By Urszula Doliwa, University of Warmia and Mazury, Community Media Forum Europe
*This blog post is part of the Jean Monnet Chair of European Media Governance and Integration Series curated by Wagner Piassaroli Mantovaneli.
Community media is “a vital and indispensable element of the media system in society” underlined Karol Jakubowicz – one of the most famous Polish media experts – during his memorable keynote speech at the AMARC Europe Conference “Supporting Positive Change in Europe through the Expansion of Community Radio” in Bucharest, December 12–14, 2008. Unfortunately, even for him, despite being involved in the creation of the media system after the overthrow of communism in Poland from the very beginning, convincing the decision makers to make the functioning of a strong third sector of broadcasting possible in his own country, proved to be a too difficult task. The environment for the development of this sector in the Polish reality is until now very poor.
The beginnings were very optimistic – many communities decided to start new radio and tv stations in the early ‘90s, not waiting for a legal framework. The main motivation of such activity was not to make money, but to take advantage of the fact that there was an opportunity to speak freely to an audience within specific communities. After the pirate phase in broadcasting during the first years after 1989, a new media law The Act on Radio and Television Broadcasting was passed on 29 December 1992 (Parliament of the Republic of Poland 1992). This act introduced a dual model of Polish broadcasting. By virtue of this law, only public radio, television, commercial radio and TV stations came into being. However, it is worth noting that by then some people engaged in the creation of this act claimed that a third type of broadcast media should also exist: private broadcasters with non-commercial goals. They proposed forms in which the state could support such initiatives through: tax exemption, exemption from licence fees and governmental subsidies. Unfortunately, their proposals were not taken into consideration while creating legal rules for broadcasting. There was no legal recognition for the community radio sector.
In 2001 a new category of broadcast media – ‘social broadcaster’ – was introduced, however the number of broadcasters that could exercise the right was limited. Another important issue is the fact that holding this status is connected with limitations as well as obligations and relatively few privileges. For example, this type of broadcaster should propagate learning and educational activities, promote charitable deeds, respect the Christian system of values, be guided by the universal principles of ethics and strive to preserve national identity in the programme service. Such stations cannot transmit any advertising or sponsored broadcasts. In return, ‘social broadcasters’ are exempt from fees for being awarded the licence, but it is worth underlining that the licence fee is not high in comparison with the starting and running costs of a licensed radio station in Poland. That is why the exemption from this fee is not of significant help. One of the serious problems connected with the ‘social broadcaster’ status is also the fact that the legislator does not define from which sources ‘social broadcasters’ excluded from the advertising market may be financed. Because of all the above-mentioned reasons this offer appeared to be unattractive for Polish broadcasters who try to fulfill some non-commercial goals. That is one of the reasons why there are only eight radio ‘social broadcasters’ in Poland, and they are all connected to churches.
As for now we can observe a growing awareness that the Polish model of social broadcasting is not efficient. This can be confirmed by the analysis of different documents, including especially those prepared by the National Broadcasting Council, the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the examples of the grassroots social movements aiming at the improvement of the situation of community broadcasters. Despite continuous discussion that the existing system should be changed and adding community media sector part of the agenda in the Media Strategy prepared by the National Broadcasting Council – nothing has changed.
The environment for the development of this sector in the Polish reality is very poor. Fortunately, there are some stations functioning within the commercial sector which show similarities with the model of a community station. These are student stations, those run by NGOs and religious broadcasters functioning independently, outside the networks created by big media groups. The study made among Polish religious, student and NGOs broadcasters showed that they are trying to implement some non-commercial, socially important objectives. However, the fact that they are not explicitly assigned to the third media sector makes it difficult to define them as unambiguously community oriented.
Community media as a platform of dialogue, inclusive strategies are now even more needed than ever. The Polish society after the elections in 2015 and the success of the ruling party Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice) is very divided. The situation in media is also very difficult. One of the problems is the division in the journalists’ community. We can also observe a decrease in the level of trust in media content (especially in public media). A very alarming fact is the destabilization in the media legal system – for example the introduction of a new institution the Council of the National Media (Rada Mediów Narodowych) by taking some competences reserved by the National Broadcasting Council, made it possible to change the directors in the public media sector on the spot. The legality of this institution was questioned by the Constitutional Court. Pro-governmental media are supported financially directly and indirectly via advertisements ordered by state-controlled companies other media are cut off from this money.
Despite being very needed, it seems that it is not a good time for the development of the third sector of media in Poland and significant changes in the media law which will make such a development possible. But I believe that such a time will come rather sooner than later. In the Polish society, with a great tradition of independent media, the society in which the Solidarity movement was born, freedom of speech and pluralism of voice were always very important values. A growing pressure to support the community media can be one of the reactions to the attempts of diminishing media pluralism. Now such initiatives are present mostly in the internet. One of the examples can be Imir Radio run by a Multicultural Centre in Warsaw (http://imiradio.pl/).