Poland’s media landscape in 2016 has been transformed after controversial new laws have altered the nature of reporting in the country. Polish citizens and the European Union have both reacted to the radical change.
Reforms in Polish media laws were introduced at the end of last year by the newly elected Law and Justice Party. A major adjustment has put members of the government in charge of state radio and television broadcasters, allowing them to review and control media content in the country.
Polish advocacy officer for the think tank group the European Council on Foreign Relations, Marta Makowska, states that the media reforms have had a noticeable impact in Poland.
“It has been entirely visible. For example, the protests against the new anti-abortion laws have been framed entirely different by the public broadcasters compared to how it is reported by the private media.”
While the European Commission has launched investigations into Polish reforms, Renowned Polish Journalist Konstanty Gebert would like to see the EU do more in preventing the new changes.
“I would like to see Poland sanctioned…I am in favour of intervention.”
However Gebert is not confident that the EU can make a change.
“Since any sanctions have to be backed by unanimity, Poland will not be sanctioned for what they are doing and I think that is wrong…this a harmful government and an EU sanction would be a strong alarm light for its supporters.”
“We have joined the EU out of our own free will and by signing the treaties we have committed ourselves to maintaining them…as long as we are in, we should uphold the standards we have committed ourselves to” Gebert said.
The reforms have sparked concern for the issue of freedom of speech and democratic rights in Poland. As a result of the changes of the Law and Justice Party, Poland has dropped a massive 29 positions on the World Press Freedom Index, now ranking at 47 worldwide.
This year over 100 Polish journalists have either lost their jobs at the hands of the government, have resigned in protest or have been demoted to lesser positions.
Since the media reforms, state broadcasters in Poland have suffered a record viewership loss with one of Poland’s biggest news programs losing 750, 000 viewers after the change in government.
With Citizens tuning out, the power of the everyday person has been noticed. However, the media reforms are not universally criticized in Poland, as Gebert states.
“There is a quite broad spectrum of right wing opinion which is extremely satisfied”
The Law and Justice Party won 39% of the votes in last Octobers election and have accumulated a loyal following.
“Until last year (there was a belief) the public media reflected a left wing consensus which was not representative of the broad opinion and discriminated against the right wing. There is, as they say, now a more equitable representation of public opinion.”
With public protests and European Union investigations seemingly having little impact, it appears that the media reforms of the Law and Justice Party will dominate in Poland for the foreseeable future.