Independent media blackout in Poland protests new ‘extortion’ tax

Independent media outlets in Poland launched a joint protest, “Media Bez Wyboru” (“Media Without Choice”), over a government proposal to introduce a new tax on advertising revenue.

The privately-owned media companies are united in viewing the tax as a serious threat to media pluralism and dismiss the government’s claims that it is a “solidarity pandemic tax” as a pretext to stifle critical reporting.

More than 40 media organisations signed an open letter to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, calling the tax “simply extortion” and an attempt to undermine press freedom. The advertising tax would threaten the survival of some among them.

TV channels and radio stations fell silent, newspapers ran black front pages and online sites suspended news coverage. According to the letter, “such drastic action is necessary because without free media there is no free choice, and without free choice, there is no freedom”. The blackout lasted 24 hours.

In place of the usual news items, a statement on the blackened-out homepage of the country’s leading independent daily Gazeta Wyborcza, published by MDIF client Agora, said: “You should be able to see our content on this page. If the government’s plans are successful, maybe one day you will no longer see it for real.”

The proposed tax would impose a levy on advertising revenues of television and radio broadcasters, print outlets, internet media companies, cinemas and operators of outdoor advertisement displays, and would impact privately-owned media disproportionately. The government says the “solidarity fee” of between 2% and 15% would help raise money for the healthcare and cultural sector, though Adam Bodnar, Poland’s human rights ombudsman, tweeted: “I have no doubt that the aim is to hit the independent media”.

The proposal is being considered by parliament, which is controlled the ruling Law and Justice party.

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