Independent media shops in Poland suspended information coverage and different programming Wednesday to protest a deliberate new promoting tax that they view as an try by the country s right-wing authorities to undermine press freedoms
The authorities says the “solidarity” tax would increase money to bolster state funds badly strained by the coronavirus pandemic. But 45 media firms signed a letter that mentioned they already pay many taxes and that the promoting tax might push some to collapse.
“We strongly oppose the use of the epidemic as an excuse to introduce another new, exceptionally heavy burden on the media,” they wrote as web sites and TV screens in Poland went darkish for twenty-four hours.
Gazeta Wyborcza, the country’s main newspaper and a liberal critic of the populist authorities, known as the promoting tax “a powerful blow to free media.” In place of the same old information gadgets on its webpage was a black display screen and a warning that if the tax is handed, the publication’s readers might someday lose entry to impartial information.
Broadcaster TVN, which is owned by the U.S. company Discovery Inc., additionally joined the protest. Viewers who turned to all-news station TVN24 and different channels solely noticed a black display screen and the phrases “Your favorite programming was supposed to be here.”
The United States and the European Union careworn their help for media range on Wednesday.
The chargé d’affaires on the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, Bix Aliu, known as free media “a cornerstone of democracy,” and mentioned “the United States will always defend media independence.”
In Brussels, a spokesman for the EU’s government arm acknowledged the media protest, saying “We have seen the black screens.” Poland belongs to the 27-nation bloc.
“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,” European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand mentioned. “This is, of course, all the more important in times of the pandemic, which has hit the media sector hard.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki cast the deliberate tax an effort to stage out the taking part in subject between small and massive firms and to pressure know-how giants like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon to contribute their honest share.
The tax remains to be being labored on in parliament, however Morawiecki’s ruling conservative social gathering, Law and Justice, has the bulk wanted to go it.
“This is a fair step towards leveling the playing field for domestic players in various industries compared to big foreign players,” Morawiecki mentioned.
Polish newspapers have skilled large monetary stress in previous years amid the digital revolution and confronted new setbacks due to the pandemic.
Boguslaw Chrabota, editor of the every day newspaper Rzeczpospolita, questioned in an editorial if the tax is “systemic revenge” towards the media for performing as a watchdog of presidency authorities. Unlike many different shops, Rzeczpospolita made some information coverage obtainable Wednesday.
The tax proposal comes amid an erosion of media independence in Poland, which has been following a path taken by Hungary below autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
The EU has for years expressed issues about what it views as an erosion of democracy in Poland and Hungary, two international locations as soon as admired as fashions of democratic transition from communism.
On Tuesday, a Hungarian court docket issued a ruling that can pressure one in every of Hungary’s final remaining impartial radio stations, Klubradio, off the airwaves and restricted to on-line broadcasts.
In December, Poland’s state-run oil company, PKN Orlen, introduced it was shopping for Polska Press, a previously German-owned non-public media group that controls a large swath of every day and weekly newspapers in Poland. Government critics known as it an enormous setback for media freedom because it successfully meant the federal government took management of an necessary writer of impartial information.
Meanwhile, the Polish authorities generously funds public media, which act as a authorities mouthpiece, even rising their funds to over $500 million forward of a presidential election final year that the ruling party-backed incumbent ended up profitable.
AP author Monika Scislowska in Warsaw contributed.