Since 2015, Poland’s information ecosystem has been characterized by a stark decline in media freedom and pluralism. Within months of coming to power in 2015, Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party took control of public media by neutering the constitutionally mandated regulator that oversees public TV and radio and replacing it with a new council made up of PiS loyalists. Since then, the state broadcaster TVP has served as a PiS government mouthpiece, regularly running smear campaigns against figures that disagree with PiS’s policies and portraying vulnerable groups, including migrants and the LGBTQ community, as threats to the Polish state. This media bias and hostile rhetoric has been most noticeable during election cycles. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) election observation missions found that public media bias gave PiS a clear electoral advantage in both the 2019 parliamentary and 2020 presidential elections. OSCE observers also noted that both election campaigns were tarnished by xenophobic, homophobic, and anti-semitic rhetoric by PiS, which the public broadcaster TVP subsequently echoed.
In addition to its takeover of public media, PiS has subverted media pluralism in its campaign to “repolonize” private media by reducing foreign ownership. In December 2020, the state oil giant PKN Orlen acquired the previously German-owned Polska Press—a media consortium with a readership of over 17 million across its 20 regional daily newspapers, 120 regional weekly newspapers, and 500 online portals. Within eight months of the acquisition, 14 of the 15 editors-in-chief of the regional dailies stepped down under pressure and were replaced by employees from the state broadcaster or other right-wing media supportive of PiS. Numerous other deputy editors and journalists also left. A 2023 report by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights showed that, in a little over a year, the takeover had negatively impacted journalists’ rights and led to editorial shifts favorable to PiS. PiS also attempted to pass a law that would block companies from outside the European Economic Area from having majority ownership of Polish media outlets. Many viewed the bill as an attempt to silence Poland’s largest independent television broadcaster and a prominent critic of PiS, TVN, owned by the US-based company Warner Bros. Discovery (formerly Discovery, Inc.). The bill was vetoed by the Polish president following pressure from the United States.
Lastly, the government heavily influences the Polish information space through financial benefits. Independent media outlets favorable to PiS—including Fratria media group (owner of the newspapers W Polityce and W Gospodarce), Gazeta Polska (owner of Niezalezna), and Radio Maryja—acquire revenue from advertisements by state-controlled companies. Revenues from these advertisements account for three-quarters of these group’s profits, while more critical outlets have suffered a corresponding drop in advertising revenue and a sharp decline in subscriptions from government ministries.