Media attacks, resignations damage state-civil society relations in Poland

Association

In the last month, civil society organisations in Poland have reported a noticeable increase in media attacks directed at civil society. Unfounded allegations in media reports that some CSOs have received and used money fraudulently have damaged the image of many prominent CSOs. In a statement issued on 20th October, local civil society umbrella group Ogólnopolska Federacja Organizacji Pozarządowych (OFOP) said: 

'In particular, the public media, we expect the reliability of information issued and firmly oppose attacks on non-governmental organisations and people connected with social activity.'

The statement makes it clear that CSOs are required to account for finances under Polish law, meaning that allegations are baseless and designed to tarnish the work of 61 CSOs who are committed to transparency and accountability. There is increasing evidence that the media behind the onslaught are closely aligned to the government; leading many to believe the smears are part of a campaign orchestrated by Polish authorities to discredit civic actors. 

Increasingly strained state-civil society relations were further revealed when, on 8th November, 13 civil society experts resigned from a joint body overseeing funding of the nongovernmental sector in Poland. The 13 individuals resigned on the grounds that basic democratic procedures related to grant-making had been disregarded and that there had been a lack of consistent consultation. The resignations were also influenced by the recent spate of media attacks on non-governmental organisations. The move comes as a significant blow to CSO relations with the Polish authorities.