Polish state media under fire after politician’s son died by suicide

Polish state media under fire after politician’s son died by suicide
Опубликовано: Wednesday, 08 March 2023 06:39

The teenager had been identified as a victim of sexual abuse following reports on a state-run radio station.

WARSAW — Poland’s state-controlled media is under fire after the 15-year-old son of an opposition MP who had been abused by a pedophile died by suicide following a news report that made it possible to trace his identity.

The teenager took his own life less than two months after Radio Szczecin, a public broadcaster that is part of a public media system tightly controlled by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, ran a story on an alleged “pedophiliac scandal” in the ranks of the Civic Platform (PO) opposition party.

He was buried on Tuesday.

Radio Szczecin alleged in December that the party had tried to sweep the scandal under the rug for political reasons, as the perpetrator was a regional PO activist.

However, the perpetrator was sentenced to four years and 10 months in prison in 2021 and the details of the case were not revealed to the public to protect the identities of the victims.

The report by Radio Szczecin’s editor-in-chief Tomasz Duklanowski identified the victims as being “the children of a well-known lawmaker.” Magdalena Filiks is a local Civic Platform MP, and the opposition says the report was aimed at damaging her.

Other government-linked media including state broadcaster TVP picked up the story.

Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek also waded in. “The same people who are so loud about the fight against pedophilia are hiding pedophiles in their own ranks,” he told the PiS-controlled broadcaster.

Some PiS-leaning Twitter accounts also suggested that Filiks had tried to silence the scandal to protect her own political career.

Family tragedy

Filiks went public with a funeral announcement on Friday, some three weeks after her son’s death.

“On behalf of myself and my daughters, Aleksandra and Maja, I ask the ‘media’ to respect the privacy of my family and not attend,” Filiks said.

The opposition says the case is an example of how PiS has turned radio, television and many newspapers into pro-government propaganda outlets | Image via iStock

The Polish parliament commemorated the teenager’s death with a minute’s silence on Tuesday.

Immediately after Filiks’ announcement, people started to delete many of their earlier tweets.

Duklanowski has kept a low profile. According to Wirtualne Media, a news service covering Poland’s media market, he took time off work and was returning only on Tuesday.

Radio Szczecin’s CEO Wojciech Włodarski said only: “Let the state institutions act first.” The case is being probed by prosecutors.

Jolanta Hajdasz, who heads the Center for Monitoring Press Freedom with the Polish Journalists Association — an organization seen as being strongly pro-government — defended Duklanowski for “acting in good faith.”

However, Duklanowski has been lambasted by anti-government media organizations.

The opposition says the case is an example of how PiS has turned radio, television and many newspapers that are now owned by state-controlled PKN-Orlen into pro-government propaganda outlets.

Since PiS came to power in 2015, Poland has steadily dropped in media freedom rankings.

“While the private market has remained fairly pluralistic featuring influential independent media such as TVN, the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza or the online outlet Onet.pl, the public media, especially TVP, have been transformed into instruments of government propaganda,” the 2022 Press Freedom Index report by Reporters Without Borders said last year.

Poland fell to 66th place in the NGO’s annual press freedom ranking in 2022, down from 18th in 2015.

That’s further polarizing an already deeply divided society.

“The impact of PiS-controlled media, not just on political culture but the whole of public life in Poland, has been devastating,” said Anna Siewierska-Chmaj, a political scientist from the University of Rzeszów. “People have always differed about politics, but it’s never been that there’s no media — or any public institution for that matter — that people trust now.”

“We will hold PiS to account for every villainy, for all human harm and tragedies they have caused while in power,” said Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk | Sem Van Der Wal/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

Control of the media is especially pressing as the country prepares to hold a parliamentary election this fall. In previous elections, the state media has been a full-throated supporter of PiS.

Opposition parties are hammering the ruling party’s control of the media in the wake of the death of Filiks’ son.

“We will hold PiS to account for every villainy, for all human harm and tragedies they have caused while in power,” Donald Tusk, the Civic Platform leader and a former Polish prime minister and European Council president, tweeted Saturday.

The opposition plans deep reforms of the state-owned media if it wins power later this year.

For now, PiS is firmly defending its control of the media.

A draft bill proposing the liquidation of TVP Info, public TV’s key propaganda channel, has been submitted to the Polish parliament, but is all but certain to be rejected in a first reading due Wednesday.

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