Poland: PIS tightening grip on media

Poland's media market has undergone dramatic changes since the national conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) came to power in the autumn of 2015. The party leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, sees state radio and television as vital instruments for pushing through his policies within society and the state, and has put his supporters in key posts at the state broadcasters.

Demonstrations for media freedom in Gdansk in December 2016. (© picture-alliance/dpa)
Demonstrations for media freedom in Gdansk in December 2016. (© picture-alliance/dpa)
These media are instrumental because they have the largest share of the market, which generates almost seven billion złoty (1.7 billin euros) in advertising revenues alone. Filling the top posts at these institutions with loyal journalists was a key element of PiS's overall political agenda. This also included the reform of the country's Constitutional Tribunal, which the party has restructured to guarantee maximum power for the government.

These two reforms have sparked major controversy in Poland, as well as the EU. Brussels has initiated political proceedings against the government and threatened to impose legal sanctions unless Warsaw relents. The country dropped 29 places to 47th place in the Reporters Without Borders 2016 Press Freedom Index. The liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza summed up the first twelve months of PiS government as "the worst year for Poland in 27 years."

In his efforts to control the media, Kaczyński hasn't stopped at the state media but has also targeted private newspapers and magazines like the daily paper Gazeta Polska Codzienne. Founded in 2011, the paper openly supports the PiS and has built up a regular readership, even though its circulation is relatively low at 20,000 copies. Meanwhile the prestigious quality paper Rzeczpospolita, which strongly supported Kaczyński in the past, has increasingly distanced itself from him (circulation: 55,000 copies).

The now oppositional newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza continues to dominate the newspaper market. With a circulation of 140,000 copies its sales figures are in decline, but the paper remains one of the country's leading opinion-forming media. The tabloid Fakt, published by Ringier Axel Springer, still has the highest circulation (285,000 copies). It is relatively unpolitical but is generally conservative-leaning.

A numer of leading news magazines are also pro-PiS in their reporting. These include wSieci (70,000 copies), doRzeczy (50,000) and Wprost (21,000), which have a combined market share of almost 25 percent in this segment. Two leading publications that oppose the PiS are the left-liberal Polityka (114,00 copies) and Newsweek Polska (110,00 copies), whose editor-in-chief Tomasz Lis is one of Poland's top journalists.

With a circulation of 135,000 copies Gość Niedzielny remains market leader in the magazine segment. It represents the views of the Vatican but criticises PiS when it considers it necessary. It voiced extreme disappointment, for example, when the government failed to push through a total ban on abortion as promised.

Press Freedom Rating:
Reporters Without Borders: 54th place (2017)
Freedom House: 51st place – status: free (2016)

Updated: May 2017
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