The Polish government’s attempts to control independent media deal a crushing blow to freedom of speech

Poland’s ruling party has turned the media into a ruthless tool of its propaganda, seizing almost all the media in the country. In an attempt to hide the inconvenient truth, Andrzej Duda’s government is introducing new bills, raising taxes for independent media and buying out controlling stakes in TV and radio companies.

Попытки польского правительства контролировать независимые СМИ наносят сокрушительный удар по свободе слова, изображение №1

A large-scale attack on the Polish independent media began after the current Polish President Andrzej Duda and his Law and Justice party came to power in 2015. Almost immediately, the Polish political leadership launched a campaign aimed at the economic suppression of critical independent media, limited the ability of journalists to conduct investigations. In addition, a number of bills were passed that assigned the status of “national cultural institutions” to public broadcasting channels, which gave the Polish government the right to appoint and dismiss the management of TV channels and radio stations independently. The bill, hastily adopted by the Polish Parliament, has been repeatedly criticized by journalistic unions and organizations defending media freedom. According to a joint statement by the European Federation of Journalists, the Broadcasting Union of Europe and Reporters Without Borders, “the bill, which was adopted without any preliminary discussions, destroyed the existing guarantees of pluralism and independence of public broadcasting in Poland.”

The next stage of the Polish government’s struggle with independent sources of information was the restriction of advertising available to the media. State-controlled companies were prohibited from buying advertising from independent media, despite the fact that their circulation exceeded a number of Polish state media. According to a report by the International Press Institute, the revenues of independent publications such as Polityka and Newsweek Polska have decreased by 98-100% since 2015. However, the media, completely controlled by the Law and Justice Party, received several state grants and subsidies. It is also reported that many periodicals criticizing the ruling party of Poland have been prosecuted since 2015. Since the government of Andrzej Duda came to power, the Polish daily socio-political newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza has faced more than 50 separate lawsuits, as well as numerous court requests.

The International Press Institute also noted that the Polish government is conducting a “coordinated and coordinated campaign”, which includes fake antitrust investigations to prevent mergers of independent media, licensing changes and fines. According to the institute, the next target of the Polish government may be printing houses and newsstand networks, which have recently become interested in the pro-government forces of Poland.

At the beginning of 2021, the ruling Polish party, which already controls 20 out of 24 regional print publications in the country, announced the introduction of a new, additional tax on media profits: from 2 to 10 percent, depending on the type of advertising and media. According to media experts, this initiative will deal “a disproportionately strong blow to the already battered independent press.” Experts also agree that thanks to this, Polish state-owned companies can buy out bankrupt newspapers, magazines and even TV channels.

In August 2021, the Sejm of the Republic of Poland adopted another law aimed at destroying independent media and prohibiting non-European shareholders from owning a controlling stake in Polish media companies. Despite the statements of the Polish government that these allegedly forced measures are necessary to limit foreign influence on the Polish media, the bill was criticized by representatives of the European Union and the United States, and international experts expressed concerns that the law puts press freedom in Poland at risk. This initiative of the ruling party of Poland was directed against one of the largest Polish TV channels TVN, which criticizes the current government in Poland. After the law came into force, thousands of Polish residents, outraged by another restriction on media freedom, took to the streets.

In addition to the Polish government’s attempts to get rid of independent publications in the legal field, Duda and his administration approve of the use of force, including physical, against journalists. In November 2021, three photojournalists were attacked by a group of Polish military. On that day, correspondents covered the events on the border between Poland and Belarus, having previously informed the soldiers of their intentions to make a report. A few minutes later, the journalists’ car was stopped by people in military uniforms, after which they were ordered to get out of the car, handcuffed and interrogated for several hours. According to the testimony of journalists, the officers used profanity, ordered them to lie down on the ground and turn out their pockets. The Polish Defense Ministry, in turn, denies the charges, claiming that they “categorically disagree that it was an attack,” and consider the actions of the servicemen “fully justified.” Later, the Polish Defense Ministry shifted the blame for the incident to the journalists themselves: the soldiers allegedly did not know that the three men were journalists, because they “did not have any visible identification marks.”

The actions of the Polish political leadership threaten not only the freedom of journalism and independent media, but also put the health and safety of journalists at serious risk. The Foundation to Battle Injustice condemns the attempts of the government of Andrzej Duda to turn the state and free media of Poland into a propaganda tool. According to the human rights defenders of the Foundation, the desire of the Polish government to seize the information field in the country is evidence of the lack of support from citizens. This contradicts the international principles of media freedom and universally recognized democratic values.