A press release issued by the OSCE praises Poland for organising the election well but expresses concern over media bias and “discriminatory rhetoric”.
A preliminary statement by OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) international observers issued on Monday praises Poland for organising the election well but expresses concern over media bias and intolerant discriminatory rhetoric by some political leaders.
“These elections were well organised ahead of the vote, but while voters stepping into the polling booth had numerous options available to them, their ability to make an informed choice was undermined by a lack of impartiality in the media, especially the public broadcaster,” said Jan Petersen, Head of the ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) election observation mission.
“The use of discriminatory rhetoric by a number of leading political figures is of serious concern in a democratic society.”
Organisation of the election
There was overall confidence in the election administration, their professionalism and transparency as well as meeting all the legal deadlines related to the technical preparation of the elections. The report also praises the organisers for timely reporting and publication of preliminary results.
The report notes that for the first time in parliamentary elections, the law allowed for citizen observation of the elections, addressing a previous ODIHR recommendation.
Questions over media coverage
According to the OSCE observers “bias in the media compromised voters’ ability to make a balanced decision ahead of election day.” The observers also note that in Poland defamation is a criminal offence and conclude that “freedoms of expression and the media are undermined by criminal penalties for defamation and limited access to public information”.
According to OSCE “the campaign environment was highly polarised and became increasingly negative, while campaign messages containing nationalist and homophobic rhetoric gave rise to a sense of threat.”
Criticism of campaign financing rules and adjudication of complaints
The observers stated that “regulations on campaigning by public officials and on the use of state resources in election campaigns remain insufficient, and campaign financing rules do not ensure adequate transparency or oversight.” They also reported “a lack of trust in the ability of prosecutors and courts to handle election-related complaints independently, following the merger of the functions of the prosecutor general with the minister of justice and other judicial reforms.”
This is a preliminary report and therefore the statements made are generalised and require backing up with evidence. However, the flavour of the report is clear.
It is noticeable that the report does not make the point that this election produced a record level of turnout for Parliamentary elections in post-1989 democratic Poland. It looks as if voters were expressing their confidence in the electoral process by actually voting.
It will be interesting how the report will measure amounts of media bias. Singling out public broadcasters seems unbalanced, but more importantly, the report takes a rather old fashioned view of voters responses to electronic media. It does not mention the internet, which is accessible to most Polish voters and has become a major source of information on the election. Polarisation in an election is rather natural as long as it does not spill into violence, which in Poland it has not, discrimination or voter suppression. There is no evidence that voters felt intimidated in any way.
The remarks about the public prosecutor and judicial reform seem not to apply to the electoral process as it works in Poland. The State Election Commission in Poland was appointed largely under previous governments, the Supreme Court is still headed by judges appointed well before this government took office and the opposition and there is a process in Poland which enables courts to rule in a matter of 48 hours on cases involving slander or libel.
But all journalists In Poland, regardless of political hue, should welcome the comments on the need to do something about the fact that defamation is a criminal offence in Poland. No cases of such prosecutions were in evidence in this election. But in general, it is a part of the penal code which is the most threatening to freedom of speech and media freedom in general.