Reporters Without Borders (RSF) was in Warsaw yesterday to tell the Polish government about its recommendations with regard to media freedom and to urge the European Union to sanction Poland if it continues on its current anti-democratic path.
“We have come to offer our support to Polish journalists who try to keep working despite all the harassment and to remind everyone of our constant fight for the free, honest and impartial media that the public needs,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire told a gathering of Polish media representatives in downtown Warsaw.
Deloire went on to spell out what must be done to end the many media freedom violations perpetrated by the government led by the ultra-conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) since taking office in October 2015.
Laws adopted by the PiS government have curtailed media independence and have undermined the values on which the European Union is based – including freedom, democracy, the rule of law and pluralism.
After turning the state media into propaganda tools, the government set about strangling newspapers opposed to its reforms. Some of these newspapers, such as the opposition daily Gazeta Wyborcza, are now in financial straits after being deprived of advertising by state agencies. Gazeta Wyborcza had to lay off about 20% of its employees at the end of 2016 because of a fall in revenue.
Poland’s journalists are also concerned about plans to “re-Polishize” the country’s media. Many of Poland’s media outlets and media groups are largely owned by foreign capital and some of Law and Justice’s leaders think they don’t do enough to defend “Polish values.”
RSF’s visit to Warsaw comes two months after Brussels submitted recommendations to the Polish government for preserving the rule of law. As the government rejected these recommendations outright on 20 February, RSF urges the EU to use the legal tools at its disposal to sanction Poland.
“Today in Warsaw, Reporters Without Borders calls on the European Commission not to betray its own values and to continue the fight by adopting sanctions,” Deloire added. “We want to be a thorn in the side of the Polish authorities, constantly pressing them to respect media freedom.”
In October 2016, RSF became one of the first NGOs to call for the use of Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, under which the European Council can suspend some of the rights of an EU member state that commits grave and repeated violations of fundamental EU values.
Poland is ranked 47th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, 29 places lower than in the 2015 Index. As a result of the measures adopted in the past year, it is likely to fall even further in the 2017 Index, scheduled for release in April.