Poland’s press holds the government’s feet to the fire and Turkey heads to the polls.
Since coming to power in 2015, Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice (PIS in Polish) party has tightened its grip on the media. Public television broadcaster tvp, for instance, has become a mouthpiece for the government. However, oko press, a young investigative journalism and fact-checking platform, is fighting back against the spread of so-called fake news. “From early on we could see that PIS had been manipulating public opinion and misleading Poles on many matters,” says deputy editor in chief Bianka Mikolajewska, who previously worked at one of Poland’s leading daily broadsheets.
From its office in Warsaw, oko’s small team of 16 journalists keep a close watch on Polish public life, producing a stream of articles checking politicians’ statements on the economy, public policy, history and the country’s place in Europe. As the government has refused to take in refugees from the Middle East as part of the EU’s relocation scheme, oko has sought to dismantle misconceptions about immigrants. It has proved that PIS politicians’ repeated claims that Poland has taken in “a million refugees from Ukraine” are untrue: most of the Ukrainians in the country are there to work.
“PIS wants to undermine all credible sources of knowledge,” says Mikolajewska. oko works closely with ngos monitoring issues such as human and women’s rights, exchanging information and expertise. “We are on the border of media publication and watchdog,” she says. “We are a small, mobile squad; it is easier for us to react. We also have less to lose.” Unlike the traditional press, oko doesn’t rely on advertising revenue as it is largely funded by readers’ contributions.
“We need to think conceptually: what comes next after PIS? There will be so much to fix afterwards,” says Mikolajewska, citing PIS’s overhaul of Poland’s institutions, most recently the judiciary. The next government will need to be held accountable as well. As she puts it: “One always needs to keep an eye on the authorities.”
A state of emergency is meant to curb certain activities in uncertain times. Yet during an election some of those activities, including free assembly, can be vital for campaigning candidates. Which may explain why Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, sought to extend his country’s state of emergency for a seventh time in the same week he called a snap election for June. He may be riding a wave of nationalism but by extending the state of emergency that’s been in place since the attempted coup in 2016, Erdogan is ensuring that opposition candidates will be constrained in their campaigns. Yet it’s a fine line: if the election isn’t seen to be free and fair, polarisation in the country will increase and could drive people towards Erdogan’s opponents. These include Meral Aksener, whose Good party is hoping to steal a chunk of nationalist votes.
A former member of the European Parliament, Victor Negrescu is Romania’s minister for European affairs. As the country prepares to assume the revolving EU presidency next year, and Romania and Bulgaria push to join the Schengen zone, he has a busy agenda.
Why is it important for Romania and Bulgaria to join the Schengen zone?
Joining Schengen will ease travel and commercial exchanges. It will bring us closer to Europe in practical and symbolic terms.
But is Romania ready?
Romania has been fully prepared to join Schengen for several years now. Our data systems are integrated with EU standards and we have some of the most secure borders in Europe. Romania’s accession to Schengen will contribute to the security of the European space. We are already acting as [if we are a] responsible member of Schengen.
How is Romania preparing for holding the EU presidency next year?
We are looking to bring full transparency to the decision-making process. [We will] draw our citizens closer to that process by defining the priority topics so that they reflect the existing concerns of society.
What will be the main issues?
Romania will take over the presidency at a time of great challenges for the European project: the Brexit process [and] preparing the new multi-annual financial framework. Strengthening the link between Europe’s citizens and the European Union, while ensuring a more active involvement in the decision-making process, remains a challenge that we still need to address.