While Poland has a diverse media landscape, public awareness of press freedom remains weak. After turning the public media into instruments of propaganda, the government has multiplied its attempts to change the editorial line of private media and control information on sensitive subjects.
While the private market has remained fairly pluralistic featuring influential independent media such as TVN, the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza or the online outlet Onet.pl, the public media, especially TVP, have been transformed into instruments of government propaganda. A state-controlled company has bought 20 out of 24 regional newspapers, and local private media outlets face fierce competition from government-run publications.
After taking control of the public media, the government has threatened the independence of private media with its “re-polonisation” strategy, with an assumed objective of influencing their editorial line. A state-owned company has purchased PolskaPress, a network of regional newspapers, while TVN, the biggest independent media group, has faced pressures by means of politicised regulation and tailor-made legislation. Members of the government regularly attack overly critical journalists.
Although freedom of the press and the right to information are guaranteed by the constitution, the government has attempted to restrict them by special legislation. As a result, journalists have faced, since september 2021, arbitrary and disproportionate bans on reporting near the border with Belarus. Similarly, while confidentiality of sources is enshrined in the law, the authorities have tried to undermine it in specific cases. “Insulting” certain institutions remains punishable by prison sentences.
While public broadcasting is funded by the state, private media count on subscription models thanks to the relatively big size of the Polish market. The independent media faced a failed attempt to weaken them through a special tax related to their advertising revenue. Public advertising is mainly distributed to pro-government media, without any transparency.
The growing polarisation of society has resulted in an increase of verbal attacks on journalists. Conservatives attempt to discourage journalists from covering gender-related or LGBT+ issues, and blasphemy remains punishable by imprisonment. The independent media enjoy, however, strong support from a part of the population that protested, for example, against the law targeting TVN.
After reaching a peak in 2020 during the “Women’s Strike”, the level of violence – coming from both the police and extremist groups opposed to the movement – has decreased. The attacks on journalists showed, however, that law enforcement authorities cannot effectively protect them or guarantee their rights during protests. In 2021, they even deliberately prevented journalists from covering the refugee crisis near the border with Belarus through arbitrary and violent arrests.