Recently, an event occurred in Poland which saw the Polish government attempting to control the flow of independent media in the entire country. Due to the fact that this was a pivotal moment that was mostly ignored by international media even though it carries extremely heavy complications to the rights of Polish citizens, I decided to write this article as a way to summarise the situation and offer my own opinion on it. So without further ado, here’s my take.
On Wednesday, 10th February, a nationwide protest occurred where almost every major independent media company operating in Poland ceased their operations for the whole day. Instead of news articles, reviews and gossip columns, black screens were displayed with the simple tagline: “Media Bez Wyboru” translated as “Media Without A Choice”. The same was found when turning on the television. TV shows, news broadcasts and other programmes were replaced with quotes such as “Here should have been your favourite programme”. With the use of such shocking and drastic imagery, many people simply wishing to read the morning online paper or to tune in to watch their favourite soap opera, begun to question the case of this strike that seemed to have taken over every channel. The only channels still working seamlessly and according to the normal schedule was the public-funded Polish BBC equivalent TVP and all of its sister channels. Similarly, the case was the same when surveying the social media and websites of other media companies that have become synonymous with being labelled the “state media”. So what really happened? And why is this whole situation so important that it warrants such a response?
A week before the strike took place, the governing Prime Minister announced that a new tax is being considered which would force independent media companies to pay a tax on their advertising revenues. The issuing of the tax was backed up by the claims that the money collected from the tax would be used to support the national health care system. While the tax is yet to be officially implemented, the majority of independent media outlets have already signed a petition to stop the change taking place arguing that the government is using the pandemic to justify the need for the tax. It can be argued that if the tax money would be going to a good cause in fighting Covid-19 which should be every country’s priority at the moment, nonetheless, it is imperative to also consider the fact that this may not be their main focus. In fact, implementing such a high tax on advertisements which are the sole source of income for independent media companies could over time lead to financial troubles potentially resulting in closures of many of these media sources. Although TVP (the state media company) would also have to pay the tax, due to the fact that it receives government funds, the company would consequently not suffer.
So now that I have presented the logistics of this new tax, what are the actual long term consequences? Why would it matter if a few companies shut down due to the inability to pay? Though the introduction of the tax was made to look harmless and to serve as a simple tool to benefit the country in this testing time when big media corporations are still earning generous paychecks, we can’t only analyse it from this angle. The weakening of independent media companies through the use of the tax opens up dangerous possibilities of less free media outlets that are not controlled by the government, making it easier for state-run organisations to have a larger outreach to the public. Through the use of government-funded media, the citizens of Poland will and already have been fed indoctrinated information. Government-run organisations are already known to spread exaggerated or even manipulated information to show the current ruling party in a better light while diminishing its competition. While this is not technically illegal, getting rid of competing media that may offer a different perspective or call out the inaccuracies would mean that it would be much more difficult for individuals to know the truth or simply find the alternative way of thinking. Essentially, the introduction of the tax is a ploy to gain more control over what is said and thought by the citizens of Poland in a way to sway them in one direction that is more favourable to the current government. Ultimately, independent media have taken it upon themselves to act quickly in order to prevent the tax from occurring.
The ability to easily seek out different opinions on a certain argument is something that can often be taken for granted. It is not something that we think of as we absentmindedly change the TV channels from BBC to ITV in the press of a button. However, what would you think if that option was taken from us? What if we were given one channel, one newspaper and one radio station to spoon-feed us the information that one individual has decided upon? Every citizen around the world should have the ability of free speech so long as we use it wisely and do not cause anyone harm resulting from it. So why should it be any different in Poland? For now, it may seem that only small steps are being taken and if the tax is yet to be implemented we should not treat it seriously, however, if we ignore the little things, it will be much more difficult to control the situation once it escalates.
By Bogna Bućko
The Crow’s Nest is a Greenwich Students’ Union Student Media channel. The views expressed in this website do not necessarily reflect those of GSU, its trustees, employees, officers or the University of Greenwich.