MFRR fact-finding mission Poland Library

Polish media grapple with unprecedented challenges and uncertain future…

Polish media grapple with unprecedented challenges and uncertain future as the country faces electoral crossroads

At the conclusion of their press freedom mission to Warsaw from 11-13 September, partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) declared that the media and journalists in Poland are facing unprecedented challenges including legal threats, financial precarity, political pressure, regulatory capture and growing polarisation.

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), met with editors, journalists, regulators, civil society groups, lawyers, the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ministry of Culture to hear directly about the conditions under which media are currently operating in the build up to the parliamentary elections due on 15 October.  

Poland has long enjoyed one of the most robust and pluralistic media markets in central and eastern Europe, however in recent years Poland has witnessed intensifying efforts to assert control and influence over large sections of the media. The situation is further exacerbated by the deep polarisation within the media and between journalists.

Within weeks of the 2015 election, the ruling coalition led by the Law and Justice (PiS) party passed a provisional law to dismiss the board and senior management of public service media enabling it to take full control on the information it aired. The Telewizja Polska (TVP) today occupies approximately a third of the broadcast market and enjoys an annual budget of 2.5 billion Zlotys (550 million euros). According to monitoring figures provided by the Polish National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) for the second quarter of 2023, the governing coalition dominates TVP news, enjoying 80% of political coverage, of which 73% is dedicated to PiS. Oppositional political parties meanwhile share the remaining 20% of coverage, which is overwhelmingly negative. 

These figures alone demonstrate how TVP is failing in the fundamental duty of any public broadcaster to provide fair and balanced political coverage between and during elections.

The private broadcast sector has also come under intense pressure through a variety of means to ensure pliable media that are cautious of holding the government to account.

KRRiT, whose composition is controlled by PiS allies, has used its licensing powers to create business uncertainty and intimidate broadcasters such as TVN and RADIO TOK FM.  In the past years, KRRiT has also issued a number of financial penalties against broadcasters for reporting on issues such as the new school history books, questioning the official report into the Smolensk air crash tragedy and child abuse within the catholic church.

Media pluralism was further compromised when the state controlled energy giant PKN Orlen took over the largest regional media company, Polska Press, in 2021 leading to the rapid replacement of most of the editors in chief with journalists from TVP and other pro-PiS media. The purchase has further restricted access to diverse media, particularly in rural areas with limited internet access. 

Local independent media are in an exceptionally precarious situation facing financial and distribution troubles, legal threats and uneven competition against media backed by the local authorities. 

Meanwhile, many private media are denied access to state advertising funds which PiS has weaponised to fund favourable media outlets and undermine independent journalism. The move exacerbates the financial pressures on media, particularly print media, that are still trying to find sustainable income streams to support the transition to digital. 

Polish media are additionally subjected to one of the largest number of vexatious lawsuits, or SLAPPs, in the European Union. Though judicial harassment of journalists is not new, since PiS came to power abusive litigation has become an inherent strategy for weakening critical media. Most SLAPPs are taken by politicians from the governing parties or state companies and public institutions and are therefore financed by public funds. 

The overwhelming majority of commentators met by the mission expressed the 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 situations in Hungary, Turkey or Russia.

The mission will issue its full report in the first week of October.

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

MFRR 3 consortium logos
Poland flag Library

Poland: MFRR to visit Warsaw for press freedom mission

Poland: MFRR to visit Warsaw for press freedom mission

Partner organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) will travel to Warsaw on 11-13 September 2023 to conduct an international press freedom mission ahead of the country’s upcoming general election on 15 October.

The MFRR mission will be joined by representatives of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), the International Press Institute (IPI), ARTICLE 19 Europe, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and Free Press Unlimited (FPU).

The delegation will assess the current state of play for media freedom and pluralism and identify the biggest challenges facing independent journalism in the context of the election. The visit to Warsaw follows a previous online fact-finding mission conducted by the MFRR in 2020.

During the mission, representatives will meet with leading journalists, editors, media experts, civil society groups, political figures and state representatives. The mission will seek to hear a broad range of views and perspectives from across the political spectrum.

Key themes to be assessed during the visit include independent media regulation, threats to media pluralism, particularly at the regional and local level, public service broadcasting, media capture, and legal threats and Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs).

A report with key conclusions and recommendations for the winner of the October 2023 election on how to improve the situation for media freedom will follow shortly after.

The MFRR monitors violations of press and media freedom in the EU Member States and candidate countries and responds with practical and legal support and advocacy. Since the project’s start in March 2020, it has conducted multiple similar media freedom missions.

This mission is coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

MFRR 3 consortium logos

Poland: Media capture fears confirmed in new report examining…

Poland: Media capture fears confirmed in new report examining PKN Orlen takeover of Polska Press

Acquisition of country’s largest regional press publisher by state-controlled oil company has led to shrinking journalists freedoms, report finds.

The undersigned organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) consortium today warn that the findings of a new report assessing the impact of the takeover of regional news publisher Polska Press by Poland’s state-controlled oil company PKN Orlen illustrate a shocking example of media capture in the EU.


The report by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Poland concludes that the takeover and subsequent editorial purge at Polska Press by Orlen in December 2020 has negatively affected journalists freedoms and led to a shift in editorial lines favourable to the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) ahead of upcoming elections.


These findings, based on multiple interviews with current and former journalists and editors at former Polska Press titles, align closely with our own assessments. They also underscore how repeated warnings made by our organisations after the acquisition about the detrimental impact Orlen’s ownership would have on independent journalism in Poland have regrettably come to fruition.


Since Orlen took over management of Poland’s largest publisher of regional newspapers in December 2020, 14 of the 15 regional editors-in-chief stepped down under pressure, with their replacements coming from the state broadcaster or right-wing media titles supportive of PiS. According to the report, numerous other deputy editors and journalists also quit in protest, allowing new management to appoint new reporters often based on political considerations.


As a result, while experiences differ between different online and print titles, the report notes that these personnel changes have led to overall shift in editorial positions across Polska Press’s network to one more favourable to the ruling party. In some media, while coverage may not be supportive of the government, it at least ceased any critical commentary or reporting which could damage the party or its leaders.


Meanwhile, journalistic reporting on matters sensitive for the government – such as LGBTQ rights and migration – has been broadly diminished, while the positions and perspective of the political opposition have largely been marginalised within news coverage. At some titles, both soft and overt censorship by new editors and interference by outside political forces connected to the ruling coalition have markedly increased, with damaging effects on these media’s independence and impartiality.


Our organisations believe this takeover of Polska Press by Orlen is one of the clearest examples anywhere in the European Union in recent years of media capture in action. Through this acquisition by the state-controlled oil company headed by a close ally of the PiS leadership, the ruling party has significantly increased its ability to influence and control news and opinion across the country. This influence extends to 20 regional dailies, 120 weekly magazines and 500 online portals, and echoes the systematic takeover of regional media in Hungary under the Fidesz government.


The takeover of the country’s largest regional news publisher also draws clear parallels with political capture of the county’s public broadcaster Telewizja Polska (TVP) after PiS first came to power in 2015. While the lack of independence demonstrable at Polska Press titles cannot yet be compared to the party propaganda disseminated by TVP, it nonetheless significantly weakens media pluralism in Poland and undermines the right of citizens to receive unbiased information.


PiS has always claimed its drive for so-called ‘repolonisation’ of the media landscape is about ensuring media reflect Polish national interests rather than those of foreign-based publishers. The case of Polska Press is the clearest indication yet that, in reality, the principal aim of this policy is about engineering greater control over domestic media and ensuring continued support for the government’s own political interests.


Increasing instrumentalization of these media titles is of particular concern ahead of parliamentary elections in the autumn 2023, in which the opinion of voters in Poland’s significant rural population will likely be crucial for electoral success. If approved, the election observation mission to Poland recently requested by the European Parliament should scrutinise the news output of Polska Press titles during the election period as part of its overall assessment of the media environment.


Our organisations also believe this case offers a stark example of the need for the EU to pass a strong and effective Media Freedom Act (EMFA). Specifically, this takeover justifies the proposed establishment of a European Board, made up of representatives from national media regulators, which could scrutinise such acquisitions in the future and challenge them if it believes media pluralism or freedom of expression are at risk.


Had such a body been in place when this deal was approved by the country’s competition regulator UOKiK in February 2021, heightened international scrutiny could potentially have had an impact on the ultimate decision of the regulator or resulted in concrete guarantees and stronger safeguards against political interference.


The damage already done to journalistic freedoms by PKN Orlen is clear. We therefore also call on all international investors and pension funds which claim to follow ethical investment guidelines to carefully consider their relationship with the company and take its corrosive effect on media pluralism and democratic values into account.


Moving forward, our organisations will continue to follow this case closely and continue to warn about the takeover’s damaging implications for media freedom. We welcome the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights’ report and will continue to closely monitor and document all threats to independent journalism in the build up to Poland’s parliamentary election.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

MFRR 3 consortium logos
TOK FM Library

Poland: International support for TOK FM amidst regulatory pressure

Poland: International support for TOK FM amidst regulatory pressure

The renewal of Polish radio station TOK FM’s broadcasting licence is still pending after a six-month delay, casting doubt on a possible non-renewal. We, the undersigned media freedom and journalist organisations, join TOK FM, the largest independent news and talk radio station in Poland, in their plea for the licence renewal to be made by the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT), in a timely and independent manner and based on strict professional criteria. 

TOK FM, which is the fourth-most popular radio in Poland, is nearing the end of its broadcasting licence. The licence expires on 3 November 2023. According to Polish law, a decision on its renewal must be taken within two months, but the Polish broadcasting regulator KRRiT is already six months overdue in its reply and is therefore in breach of the administrative law. For this reason, TOK FM is worried its licence might not be renewed.


In the last few months, TOK FM has been subjected to several “monitoring procedures” unrelated to the licence renewal process: KRRiT has requested the station to submit several days worth of recorded programs, raising concerns that the council is looking for extracts that could appear as “hate speech” that could be used against the station. 


These fears have been exacerbated by a fine of PLN 80,000 (€17,680) that KRRiT has recently imposed on TOK FM for strong criticism about a controversial history textbook for schools containing anti-LGBT and other far-right views, expressed by one of the radio’s journalists and his guest during a morning show. According to the chair of the broadcast media regulator, Maciej Świrski, TOK FM incited “hate speech” by using language violating Article 18(1) of the Polish Broadcasting Act, allegedly “promoting illegal activities, views and attitudes contrary to morality and social good, and containing content inciting hatred and discriminatory content.”


The maximum fine that can be imposed by KRRiT is half of the media’s annual licensing fee. In TOK FM’s case, PLN 80,000 amounts to 90% of the maximum imposable fine. Kamila Ceran, the station’s editor-in-chief, confirmed that the appeal was lodged with the Audiovisual Council, which is obliged to forward the appeal to the court within 30 days. 


While Poland’s media landscape remains vibrant and pluralistic overall, in recent years independent media critical of PiS have faced a multi-pronged campaign of regulatory, financial and legislative pressure aimed at undermining their influence. Recent regulatory decisions by KRRiT, which is controlled by figures appointed by PiS, have drawn increased international attention and criticism of its chairperson.


Our organisations call on the National Broadcasting Council to take an impartial decision as soon as possible regarding  the renewal of the broadcasting licence of TOK FM, and reiterate previous calls on the Polish government to stop its pressure against free and independent media.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

MFRR 3 consortium logos

Poland: TOK FM fine sparks renewed concerns about regulatory…

Poland: TOK FM fine sparks renewed concerns about regulatory capture

The International Press Institute (IPI) raises alarm over the controversial fine imposed on the independent radio TOK FM by the chair of Poland’s broadcast media regulator and warns of increasing regulatory pressure on the station ahead of a looming licencing decision.

On 28 April 2023, it was announced that the chairperson of Poland’s National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT), Maciej Świrski, had levied a fine of PLN 80,000 (€17,680) on TOK FM for allegedly violating broadcast law and “inciting hatred” during a morning radio interview.

The financial penalty stemmed from an interview broadcasted in June 2022 in which the host Piotr Maślak spoke with a guest about a history textbook introduced into Polish schools. The book had been commissioned by the Ministry of Education and written by a professor who used to be a politician for the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Speaking critically about the textbook, Maślak stated that in his opinion some elements and language could be compared to Nazi propaganda within the Hitler Youth. His statement was followed by the presentation of specific quotes from the book which he described as problematic.

The fine by KRRiT came more than 10 months after the show was broadcasted. In his justification, the chairman claimed the language used on TOK FM had violated Article 18(1) of the Polish Broadcasting Act by “promoting illegal activities, views and attitudes contrary to morality and social good, and containing content inciting hatred and discriminatory content.”

The fine comes as TOK FM, which is owned by Polish media house Agora and is the fourth-most-popular radio station in Poland, awaits a decision on the renewal of its broadcast licence from KRRiT. The current ten-year licence is due to expire in November 2023. The radio station and Agora stood by the journalist and described the fine as “absurd”.


Deepening concern

“This fine against TOK FM is another example in the growing list of problematic regulatory decisions taken by the head of Poland’s National Broadcasting Council in response to legitimate journalistic content on issues sensitive for the government,” IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “The opinion expressed by the journalist during the show clearly does not meet the threshold for the serious violations alleged. On the contrary, IPI is concerned that this decision by the KRRiT chairman represents a disproportionate and discriminatory application of the Broadcast Act which penalizes a media outlet for exerting its right to free opinion on a matter of public interest.

“IPI and our global network call for this fine to be rescinded immediately. A decision regarding TOK FM’s pending licence renewal should be made by KRRiT in a timely and independent manner and based on strict professional criteria. We further call on the KRRiT chairman to immediately cease imposing fines and ordering investigations against media carrying out legitimate journalistic work.”

“Worryingly, this is a pattern IPI has documented before: one in which the current KRRiT chairman, an ally of PiS, imposes meritless fines on media critical of the government. Many of these investigations appear to have been launched in response to calls for probes by PiS politicians or in retaliation for reporting on sensitive issues.”

Griffen added: “Crucially, this regulatory decision also has implications beyond the financial cost to the media outlet. It comes as TOK FM awaits a decision on the renewal of its ten-year broadcast licence. With its future on the airwaves in the balance, we are concerned that this fine represents a black mark against its name which some members of the KRRiT could now potentially use to argue for the non-renewal of the licence.”

This is not the first time such regulatory pressure has been applied to critical media organizations. The unjustified withholding of the licence renewal of TVN24 until the last moment by government-friendly figures within KRRiT in 2021 was a key example. While that licence was ultimately granted after a months-long standoff, this kind of pressure creates an unstable climate for media to operate in or make sound financial planning.


Regulatory capture

Griffen noted that the non-renewal of broadcast licences for independent media by captured regulatory bodies has been one of the key mechanisms used by illiberal governments to stifle press freedom and erode media pluralism in Europe in recent years. Hungary’s Media Council, which is controlled by appointees of the Fidesz party, is the prime example here, he said.

“IPI is concerned that  KRRiT, which has long been dominated by figures appointed by PiS and its allies, has increasingly become an instrument for applying politically-motivated pressure to media critical of the ruling party”, Griffen added. “While KRRiT retains some level of pluralism compared to Hungary’s captured Media Council, we believe the politicization of the body poses a threat to media freedom in Poland.

“Increased scrutiny must be given by EU institutions to KRRiT and the implications of its decisions on free media. Threats to KRRiT’s independence should be clearly highlighted in future EU Rule of Law reports. At the same time, safeguards must be implemented to increase the regulatory authority’s institutional independence moving forward.

“KRRiT, as well as the separate National Media Council, are therefore key examples of the need for a strong European Media Freedom Act (EMFA). The fine imposed by KRRiT on TOK FM is also an example of a case in which scrutiny by the EMFA’s proposed European Board for Media Services would, in our view, be justified.”

In March, IPI warned about signs of increasing pressure on critical and independent media ahead of the general election in Poland in autumn 2023, with regulatory pressure by KRRiT highlighted as a key concern.

While Poland’s media landscape remains vibrant and pluralistic overall, in recent years independent media critical of PiS have faced a multi-pronged campaign of regulatory, financial and legislative pressure aimed at undermining their influence.

This statement by IPI is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. The project is co-funded by the European Commission.

MFRR 3 consortium logos

How the European Media Freedom Act could affect Hungary…

How the European Media Freedom Act could affect Hungary and Poland

Meanwhile, the EU has existing tools to defend media pluralism and freedom

By IPI contributor Anna Wójcik

The European Union’s institutions are well aware of the concerted, structural attacks on media freedom and pluralism in Hungary and Poland plus several other member states, and the European Commission’s flagship annual rule of law reports are proof of that.

However, the EU’s treatment of the media freedom crises in Poland and Hungary, which are part of a broader backsliding of the rule of law, has been fragmented and differs qualitatively from the EU’s response to the assaults on judicial independence, academic freedom, or migrants’ rights by the Fidesz and PiS governments.

Other than monitoring the violations of media freedom and pluralism in the two Visegrad states the EU’s response has been limited to some action in the scope of the Article 7 Rule of Law procedure against Hungary, and a single EU law infringement action against the Hungarian government contesting the media regulator’s independence and accusing it of discriminatory action following its decision not to renew the license of independent radio broadcaster Klubrádió.

Frustrated by the lack of legal tools available to it, the European Commission is seeking new EU-wide legislation in the form of the European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), presented in September, that would harmonize some aspects of regulation over public and private media in member states.

Until now, public and private media regulation has been mainly the responsibility of member states. With no legal mandate to act on media freedom issues, the Commission has based the EMFA on rules protecting the single market.

Meanwhile, the Council of Europe has developed extensive standards for public media and media pluralism and the EMFA is a welcome opportunity to turn some of these standards into binding law in EU member states.

While the EMFA has not been devised solely to address the challenges that the current governments in Budapest and Warsaw have posed to media freedom and pluralism, the draft regulation holds specific promises in this regard.

New rules, new regulations

The first concern in Hungary and Poland is the media regulators’ lack of independence. The Media Council in Hungary, and, in Poland, the National Broadcasting Council (Krajowa Rada Radiofonii i Telewizji, KRRiT) and the PiS-established National Media Council (Rada Mediów Narodowych) are part of the respective governments’ informal power grab. Loyalists with links to the governing parties dominate these media regulators, which have contributed to limiting media freedom.

In 2020, the Hungarian Media Council did not renew Klubrádió’s license, forcing the station to move online with a limited audience. After Fidesz secured a fourth term in power in April 2022, the regulator refused to renew the license of non-profit Tilos Rádió, citing violations of rules on the use of inappropriate language on air. Tilos won back the licence in the subsequent application process.

In Poland, in 2020/2021, KRRiT delayed the renewal of the broadcasting licenses of the television broadcasters TVN24 and TVN7, which are owned by the U.S. company Warner Bros. Discovery. In 2017, KRRiT fined TVN for reporting about a protest; the fine was rescinded in 2022.

The EMFA seeks to nurture greater independence through the enhanced European Board of Media Services that promotes cooperation between the national regulators. It doesn’t enhance any standards, but it does endorse the requirements of independence of national regulatory set out in Article 30 of the 2018-revised Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), which Hungary and Poland already transposed.

This means that the media regulators are required to be independent of political and business influence and exercise their powers impartially and transparently, in keeping with principles of media pluralism, cultural and linguistic diversity, consumer protection, accessibility, non-discrimination, the proper functioning of the internal market, and the promotion of fair competition. It also prohibits media regulators from seeking or taking instructions from any other bodies regarding the assigned tasks.

If it so wished, the European Commission could already have started infringement proceedings against the biased decisions of media regulators in Hungary and Poland that are detrimental to media freedom and pluralism, based on Article 30 AVMSD. The time to do so is of the essence, especially as the European Parliament elections and local elections in Poland and Hungary are approaching in 2024.

EU law protects European voters’ rights to participate in the EP and elections that are free and fair. The OSCE/ODIHR found in election observation mission reports on general elections in Hungary in 2018 and 2022 and in general elections in 2019 and presidential elections in 2020 in Poland that the elections were tarnished by the apparent bias of public media towards the governing majority or incumbent president and that public broadcasters failed in their duty to provide impartial coverage.

Moreover, the EMFA envisages the creation of the European Board for Media Services, which would succeed the European Regulators Group for Audiovisual Media Services (ERGA) and include national media regulators’ representatives. The Board would advise the Commission on regulation and EU law application issues. It is yet unclear how the Board could insulate itself from internal disruption by rogue member states that are systematically assaulting media freedom and pluralism and quite successfully playing catch-me-if-you-can with Brussels.

Unwinding media capture

Another significant problem is the media capture process, particularly advanced in Hungary and mimicked in Poland. Fidesz has captured media through  a network loyal oligarchs, who in 2018 “donated” media to the Central European Press and Media Foundation (Közép-Európai Sajtó és Média Alapítvány, KESMA). Outside of KESMA, the process of forcing journalists to resign or closing some captured media outlets continues.

The PiS party in Poland used the state-controlled oil and gas company PKN Orlen in 2021 to acquire the country’s the most prominent regional daily newspaper group, Polska Press, from the German publisher Verlagsgruppe Passau. The transaction raised major concerns about editorial independence and media concentration. The EMFA would require member states to carry out a “media pluralism and independence” test when taking any new regulatory measures that impact the media market. It would apply, for instance, to decisions impacting media concentration or on private media licensing.

Governments in Hungary and Poland also boost friendly private media with state funds through advertising and partnerships. The EMFA would include rules enhancing transparency and fairness in the allocation of state advertising to media outlets. It would require member states to distribute state advertising to media in a non-discriminatory way.

Article 24 would further require member states’ central and local governments to publish a list of the media supported with public funds and the amounts allocated to them. The national media regulators would be responsible for verifying government-provided information. Without independent regulators however, this provision is unlikely to be effective.

Strengthening the existing toolbox

It is uncertain what shape the EMFA will eventually take in the long EU legislative process. Several objections have been posed to it from interest groups, notably European association of press publishers. Moreover, member states governments may raise objections to specific elements of the act.

Negative developments regarding media freedom impact also other member states than Hungary and Poland, where such problems further entrench democratic backsliding. Greece scores the lowest among member states on RSF’s Press Freedom Index. In the countries ranking high in media freedom, threats of media concentration in the hands of businesspeople with solid political agendas risk destabilizing the electoral process. The opposition to various solutions included in the EMFA may come from a variety of interest groups.

It must also be emphasized that although the EMFA brings some opportunities, focusing on developing new legislation should not be an excuse for not taking action, as the EU already has avenues for legal actions to protect media freedom and pluralism in member states and could apply more political pressure, for example, at the Article 7 hearings against Hungary. The Council should also consider expanding the Article 7 procedure against the Polish government to include specific issues negatively affecting media freedom and pluralism. For now, the EU is not acting as strongly as it could.


Anna Wójcik, PhD, is an assistant professor at the Institute of Legal Sciences of the Polish Academy of Sciences. She was Re:Constitution fellow at the CEU Democracy Institute in 2022. She specializes in the rule of law and freedom of expression. As RethinkCEE program fellow, has recently published with the German Marshall Fund of the United States a policy report on the EUs response to the media freedom and pluralism backsliding in Hungary and Poland.

This article is part of IPI’s series “Media freedom in Europe in shadow of Covid”, which comprises news and analysis from IPI’s network of correspondets throughout the EU. Articles do not necessarily reflect the views of IPI. The reporting series is supported by funding from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for FReedom and by the European Commission (DG Connect) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response coalition.

MFRR 3 consortium logos
Public service media Event

Threats to independent public service media in Central Europe

Threats to independent public service media in Central Europe

24 November, 10:00 CET.

In the last few years, Central Europe has emerged as a regional flashpoint in the battle for the future of independent public service media in the European Union.


In Slovenia, editorial staff are currently in a stand-off with the management over what they say are politicised efforts to erode editorial independence. As internal disagreements escalate and strikes continue, the new government is pushing for legislative reforms which depoliticise Radiotelevizija Slovenija – and faces an upcoming referendum challenge by the opposition in doing so.


In the Czech Republic meanwhile, a country often lauded as the regional model for professional public service media, after years of sustained political pressure under the previous government of former PM Andrej Babiš, the new administration is close to passing legislation aimed at limiting political interference and shoring up the broadcaster’s institutional independence.


Two countries, with a shared set of pressures on independent public media, and similar initiatives by newly elected governments to pass democratic reforms.


In this webinar, speakers will discuss the latest developments in both countries, explore parallels in the challenges faced, and asses the ongoing legislative efforts to insulate their country’s public broadcasters against future illiberal attacks.


Jamie Wiseman

Europe Advocacy Officer at International Press Institute (IPI)


Ksenija Horvat

Journalist and broadcaster at Radiotelevizija Slovenija (RTV SLO)

Jan Bumba

Presenter at Czech National Radio (ČRo Plus).

Radka Betcheva

Head of Member Relations Central & Eastern Europe, European Broadcasting Union (EBU)

15.03.2022. Polish Commissioner for Human Rights Marcin Wiacek. PAP/Darek Delmanowicz Library

Poland: Ombudsman must appeal acquisition of newspaper by state-controlled…

Poland: Ombudsman must appeal acquisition of newspaper by state-controlled oil company

Partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) have written to Marcin Wiącek, Polish Human Rights Ombudsman, expressing concern at his decision to refrain from appealing the acquisition of regional newspaper publisher Polska Press by PKN Orlen, a state-controlled media company.

Office of the Ombudsman

Aleja “Solidarności” 77, 

00-090 Warszawa, 



4 August 2022


Dear Polish Ombudsman, Marcin Wiącek


The undersigned organisations write to you regarding your decision to refrain from appealing the acquisition of regional newspaper publisher Polska Press by Poland’s state-controlled oil company PKN Orlen. Challenging this damaging decision is pivotal for upholding media freedom and competition in the media market in Poland. We therefore encourage you to reconsider an appeal before the deadline of 10 August. 


On 7 June 2022, the Warsaw regional court of competition dismissed the appeal of the Polish Human Rights Ombudsman brought by your predecessor Adam Bodnar against the takeover of the biggest and most influential regional publisher in Poland, Polska Press. Our organisations take note of your official statement issued on 3 August 2022. We support your call for a public debate about better and stronger guarantees of media pluralism. We hope that such calls will be listened to by, first among many, the European Commission in its upcoming proposal for a European Media Freedom Act. We remain at your disposal to engage in a dialogue on this issue. Nevertheless, we must again underscore that lodging an appeal to contest the regional court’s decision, and asking for the annulment of the Poland’s competition authority’s approval of the Polska Press acquisition by PKN Orlen, is currently of utmost importance. 


On 1 June 2021, ARTICLE 19 Europe submitted an amicus brief challenging the UOKiK’s decision which has been rejected by the court twice. It explained that the decision by Poland’s competition regulator, UOKiK was taken in violation of EU merger rules, as it completely failed to assess that the buyer, PKN Orlen, is de facto a state-controlled company (as confirmed, among others, by the same PKN Orlen in a recent merger case before the European Commission). In turn, this vitiated the entire assessment of the merger’s impact on competition in the Polish media market. Therefore, even without recurring to a media plurality test, ARTICLE 19 showed the court that the UOKiK’s decision should be annulled, and the competition assessment performed again, taking into due account the impact of the state control of Orlen. 


Furthermore, ARTICLE 19 Europe argued that as media pluralism is guaranteed both by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights, the Polish State, as well as its independent authorities, have the duty to include it in their assessment.  The undersigned organisations support the legal arguments laid out by ARTICLE 19 Europe and underscore that the final ruling should comply with both EU law on mergers and with Poland’s obligations regarding European standards on media pluralism. 


In addition, our organisations have previously warned that such acquisition would hand the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party greater indirect control over the regional media landscape ahead of the 2023 national elections as well as lead to a purge of critical editors and journalists in local newspapers. 


We are concerned that the acquisition of Polska Press by a state-controlled company headed by figures close to PiS leadership is a central element of PiS’s stated plans for “repolonization” of the media landscape. Though couched in language of pluralism and national sovereignty, these efforts have in reality been aimed at engineering the takeover of independent press by entities linked to the ruling party and strengthening the market influence of pro-government media. 


This approach emulates developments in Hungary where regional newspapers were acquired by business interests with strong ties to the government and eventually turned into mouthpieces for supporting Fidesz’s political agenda. These fears were not misplaced: PKN Orlen did not abide by the court’s decision to suspend the purchase for the time of hearing the appeal and either dismissed or pushed out more than a dozen editors-in-chief at newspapers owned by Polska Press since March 2021, with many more leaving in protest, leading to a visible shift in coverage, self-censorship, and a marked drop in editorial standards at some titles.


We respect the vital role the Polish Ombudsman plays in promoting and protecting the enjoyment and full realisation, by all people in Poland, of all human rights, which includes the right to information. In this regard, we strongly believe that your intervention and appealing the court’s verdict is indispensable to ensure that the pillars of media pluralism and media independence in Poland are safeguarded. We thus hope you will reconsider your decision. 


Our organisations will continue to closely monitor how the events unfold and would be glad to offer our expertise on media freedom and pluralism, as well as support in the appeal process. 


We ask you to take our concerns into consideration and look forward to your response. 

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

MFRR 3 consortium logos
Spanish freelance journalist Pablo González Library

Poland: IPI urges release of Spanish journalist detained near…

Poland: IPI urges release of Spanish journalist detained near Ukraine border

Security services urged to provide justification for arrest. The IPI global network today urged authorities in Poland to immediately secure the release of Spanish freelance journalist Pablo González and to provide more details on the reason for his arrest.


González, a Basque journalist specializing in post-Soviet countries who has been covering the war in Ukraine and the resulting humanitarian crisis from close to the border, was arrested by the Polish Security Services at some point overnight on February 27, according to media reports.

Since the war broke out, he had been reporting from the Polish city of Rzeszow as part of his work as a contributor to multiple Spanish news outlets including Público, LaSexta and the Basque publication Gara.

On February 28, his lawyer Gonzalo Boye confirmed on Twitter that his client had been detained. He later confirmed authorities had justified the arrest because González had “carried out actions against the Polish State”. Earlier in February, González was interrogated by Ukrainian security forces, accused of being “pro-Russian” because of his work with Gara and asked to leave the country.

“The arrest of Pablo González by Polish authorities is profoundly concerning”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “We call on authorities in Poland to immediately release González and to officially clarify the reason for his detention. Poland must allow all journalists to operate freely on the border with Ukraine.”

“My client, the Spanish journalist Pablo González, has been arrested in Poland for doing his job”, his lawyer said on Monday. “We demand that his physical integrity and his immediate release be guaranteed. Without freedom of the press, there is no democracy”.

According to Público, the journalist contacted them for the last time on Sunday night when he filed an article about people arriving from Ukraine to escape the war. During that conversation, González had said that he was retiring for the night to rest. He was last active on Twitter at 12.13am.

The journalist, who was born in Moscow, has long studied the post-Soviet space and is currently pursuing a doctorate at the University of the Basque Country. He participates in the GeopolitikaZ IT/GI podcast, in which he analyzes international politics in Eastern Europe. Before the war broke out, he travelled to Ukraine to report on rising regional tensions.

The journalist was previously arrested in Ukraine on February 6 while reporting from Donbas for various Spanish media. He was contacted by Ukrainian security services and requested to come to Kyiv to be questioned. After travelling to the capital, González was interrogated for several hours and accused of being “pro-Russian”, according to Spanish reports.

According to those reports, his work with the left-wing Basque newspaper Gara, the successor to the leftist and Basque nationalist newspaper Egin, was cited as the reason for the suspicions. His command of the Russian language and a credit card from Caja Laboral, a Basque credit union, were also cited as reasons for his alleged “pro-Russian” views.

After questioning, González said he was “invited” to leave the country by the security services, though no formal expulsion order was issued by Ukrainian authorities. During this time, he raised his case with the Spanish embassy in Kyiv and contacted the consul general. Público carried out negotiations on his behalf with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

At the same time, several members of his family and friends in Spain were approached by officers from the National Intelligence Center (CNI), Spain’s main intelligence service, who questioned them about his alleged links with Russia. According to Público, some of the agents described Gara as “a pro-ETA media outlet subsidized by Russia”. They also accused the journalist of “passing information to Russia”.

As the invasion of Ukraine began on February 25, González left the country and travelled to Warsaw, from where he headed back to near the border with Ukraine to cover the escalating humanitarian crisis.

Since the arret, his lawyer said he had not been able to communicate directly with his client, who remains in detention. Boye told media he had been informed by Polish authorities that the arrest is linked to the previous interrogation in Ukraine. It is understood the arrest came after a follow-up request from the Ukrainian intelligence services.

The Basque Association of Journalists, Kazetariak, issued a statement demanding his immediate release. Multiple Spanish politicians also called on Polish authorities to release the journalist. Spanish authorities have confirmed they are seeking clarifications about the reasons for the arrest.

This statement by IPI is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

IPI as part of MFRR
Grzegorz Rzeczkowski, Poland Library

Poland: Dismissal of SLAPP-targeted journalist Grzegorz Rzeczkowski sets concerning…

Poland: Dismissal of SLAPP-targeted journalist Grzegorz Rzeczkowski sets concerning precedent

The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) extend their support to journalist Grzegorz Rzeczkowski who faces four SLAPPs and was recently dismissed by Polityka, one of the major independent weekly magazines in Poland, without a transparent reason.

The MFRR is concerned by the abusive legal actions targeting the journalist for his investigations and that his dismissal may be due to the financial costs to the outlet which these SLAPP lawsuits are accruing. If this is the case, it could send a signal that journalists in Poland who are targeted with SLAPPs for their investigations into sensitive issues will be left to face such lawsuits without the support of their employers and have a chilling effect on press freedom in the country.

Grzegorz Rzeczkowski is a seasoned reporter who investigated the wiretapping scandal that led to major political changes in  Polish politics in 2014. As a result of his coverage on abuse of power issues, the journalist is facing four SLAPPs.

On 19 January Rzeczkowski announced on Twitter that his contract at Polityka had been abruptly terminated and he would be leaving the outlet in April. Rzeczkowski was notified by email about the contract termination and was given a vague explanation of the employer’s decision. Rzeczkowski worked at Polityka for 12 years  and has not received any prior warning that would have indicated the employer’s intentions. In an interview with, Jerzy Baczyński, the editor-in-chief of Polityka was reluctant to disclose the reasons that led up to the dismissal but noted that the decision wasn’t motivated by staff cuts. He went on to say, “we are convinced that a journalist with such experience and achievements will easily position himself in the market”.

Given the four ongoing legal proceedings against Rzeczkowski and Polityka, the journalist is now put in an extremely difficult financial situation. Up until his contract’s termination, all legal fees and costs were covered by the employer. Since Polityka let go of its reporter, it is uncertain whether the outlet will continue to support Rzeczkowski’s legal fees.

Rzeczkowski faces four SLAPPs, both civil and criminal defamation lawsuits. Three of them were filed following the journalist’s coverage on the so-called wiretapping scandal that led to the demise of the government formed by Civil Platform (PO) and paved the way for the Law and Justice (PiS) party’s victory in the presidential and then parliamentary elections in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Two cases against Rzeczkowski were initiated due to his articles discussing links between Marek Falenta, key figure in the “wiretapping scandal”, and the Russian mafia and secret service. In addition, Rzeczkowski, together with the editor-in-chief and the outlet itself are also sued by Anna Hofer, the State Prosecutor, who was promoted to this position when PiS came to power. In one of his articles, Rzeczkowski claimed that the state prosecutor didn’t investigate the involvement of the people with close ties to PiS in the wiretapping scandal and that she omitted to investigate the Russian influence on the election results. In 2019, the former head of the Military Counterintelligence Service brought a private criminal defamation case against the journalist, following his coverage on career advancement of people close to the former Minister of Defence, Antoni Macierewicz.

In a conversation with ARTICLE 19, Rzeczkowski underscored that the legal costs have already exceeded ten thousand Euros – an amount impossible to cover by himself. Rzeczkowski also mentioned that the SLAPPs against him have caused him great emotional distress and emphasised the importance of having his employer’s financial support and solidarity.

The MFRR expresses concern over the ongoing legal harassment against Rzeczkowski as well as his abrupt dismissal. Despite the lack of clarity to what extent the dismissal might have been motivated by the drawn-out and costly lawsuits, this sets a concerning precedent for the protection of journalists in Poland. SLAPPs are vexatious lawsuits that became an all-too-common tool aimed at silencing independent voices, dissuading them from hard-hitting reporting on critical issues and exhausting their financial resources. If journalists covering controversial yet crucial topics start feeling a legitimate threat and lack of proper support, they may eventually turn to self-censorship or even abandon their investigations. The undersigned organisations stand in solidarity with Grzegorz Rzeczkowski and call upon the media outlet and journalists’ associations in Poland to provide necessary support to the journalist throughout the legal proceedings.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.