In July 2009, Jan Piński, the Chair of Agencja Informacji TVP* (TVP’s Informative Agency), informed the Association of Ukrainians in Poland about the decision to cut ‘Telenowyny’ (Telenews)- the only nationwide program in the Ukrainian language. Piński justified the cancellation by citing low audience figures and high production costs, indicating that if the Association finds money, the program will be brought back on the air. It is a pity that it did not cross the Chairman’s mind that if such a powerful organization like TVP could not find the several thousands it costs to produce the program, then how would it be possible for non-governmental organization to do so? Of course, the announcement was met by a protest, which involved the representatives of many ethnic minorities, including the members of Polish Seym, the Seym Committee for National and Ethnic Minorities, the defenders of human rights, and many prominent social and cultural activists.

The problem of ‘Telenowyny’ was also noted in Ukraine and one could express his/her objection through a portal of Kontynent Warszawa. Despite this, in the eyes of TVP, the problem hardly existed- in communications with the National Broadcasting Council, it was affirmed that replacing ‘Telenowyny’ with ‘Etniczne klimaty’ (Ethnical climates) would be enough. The television authorities did not seem to see much of a difference between a program informing the viewers about nice and colorful Ukrainian dances or songs, probably done in an interesting way, and one that Ukrainians could do about themselves, most importantly, in their own language.

The Council of Europe became involved because the behaviour of TVP in the view of Ukrainian organization violated the criteria of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Ultimately, the action was crowned with success- Andrzej Warchiła, the editor of ‘Telenowyny’ was informed that the programme would return to the air again, although it is not known for how long. It was broadcasted on 31st October 2009 on TVP Info channel after a three-month break, with the program reduced from 25 to 12 minutes.

The recent goings-on concerning ‘Telenowyny’ are simply part of a phenomenon characterized by specific repetition, which eventually leads nowhere. Firstly, there is talk about cancelling the program, then there is a protest, and finally the program is brought back, though always in some modified, less encouraging formula. Airtime is reduced, allocation is less favorable etc. Before the issue with ‘Telenowyny’ in 2009, there was a similar situation in 2006-2007. ‘There is no place for Ukrainian information on TV’ said Ewa Świecińska, Head of the regional TV network ‘Trójka’, while explaining the reasons of taking ‘Telenowyny’ off the air. Now and then, one was able to ‘save’ the program, but permanent monitoring and continuous mobilization are hardly ideal or comfortable.

There are many reasons why this situation occurs, but the essential factor seems to be the politicization of TV which by its nature, not only by its definition, should be impartial and should take care of each and every citizen-viewer/taxpayer, including those belonging to a national minority.

The lack of adequate regulation is another factor that leads us to believe that the problems of ‘Telenowyny’ are not incidental. If the law says that any entity ‘should broadcast programs in minority languages’, an entity named TVP would definitely use this law’s imperfection, explaining that ‘should’ is not the same as ‘must’ and hide behind a lack of money for missionary activities. Another issue is the question about whether finances are really the core of the problem. Today, all interested parties are pleased with the return of the Ukrainian program, but there are more and more alarming signals.

In early December 2009, the media reported that TVP would end that year in the red with 200 million zlotys of debt. The reason for this situation was a decline in revenue from subscription and an advertising market crisis. Of course, the representatives of the board of TVP complained about the government’s behaviour on the one hand, while on the other, demanded its financial support. It was stated that if the money is not guaranteed, TVP will be forced to ‘cut on’ mission programs, and as a result, may close some regional centers in 2010.

Of course, one has to be conscious that in the times of a general crisis, the issues of national minorities are not placed on an ‘extremely happy island.’ According to NIK’s (SCC’s) report 150 million zlotys were improperly spent on salaries, consultants, clearance, media processes, or rewards for chairmen (from January 2007 to August 2009). In addition, just before the cancellation, the former President of Television Piotr Farfał made an agreement with Związek Żołnierzy Narodowych Sił Zbrojnych (The Union of Soldiers of the National Armed Forces), Zrzeszenie Wolność i Niezawisłość (The Association of Freedom and Independence) and Światowy Związek Żołnierzy Armii Krajowej (The World Union of Home Army). These three organizations were given 4.5 million zlotys on joint production of media, film, audiovisual and music. What is worth mentioning is that the contract was signed on August 25th; a few weeks after TVP claimed that they did not have 14 thousand zlotys for one episode of ‘Telenowyny’.

These facts show that ‘tele-fading away’ is an affliction of certain environments, probably not valuable as an electorate, and the problem does not concern money or precisely, the lack of it. Today we are the witnesses of the debate about the need for a reform of public media, and problems of missionary programs such as minority audiences only confirm that these changes are necessary and unavoidable.

*TVP - Polish Public Television

Text by Grzegorz Gospodarek
Translated by ate