While Poland has a diverse media landscape, public awareness of press freedom remains weak. After turning the public media into instruments of propaganda, the government has multiplied its attempts to change the editorial line of private media and control information on sensitive subjects.
While the private market has remained fairly pluralistic featuring influential independent media such as TVN, the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza and the online outlet Onet.pl, the public media, especially TVP, have become instruments of government propaganda. State-controlled oil company Orlen has acquired 20 of the 24 regional newspapers. Local private media face harsh competition from these regional newspapers and "local government newspapers" published for years with public money.
The "repolonisation" of the media announced by the government can be seen in Orlen's repurchase of the regional press from its German owner. Since then, the company has employed staff supportive of the government. The ruling coalition has also tried to persuade the American owner who holds the majority stake in TVN to sell. Ruling politicians and their entourages regularly launch verbal attacks and SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) against critical journalists.
Although freedom of the press and the right to information are guaranteed by the constitution, the government has attempted to restrict them through special legislation. As a result, from September 2021 until the end of 2022, journalists were prevented from freely moving and working on the border with Belarus, where at least dozens of immigrants, out of the hundreds who tried entering Poland, died. The state regulator is attempting to challenge the findings and opinions of journalists using the legal provision of the protection of the “raison d'État”. Similarly, while the confidentiality of sources is enshrined in the law, the authorities have tried to undermine it in some cases. “Insulting” certain institutions remains punishable by imprisonment.
While public broadcasting is funded by the state, private media count on subscription models thanks to the relatively large size of the Polish market. The independent media faced a failed attempt to weaken them through a special tax aimed at their advertising revenue. Public advertising is mainly distributed to the pro-government media, without any transparency, and "local government newspapers" published with public money often compete with the independent press by selling advertising.
The growing polarisation of society has resulted in an increase of verbal attacks on journalists. Conservatives attempt to discourage journalists from covering gender-related or LGBT+ issues, and blasphemy remains punishable by imprisonment. The independent media enjoy, however, strong support from a part of the population that protested, for example, against the law targeting TVN.
After reaching a peak in 2020 during the “Women’s Strike”, the level of violence – coming from both the police and extremist groups opposed to the movement – has decreased. The attacks on journalists showed, however, that law enforcement authorities cannot effectively protect them or guarantee their rights during protests. In 2021, they even deliberately prevented journalists from covering the refugee crisis near the border with Belarus through arbitrary and violent arrests.