“Your favorite website should be here. Today, however, you won’t be reading any content here. Find out what the world will be like without independent media. It is with this sentence, on a black background, that the Polish newspaper Fakt and more than 40 media in Poland, among newspapers, magazines, TV and radio, woke up on Wednesday (10).
The “press agent” and the publication of the manifesto “Media without choice” is a protest against a new tax on advertising revenue which, according to Polish media, will strangle their finances and reduce the independence and editorial plurality of parents.
Proposed by the government of the right-wing nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, the tax is voted on in Parliament (controlled by the PiS) and proposes to charge 2 to 15% of media advertising revenue. Last week Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the proceeds would be used to “support the national health system, culture and media freedom”.
According to the prime minister, whose government platform is a critique of foreign media ownership and media “repolonization”, “global media companies dominate and can do so even more with their capital power.”
The companies, however, say the impact will be the other way around. “[O imposto] this will weaken or even bankrupt some of the media operating in Poland, which will severely limit the ability of society to choose the content that interests them, ”the manifesto states.
In addition to news consumers, culture, entertainment and sports producers and users should also be concerned, according to the movement that movie chains and music labels have also joined.
“I have no doubt that the goal is to reach independent media,” Adam Bodnar, Polish human rights ombudsperson, said on a social network.
The growing control of the media by the PiS since taking office in 2015 has been criticized by the freedom of press activists and even by the European Union, which is investigating the Polish government’s attacks on the rule of law. A law passed in December of that year gave the ruling party full control over public media, allowing PiS to freely fire editors.
The Polish constitution prohibits prior censorship and guarantees freedom of the press, but entities such as Jornalistas sem Fronteiras say the rule is not being respected and that there is growing deterioration under the PiS government. For four consecutive years, Poland has fallen in the entity’s ranking, occupying 62nd place out of 180 countries.
Before the right-wing party came to power, the Polish media were considered free and rose in the rankings, up to 18th position. In addition to interventions on public broadcasters, which critics say have turned into PiS propaganda channels, the government has significantly reduced public advertising in independent or opposition vehicles, such as Gazeta Wyborcza, the largest independent vehicle from Poland, and the magazines Polityka and Newsweek Polska.
Media scrutiny was one of the reasons why democracy watchdog Freedom House downgraded Poland’s rating from consolidated democracy to semi-consolidated in last year’s report.
In December, PiS took another step forward by announcing that state-controlled oil refinery PKN Orlen was buying local media group Polska Press. Until then owned by the German company Verlagsgruppe Passau, Polska Press publishes several newspapers and magazines in the country.
Poland, along with Hungary, is already the subject of formal EU investigations into issues such as the loss of independence of the judiciary and interference with freedom of the press, and is a source of major concerns in a report released by the bloc last year.
This week, the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán shut down one of the country’s main independent radio stations, Klubradio. The Media Council, a regulatory body created by Orbán in 2011, refused to renew its license, which expires on Sunday (14), and the company lost this Tuesday to maintain its frequency.