By Ewelina Szybinska
The Polish government has announced a new advertisement tax is set to be imposed on non-state media organisations in early July of this year.
The move has led to outrage among independent media organisations in the Eastern European nation and has led to the foundation of the “Media Without Choice” movement, which has been backed by several non-state media outlets.
Private television news channels including TVN24, and Polsat News have gotten involved in the movement by sharing a black screen with the message, “This is where your favourite programme was supposed to be”.
Poles woke up on Wednesday 10th to face a day without access to information from private media companies.
Radio stations apologized to their listeners but wanted to show the public what a day without independent media would look like.
TVN24 tweeted, “We are showing the threat to the media market that the advertising fee proposed by the government would have. Viewers may be deprived of the choice and diversity that they are used to”.
Newspapers including Gazeta Wyborcza and Fakt ran blacked-out front pages in solidarity.
Around 40 private companies from the media sector have drafted a joint statement that assessed the tax on advertising revenues.
Private companies understand that this would allow the government to successfully reduce their editorial independence.
Successful imposition of the tax would result in the weakening and even eliminating some media in Poland. Furthermore, this would significantly limit society’s ability to choose freely what they would like to hear, read, and see.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced that the tax imposed on advertising revenues would be a source of funding towards Poland’s National Health Fund, free media, and culture.
However, in an open letter to the government, representatives of the media wrote directly, that “It is simply a forced tribute, hitting the Polish viewer, listener, reader and internet user, as well as Polish productions, culture, entertainment, sports and media”.
The open letter also highlighted a potential consequence of, “limiting the opportunity to fund qualitative and local content.”
Currently, their production provides access to information, entertainment, and sports completely free of charge.
Critics have also argued that the tax will deepen the unequal treatment of entities on the Polish media market. The situation where state media would receive two billion Polish Złoty from the pockets of citizens, while private media will be charged with an additional forced contribution of 1 billion Polish Złoty.
The private media blackout piqued the attention of the European Commission recently. Spokesman for the commission, Christian Wigand reaffirmed their support for a free media, and reminded states of what is expected of them in this regard,
“We expect member states to ensure that their fiscal or other policies will not affect the duty of ensuring a free, independent and diverse media ecosystem.” he said.