Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
While the constitution protects freedom of speech and of the press, libel and some forms of insult—including defamation of public officials or the state and statements that offend religious beliefs—are criminal offenses punishable by fines and imprisonment. There have been relatively few investigations or charges in recent years under the so-called blasphemy law restricting speech that causes religious offense, but the provision remains a highly criticized constraint on freedom of expression in Poland.
The number of defamation suits brought annually by government officials and public figures against news media and one another has increased over the last decade. The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights notes that local media in Poland are much more vulnerable than nationwide outlets to legal reprisals by local authorities.
A few long-running defamation cases reached court judgments in 2014. In October, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Polish courts had violated the right to freedom of expression of two journalists with the daily Rzeczpospolita who had been found guilty of defaming a senior Health Ministry official in a 2003 article. The ECHR ruled that the Rzeczpospolita article had concerned issues of public interest because its subject was a public official; it awarded each journalist €5,000 ($6,300) in nonpecuniary damages, as well as €2,650 ($3,350) in pecuniary damages and €6,000 ($7,600) in costs and expenses to the newspaper’s publisher. In January 2014, the Circuit Court in Poznań conditionally discontinued proceedings against blogger Łukasz Kasprowicz, who has been embroiled in a legal battle with the mayor of Mosiny, Zofia Springer, since 2010. In a decision that human rights and media freedom organizations had widely condemned, a first-instance court in Poznań sentenced Kasprowicz to 10 months of restricted liberty and 30 hours of community service per month in connection with a series of blog posts in which he called the mayor “a liar” and accused her of “coerc[ing] public officials into lawlessness with threats.” The original sentence had been reversed in 2011 on the grounds that Kasprowicz had aired his criticism as a blogger and private citizen, not as a journalist. In September, Kasprowicz’s case was brought before the ECHR.
The right to information is protected by Article 61 of the constitution and the Act on Access to Public Information, passed in 2001 and amended in 2011 to bring Poland into line with EU regulations. A December 2013 report by the Polish Open Government Coalition found a number of problems with the implementation of the act, citing inconsistent enforcement across different government bodies, unjustified processing delays, and loosely regulated interpretations of what constitutes public information.
The National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT), whose members are selected by the president, the Sejm, and the Senate, has the power to regulate programming, allocate subscription revenues to public media, distribute broadcasting frequencies and licenses, and impose financial penalties on broadcasters. In October 2014, KRRiT issued a 50,000 złoty ($15,000) fine against Lux Veritas, the owner of Poland’s leading Catholic media outlets, for broadcasting commentary that seemed to sympathize with the persons responsible for a 2013 arson attack on an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) installation in Warsaw. Although KRRiT members are required to suspend their membership in political parties, the council has always been highly politicized.
Public television and radio broadcasters tend to favor the government, carrying less criticism than the private media. Because the majority of private outlets display ideological or political bias in one direction or another, citizens must consult multiple sources in order to inform themselves effectively. Gazeta Wyborcza—Poland’s most prominent news daily—the Polish edition of Newsweek, the weekly newsmagazine Polityka, and the 24-hour news station TVN24 are considered supportive of the incumbent government. Other titles, including Rzeczpospolita, Gość Niedzielny, Nasz Dziennik, and Gazeta Polska show more sympathy for PiS and the conservative opposition. Polish media also include a range of largely apolitical, business-focused titles and tabloids.
The government does not censor media in Poland, but the risk of defamation suits can encourage self-censorship, particularly among smaller outlets that could be forced out of business by large fines.
Polish officials occasionally interfere with journalists’ work. In November, two journalists were arrested while covering a demonstration at the State Electoral Commission headquarters and charged with refusing to comply with police orders to vacate the premises. They were acquitted in early December on the grounds that they had been present as journalists. In late 2013, a first-instance court convicted TVP television reporter Endy Gęsina-Torres of perjury and falsifying documents in connection with an investigation for which he had posed as a Cuban refugee. He was ordered to pay a fine of 2,000 złoty ($630). Gęsina-Torres appealed the verdict before a regional court in 2014, but the judgment and fine were upheld. His case is expected to go before the ECHR in 2015. In late 2014, Poland’s Internal Security Agency declared Leonid Svidirov, a journalist working for the Russian state news agency Rossiya Segodnya, a security threat and requested that he be removed from the country. The Foreign Ministry stripped him of his journalist’s accreditation, and an investigation against him was ongoing at year’s end; Svidirov claimed that authorities refused to disclose any specific allegations against him. According to the Associated Press, Sviridov was denied the right to work in the Czech Republic in 2006 based on allegations of espionage.
In June 2014, police raided the offices of the weekly newsmagazine Wprost without first securing a police order. The raid came after the magazine had published transcripts of secretly recorded and compromising conversations held between leading politicians. The authorities ultimately failed to seize the recordings or force the magazine to reveal its sources. Physical attacks against journalists are rare, and no such incidents were reported in 2014.
Polish print media and radio outlets are predominantly private and highly diversified in terms of ownership. While coverage can be partisan, a range of opinions are expressed, and outlets do criticize all groups along the political spectrum, even the ones with which they are aligned. According to the European Journalism Centre, German and other foreign owners control approximately 80 percent of the Polish media market. The only major domestic competitor is Agora SA. The public television broadcaster TVP, which runs a number of terrestrial and satellite channels, remains an important source of information for most citizens. It has been reported that only one in three households actually pays the mandatory subscription fee collected from radio and television owners to support public broadcasting.
Local media outlets are vulnerable to being edged out of the market when local governments establish their own newspapers and compete with them for advertising. Following the emergence of the European sovereign-debt crisis in 2009, many media companies were forced to cut spending and lay off employees due to financial constraints. Poland’s television advertising market remained weak in 2014, but digital advertising continued to grow and bring income to media companies. Even before the general economic downturn, Polish print media were suffering from the shrinking of the advertising market and the need to compete with electronic and online channels. Readership of periodicals is declining, particularly in the conservative press. The conservative weekly Do Rzeczy lost 32 percent of its readership in 2014, and wSieci lost 19 percent.
Roughly 67 percent of the population had regular internet access in 2014, and the government does not restrict the medium.