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08 April 2021

Comment: Poland Is Stifling Free Media

Authorities in Poland are using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to clamp down on the free media and the rest of Europe needs to wake up this threat to democracy, Guardian columnist Timothy Garton Ash said.

In the World Press Freedom Index, Poland has dropped from 18th in 2015, ahead of Britain and France, to 62nd last year.

Writing in the Guardian, Mr Garton Ash said the ruling Law and Justice party had launched a “systematic attack” on independent media including withdrawing public sector advertising, a “pandemic tax” on media advertising revenue,  and a projected law targeting foreign owners of the biggest independent outlets.

Critical papers are bombarded with lawsuits with Gazeta Wyborcza counting more than 60 lawsuits and, according to Mr Garton Ash, Polish state television does not report that the country is performing poorly in response to the pandemic.

Mr Garton Ash said: “According to Bloomberg’s Covid resilience ranking, Poland has fallen to 50th place among the world’s 53 largest economies, with only Brazil, the Czech Republic and Mexico performing worse.

“But switch on the official news and, after brief mention of the latest Covid figures, there are long items about how the government is speeding up the vaccination campaign, with the help of the wonderful army, and how terrible the opposition’s record was on public health when it was in power.”

Mr Garton Ash said Polish media and civil society are “resisting strongly” but intervention from other countries such as the Unites States, Germany, Britain and the European Union was required to halt the erosion of freedom of speech.