News Foreign policy Ministry Travel to Poland
10 February 2016
Below you can find the content of the letter.
MFA Press Office
Ms Kim Shillinglaw, Controller, BBC Two and BBC Four
We would like to lodge a formal complaint about the bias and the lack of editorial standards in one of the BBC “Newsnight” items, broadcast on the 21st of January 2016.
In our opinion, the report “Is Poland being ‘Putinised?’ ” presented current political situation in Poland in a superficial and distorted manner, far from the journalistic merits expected from the BBC and in apparent contradiction to some of the broadcaster’s own editorial guidelines.
While watching the programme, we were especially concerned by the following issues:
1. Subjective framing of the story:
The very first words of the commentary (“The atmosphere in Poland is shifting, and is shifting fast” TC 00:12:19), voiced over murky pictures of the streets of Warsaw, impose on viewers a tone of worry and apprehension. The tone is then consistently sustained throughout the report by a series of vague presentiments expressed by some interviewees (00:02:54, 00:03:34) – a practice starkly at odds with the paragraph 4.4.13 of the BBC Editorial Guidance: ( professional judgements, rooted in evidence)
2. Imprecise, emotionally charged language
The term “atmosphere” seems to be too vague to serve as a basis for analysing political situation in a country and for pronouncing categorical judgements on the state the of its democracy.
In addition, the report often uses emotionally evaluative labelling, as for example “independent” in reference to “Kultura Liberalna” weekly (00:03:15), the publication which isn’t neutral nor independent neither in its overall editorial line nor in the specific political controversy described in the report.
In our opinion, the two above violate the paragraph 4.2.2 and 4.4.14 of the Guidelines.
3. Omission of important perspective, unjustified conclusion
The evidence presented by the producers to support the claim that the atmosphere in Poland is changing fast, proves only that the atmosphere among some groups of political adversaries of Law and Justice is changing – nothing more.
The mood among the government supporters (majority of the active electorate) has been rather steadily jubilant since the presidential election in May 2015. Similarly, the atmosphere of total indifference to politics among the 49% of Poles who don’t vote seems to remain unchanged.
Projecting the mood of a specific group on the whole population of the country is a flagrant instance of unjustified extrapolation, unsupported by facts and contradicting point 4.4.2 of the BBC Editorial Guidelines
4. Impartiality and simplification (p.4.4.14 and 4.4.30 of the Editorial Guidelines)
The lack of precision in language and reasoning resulted in uncritical acceptance of the narration of just one part of the conflict, namely the Law and Justice opponents, who claim that at the moment, the main fault line in Polish politics runs between the oppressive government and the civic society trying to defend its fundamental rights(00:03:41).
The juxtaposition of the voices of KOD activists, journalist supporting Civil Platform and anonymous members of the public on one side and the Law and Justice politician on the other, proves that the producers of the report subscribe to this point of view.
However, the political situation in Poland is more complex and interesting as the fault lines run in various directions across the civic society. And the Law and Justice government is just a democratically elected representation of one of the sides.
5. Insufficient research and lack of background knowledge:
The most glaring example of the reporter’s falling for the spin of one of sides of the political spectrum can be found in 00:58:12:
“It’s only been in power for two months”, says Katie Razzall, “But already the ruling Law and Justice party here made some pretty big changes. It pushed through the reforms to increase its influence in the highest court in the land. It sacked managers and reporter in state-owned TV and radio stations. It’s purging the civil service and it’s boosting the surveillance rights of the police and secret services.”
From all the allegations only the last one – relating to the surveillance rights – could be justified as an attempt to change the existing regulations. The others, whether someone likes it or not, are all well established practices of Polish politics. Since the fall of communism, all of the newly elected governments, including the cabinet of Civic Platform, influenced the Constitutional Tribunal, took control of public media, sacked the managers of state-controlled companies and purged the civil service from their political opponents.
So suggesting that current Law and Justice government does something alarmingly unusual and extraordinary is simply misleading.
6. Lack of contextual knowledge
“The Standard&Poors rating agency downgraded Poland’s credit rating on Friday, saying Law and Justice has weakened the key institutions.”
The S&P decision to downgrade the rating of Poland has been widely commented and often criticised as economically ungrounded as GDP projections have not deviated materially since the election, the economy has not shown signs of deterioration, the inflation is trending modestly upward, etc.
The authors of the report may not agree with these reservations, but they should at least be aware of them and try not to present the S&P opinion as an undeniable and absolute.
7. Conflict of interest
Appointing Maya Rostowski to take part in the production of a news item about politics in Poland raises our deep concerns about “Newsnight” impartiality as delineated in the BBC Editorial Guidelines, Section 15,
Conflicts of Interest: Introduction:
" In some circumstances, it may also be appropriate to consider whether the position of families and close personal contacts presents a likely conflict of interest."
Ms Rostowski is a daughter of former Polish Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Jan Vincent Rostowski, a high ranked Civil Platform politician and fierce opponent of Law and Justice.
In 2010, she worked as an advisor to Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski in the Civic Platform government and in 2013, became an analyst in the governmental Polish Institute of International Affairs. Her appointments stirred up public controversy and were widely criticised as a blatant example of political cronyism.
We hope that future coverage of Polish or other East European politics will be more objective, better researched and accurate as required by journalistic standards of public broadcaster and the Editorial Guidelines of the BBC.
Poland’s Ministry of Foreign AffairsSee more