Trans-Europe Express: Poland’s gagged media continues to worry Europe

Sent out every Friday at noon, Trans-Europe Express gives you an insider's view of the most important coverage from across the EURACTIV media network, its media partners and much more.

Since Poland’s ruling party came to power two years ago, the country dropped 36 places in the media freedom ranking. Journalists of public broadcasters have been losing their jobs and financial pressures are being exerted on commercial companies.

For Reporters Without Borders, there are no doubts that such a spectacular fall in the ranking corresponds to the rule of the current Law and Justice (PiS) government. In a recent report, they concluded that shortly after PiS came to power, the parliament passed a new law allowing for profound changes in the staffing of public broadcasters.

As a result, in the course of two years, more than 230 journalists have lost their jobs, having been fired or forced to leave. Public media use propaganda, praise the government and criticise the opposition.

Reporters Without Borders list outrageous cases of dismissals: longtime sports journalist Tomasz Zimoch was let go only because he gave an interview in which he expressed some distance vis-à-vis the policies of the current authorities.

The organisation also mentions economic stifling of commercial media – state-owned companies and government institutions have drastically reduced their subscription to critical media outlets and have completely stopped posting paid advertisements in them.

Conversely, the outlets supporting the government’s policies have seen their revenues increase by as much as 700% per year (eg. Gazeta Polska).

Reporters Without Borders called on the European Union a year ago to impose sanctions on Poland due to serious violations of media freedom and pluralism.

Lydia Gall from Human Rights Watch is also critical of the Polish authorities for restricting media freedom. She welcomed the call made by the Commission and the European Parliament for a change of the current government policies aimed at limiting media freedom, dismantling the constitutional order, being the checks and balances of power.

“The actions of the Polish government are not only an internal threat, they also undermine the values of the European Union and undermine its credibility as a promoter of human rights in the world,” Gall wrote and called on the EU to activate Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty against Warsaw.

The Polish government not only intends to stay on its chosen course but is also trying to further tighten the noose around private media in Poland. A planned media law is intended to lead to their “deconcentration” on the market.

The law specifies a threshold of shares in the advertising market that media must not exceed. If this happens, they will be forced to sell them. PiS politicians have repeatedly suggested in public speeches that they would be buying out state-owned companies.

This would most likely lead to a situation in which the bought-out media might only use the narrative in favour of the rulers. If this happens, Poland’s ranking on the Reporters Without Borders list will fall even further, coming closer to that of countries of Central Asia.

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Views are the author’s