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Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the Press 2017

Poland

Profile

Press Freedom Status: 
Partly Free
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Freedom of the Press Scores

(0=Most Free, 100=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Population: 
38,400,000
Internet Penetration Rate: 
68.0%

Status Change:

Poland’s status declined from Free to Partly Free due to government intolerance toward independent or critical reporting, excessive political interference in the affairs of public media, and restrictions on speech regarding Polish history and identity, which have collectively contributed to increased self-censorship and polarization.

Key Developments in 2016:

  • A media law that took effect in January empowered the treasury minister, rather than an independent body, to appoint the managers of Poland’s public television and radio broadcasters. By April, over 140 public media employees had resigned or been fired.
  • In December, the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party attempted to limit reporters’ access to lawmakers inside the parliament, but abandoned the initiative following resistance by the opposition and the public.
  • Government offices canceled subscriptions to opposition-friendly media, while state-owned companies redirected advertising money to progovernment outlets.
  • The PiS government sought to undermine voices that challenged its preferred historical narrative, which largely omits the involvement of Polish people in World War II–era atrocities.

Executive Summary

Poland has a vibrant but highly polarized media environment where some restrictive laws remain in use. Upon taking office in late 2015, the conservative PiS government began an overhaul of the country’s public television and radio broadcasters, citing a need to depoliticize the airwaves. Legislation passed in December 2015 ended the mandates of Poland’s public television and radio managers and empowered the treasury minister to appoint their successors. By April 2016, more than 140 employees at public outlets had resigned or been fired. The many personnel changes during the year encouraged self-censorship among reporters who remained at public outlets. As a result of the government’s combative relationship with critical media, self-censorship also increased among journalists working for opposition-friendly private outlets.

In December 2016, Poland’s Constitutional Court ruled that authorities had acted unconstitutionally by excluding the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) from decisions regarding the composition of the new management and supervisory boards of the public broadcasters. The new National Media Council, which was empowered in June to make appointments to those positions, ignored the decision. News coverage by public media outlets favored the PiS throughout the year. Meanwhile, government agencies ended subscriptions to opposition-friendly outlets, while state-owned companies canceled advertising contracts with them. 

In December, the government’s attempts to limit journalistic access to lawmakers in the parliament prompted an attempt by opposition deputies to block a vote on the 2017 state budget, as well as public demonstrations outside the parliament building. Authorities ultimately abandoned the plan.

During the year, the PiS government sought to undermine voices in the media that challenged its preferred historical narrative, which largely omits the involvement of Polish people in World War II–era atrocities. In February, TVP opened a broadcast of the film Ida—about a Catholic nun who discovers that her parents were Jewish and had been killed during World War II—with a 12-minute introduction in which commentators stated that the film presents Polish history inaccurately. Separately, in April, prosecutors questioned Holocaust historian Jan Gross for five hours about allegations that he had publicly insulted the nation. The accusations were tied to a 2015 article in which Gross stated that during World War II, Poles killed more Jews than they did Nazis. Gross’s views also led President Andrzej Duda’s office to consider stripping him of an Order of Merit he received in 1996.

 

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