The Media Freedom Rapid Response today issued its report “Media Freedom at a crossroads: Journalism in Poland faces uncertain future ahead of election” following its mission to Warsaw on 11 – 13 September.
The report explores how media capture and the widespread use of vexatious lawsuits have been used to create a hostile climate for independent journalism that weakens media’s ability to contribute to free and fair elections.
Key findings include:
- The public media have been fully converted into a propaganda arm of the ruling party.
- The National Broadcasting Council, KRRiT, has abused its licensing powers to create business uncertainty and is applying arbitrary financial penalties to impose fear and self-censorship in newsrooms.
- Media pluralism was compromised when, in 2021, the state-controlled oil company, PKN Orlen, took over the largest regional media company, Polska Press. The subsequent editorial purge and shift in editorial lines to favour the ruling party ahead of upcoming elections makes it one of the most flagrant examples of media capture in Europe.
- State advertising has been weaponised by the government to fund favourable media outlets and undermine independent journalism which exacerbates the financial pressure on media.
- Polish media are subjected to one of the largest number of vexatious lawsuits, or SLAPPs, in the European Union. Most are initiated by ruling party politicians, state companies, and public institutions and therefore financed by public money.
- While Polish media have proved resilient thanks to the presence of foreign owners, the hostile economic climate may force many to withdraw. Such a move is likely to have a devastating impact on media pluralism.
- The overwhelming majority of commentators met by the mission expressed deep concern that the country was at a crossroads and that four more years of the current policy would accelerate media capture and push Poland down the path to emulating the media environment in Hungary, Turkey, or Russia.
The mission was organised by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR). The delegation comprised of representatives of ARTICLE 19 Europe, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), and International Press Institute (IPI). The mission took place in Warsaw between 11 – 13 September and met with a wide range of editors, journalists, regulators, civil society groups, lawyers, the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Ministry of Culture.
A Polish language translation of the report will be published shortly.