Last week, Poland's ruling camp pushed through an amendment increasing the funding for public broadcasting by a third. But PiS plans to boost its media presence with much more than just money- it now wants pay-TV operators to prioritize state TV channels.
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Last Wednesday, Poland’s parliamentary committee on finance pushed through an amendment to the budget bill increasing state funding for the public broadcaster by a third (now a total of PLN 2.7 billion). The amendment, lacking any justification, was proposed by Andrzej Kosztowniak, a PiS MP heading the committee.

- An election year is coming up so the PLN 2 billion for party propaganda and smear campaigns simply won’t do it! That’s why PiS is adding another PLN 700 million to our debt! Unfortunately, members of the ruling camp have voted to shower party loyalists disguised as journalists with cash- Izabela Leszczyna (PO) said after the vote.

Radosław Fogiel, until recently the spokesman for the ruling party, on Thursday explained that it was "a kind of indexation". For the past three years, the Law and Justice party government has been subsidizing state television and radio with nearly PLN 2 billion as means of compensating for lost subscription revenues due to license fee concessions. In the past, the amounts were lower - PLN 980 million and PLN 1.2 billion.

Krzysztof Czabański, head of Poland’s National Media Council, defends the commission's decision. - Over the years, public media has been neglected- he said on Thursday. - We know that technology, especially television, but radio as well, is very expensive equipment, and to keep up with the media market, which is changing before our eyes in a fundamental way (...), all this requires preparation on the part of media companies.

However, as reported by Wirtualnemedia.pl, the right-wing government has plans to boost state-controlled TV with much more than just money. The Council of Ministers has already sent a draft bill to the parliament.

PiS wants to control the TV remote

According to journalists familiar with the issue, the draft concerns mainly the "must carry, must offer" principle, obliging pay-TV operators to offer specific stations.

Currently, these include public channels TVP 1, TVP 2, TVP 3 (regional) as well as the commercial Polsat, TVN, TV 4 and TV Puls. The government wants to alter that list and remove commercial channels at the expense of additional public ones: TVP Info and TVP Kultura. In addition, the obligation to make the regional version of TVP 3 available to subscribers would have to be fulfilled by satellite platforms as well.

- It is inappropriate that viewers using satellite platforms (more than 30% of Polish households) should be deprived of access to relevant public regional programs. This is also important in the context of regional and local security, given that regional programs can best respond to the needs of local communities, in the event of natural disasters or other emergencies in the area- reads the justification for the amendments.

According to the draft bill, public TV channels covered by the "must carry, must offer" principle will have to fill the first five positions in the operators' Electronic Program Guide (EPG) in the following order: TVP 1, TVP 2, TVP 3, TVP Info and TVP Culture (the corresponding version of TVP 3 being in the third position in operators' decoders was long sought by former TVP head Jacek Kurski). And the next positions after the fifth place are to be occupied by other terrestrial public TV stations. Other terrestrial channels covered by the "must carry, must offer" principle are supposed to come after.

Prioritizing public TV stations

"Combining the must-carry principle with the obligation of appropriate positioning in the EPG is justified by the significant number of programs available in the offer of distributing operators and the risk of pushing publically-valuable programs to positions that are more difficult to access for the viewer. The distribution obligation alone will not ensure convenient access to programs of public value for the viewer" - the draft's authors write in the justification.

Wirtualnemedia.pl warns that this could bring revolutionary changes. For instance: on the Polsat Box platform, the first two positions are occupied by Polsat and TV 4, then there are TVP 1 and TVP 2, and again Polsat channels. TVP Info is on channel 65. In the case of the Canal+ platform, the list starts with Canal+ Family, and continues with Canal+ Premium, Canal+ Domo, Canal+ Kitchen and TVN. The first public TV station, TVP 1, is only on channel 11.

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