Freedom of the Press

Poland

Freedom of the Press 2016
Press Freedom Status: 
F
Political Environment: 
11 / 40 (↓1)
(0=BEST, 40=WORST)
Economic Environment: 
8 / 30 (↓1)
(0=BEST, 30=WORST)
Press Freedom Score: 
28 / 100 (↓2)
(0=BEST, 100=WORST)

Quick Facts

Population: 
38,478,001
Freedom in the World Status: 
Free
Internet Penetration Rate: 
68.0%

Overview

Poland has a vibrant but highly polarized media environment, where some restrictive laws remain in use. In addition, after sweeping elections in October 2015, the ultraconservative Law and Justice (PiS) party sparked domestic and international concern when it used its new parliamentary majority to pass a law in December that shifts control of public media from the regulatory body to the Treasury Ministry. The passage led to the immediate resignation of senior public media officials.

 

Key Developments

  • A prominent TVP journalist was let go in November on the basis of the tone she used in interviewing a PiS official. She was reinstated after an appeal to the organization’s ethics committee.
  • In November, the broadcast regulator canceled the license of Radio Hobby, which rebroadcasts Polish-language programming produced by a radio station funded by the Russian government.
  • The newly elected parliament passed a law on “national media” in December that shifted most authority over public media, including the hiring and firing of journalists, from the regulatory body to the Treasury Ministry. The heads of all public media immediately resigned in protest.

 

Legal Environment: 9 / 30

While the constitution protects freedoms 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. 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.

Ignoring a letter of concern from the European Union, the parliament elected in October 2015 passed a new law on “national media” at the end of December that will severely curtail the powers of the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT). The KRRiT, which is controlled by nominees of the outgoing Civic Platform (PO) government, has always been highly politicized and has faced regular accusations of bias in its dealings with ultraconservative media connected to the now-ruling PiS party. PiS blamed KRRiT along with the former management of the public media and the dominance of German-owned outlets across Europe for political bias in Polish media throughout the year.

In November, KRRiT canceled the broadcasting license of the Warsaw-based station Radio Hobby, which rebroadcasts Polish-language programming produced by the Russian government–funded Radio Sputnik. Previously, KRRiT had resisted calls from politicians to crack down on Radio Sputnik broadcasts, citing freedom of speech, but critics of the broadcasts say that they serve as a mouthpiece for Russian propaganda.

The right to information is protected by Article 61 of the constitution and the Act on Access to Public Information. A 2013 report by the Polish Open Government Coalition found a number of problems with the implementation of the act, including inconsistent enforcement across different government bodies, unjustified processing delays, and loosely regulated interpretations of what constitutes public information.

 

Political Environment: 11 / 40 (↓1)

Historically, public television and radio broadcasters have tended to favor the government in power, carrying less criticism than the private media. The majority of private outlets display ideological or political bias as well, forcing citizens to 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 PO and critical of the new government. Other titles, including Rzeczpospolita, Gość Niedzielny, Nasz Dziennik, and Gazeta Polska, have shown more sympathy for PiS. Polish media also include a range of largely apolitical, business-focused titles and tabloids.

The December 2015 law on the public media allows the government to hire and fire the management of the public television and radio. In response to its passage, the heads of all public media, including public broadcaster TVP, immediately resigned in protest. The ruling PiS party explained the move as an attempt to depoliticize the airwaves, which had been dominated by media friendly to the policies of the PO.

After newly appointed minister of culture Piotr Gliński instructed the marshal of the Lower Silesia region to shut down a theater production containing a simulated sex scene in November, TVP reporter and talk-show host Karolina Lewicka asked Gliński to defend his move during an interview on her show. Gliński refused to respond, calling her program “propaganda” and making implicit threats to censor the program. Soon after, Lewicka was fired for unprofessionalism, although the TVP president had called the minister’s threats an attack on freedom of speech. Lewicka was reinstated after an appeal before TVP’s ethics committee, which ruled that she had not violated company codes.

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.

In late 2015, following a 14-month investigation, Leonid Svidirov, a Russian journalist working for the Kremlin-funded Rossiya Segodnya, was expelled from Poland. Poland’s Internal Security Agency had declared Svidirov a security threat in 2014.

In June 2015, an antiestablishment businessman posted 2,500 pages of sealed materials from the “Waitergate” recordings investigation on Facebook. He was charged with illegal publication of classified documents; the case was pending at year’s end. The Waitergate scandal broke a year earlier when the weekly newsmagazine Wprost published transcripts of secretly recorded and compromising conversations held between leading politicians. Police raided the Wprost offices in June 2014 but ultimately failed to seize the recordings or force the magazine to reveal its sources.

Physical attacks against journalists in Poland are rare, However, in June 2015, Lukasz Masiak, founder and editor of the independent news website Nasza Mława, died as a result of injuries stemming from an assault in a nightclub bathroom. Masiak had been a victim of attacks due to his journalism in the past, but Polish authorities found no direct link in this case.

 

Economic Environment: 8 / 30 (↓1)

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 many outlets criticize all groups along the political spectrum, even those 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, which owns Gazeta Wyborcza. TVP, which runs a number of terrestrial and satellite channels, remains an important source of information for many citizens. The law passed by parliament in December gives the government greater control over the public media, shifting most authority from the traditional regulatory body, KRRiT, to the Treasury Ministry.

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 2015, but digital advertising continued to grow. Even before the general economic downturn, Polish print media were suffering from the shrinking of the advertising market and the need to compete with online channels.

Roughly 70 percent of the population had regular internet access in 2015, and the government does not restrict the medium.