on a possible non-renewal. We, the undersigned media freedom and journalist organisations, join TOK FM, the largest independent news and talk radio station in Poland, in their plea for the licence renewal to be made by the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT), in a timely and independent manner and based on strict professional criteria.
TOK FM, which is the fourth-most popular radio in Poland, is nearing the end of its broadcasting licence. The licence expires on 3 November 2023. According to Polish law, a decision on its renewal must be taken within two months, but the Polish broadcasting regulator KRRiT is already six months overdue in its reply and is therefore in breach of the administrative law. For this reason, TOK FM is worried its licence might not be renewed.
In the last few months, TOK FM has been subjected to several “monitoring procedures” unrelated to the licence renewal process: KRRiT has requested the station to submit several days worth of recorded programs, raising concerns that the council is looking for extracts that could appear as “hate speech” that could be used against the station.
These fears have been exacerbated by a fine of PLN 80,000 (€17,680) that KRRiT has recently imposed on TOK FM for strong criticism about a controversial history textbook for schools containing anti-LGBT and other far-right views, expressed by one of the radio’s journalists and his guest during a morning show. According to the chair of the broadcast media regulator, Maciej Świrski, TOK FM incited “hate speech” by using language violating Article 18(1) of the Polish Broadcasting Act, allegedly “promoting illegal activities, views and attitudes contrary to morality and social good, and containing content inciting hatred and discriminatory content.”
The maximum fine that can be imposed by KRRiT is half of the media’s annual licensing fee. In TOK FM’s case, PLN 80,000 amounts to 90% of the maximum imposable fine. Kamila Ceran, the station’s editor-in-chief, confirmed that the appeal was lodged with the Audiovisual Council, which is obliged to forward the appeal to the court within 30 days.
While Poland’s media landscape remains vibrant and pluralistic overall, in recent years independent media critical of PiS have faced a multi-pronged campaign of regulatory, financial and legislative pressure aimed at undermining their influence. Recent regulatory decisions by KRRiT, which is controlled by figures appointed by PiS, have drawn increased international attention and criticism of its chairperson.
Our organisations call on the National Broadcasting Council to take an impartial decision as soon as possible regarding the renewal of the broadcasting licence of TOK FM, and reiterate previous calls on the Polish government to stop its pressure against free and independent media.