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From the regional press to Orlen Press. The situation in the media belonging to Polska Press – HFHR report

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The acquisition by Orlen of the largest publisher of regional media in Poland – Polska Press – had a negative impact on the freedom of journalistic activity in these media, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) indicates in a report.

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights conducted interviews with journalists of various levels who worked or work in regional media published by Polska Press after it was taken over by Orlen. The collected information was used to create the report “From the regional press to Orlen Press. The situation in the media belonging to Polska Press”.

It was explained that the interviews included an assessment of the situation both before the takeover of Polska Press by Orlen and after the takeover in December 2020.

Polska Press – changes

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The HFHR indicated that “the takeover of Polska Press by PKN Orlen, which began in December 2020, led to a number of changes in the functioning of the regional media editorial offices, such as changes in editorial teams, hiring new people and changes in employment conditions.”

“People participating in the study paid attention primarily to the changes in the positions of editors-in-chief and their deputies, sometimes, according to the interviewees, motivated by political interests. The interviewees also pointed to the important role of new people employed in the positions of deputy editors in some editorial offices. of the people taking part in the study, the vice-chief in its title ‘is a man who is supposed to prevent a hair from falling off the ruling party’, reads the press release.

Freedom of journalistic activity – Polska Press

The Foundation added that “one of the most important threads emerging in the study was the issue of influencing the freedom of journalistic activity.”

“Almost all participants of the study drew attention to the deteriorating freedom of journalistic activity after the takeover of Polska Press by PKN Orlen and the introduction of new management in the editorial offices” – the report states.

As the HFHR wrote, “the report identified five most important examples of such practices:

– favoring the ruling majority and its politicians in the editorial message – according to the statement of a person participating in the study, “the new editor-in-chief of the title said directly: we are not attacking the government”, – marginalizing the political opposition, – limiting the selection of topics that were considered sensitive from the perspective of the ruling majority among others people’s rights LGBTsituation of refugees or, for example, some news about Orlen, – non-substantive interference in journalists’ texts, – intimacy of the editorial board with politicians associated with the ruling majority”.

As we read in the report, “some of the people participating in the study pointed to the fact that various editorial offices began to develop various practices involving the presentation of individual topics, most often related to government policy, in a way that was favorable to the ruling majority.”

It added that the practice of favorably presenting government activities in press materials included cases of preparing lists of politicians associated with the United Right, with whom journalists should interview.

“In some cases, these instructions were also accompanied by the preparation of questions by the new editors-in-chief to be asked during interviews with PIS politicians. The interlocutors also pointed to examples of interference in published materials aimed at appropriately highlighting the participation of the ruling majority politician in, for example, a given event or ceremony taking place in the region,” added the HFHR report.

One of the interviewees pointed out that favoring the ruling majority also takes the form of, for example, excessive promotion of cultural events organized by politicians of the ruling majority or marginalization of the opposition.

As we read in the report, in conversations with people participating in the study, there were also examples of bans on discussing topics and issues that could concern ideological issues, e.g. the rights of LGBT people or the situation of refugees.

“Restrictions on the right topics concerned publications on, for example, some enterprises, including local government companies or state-owned companies, including PKN Orlen itself” – added.

In addition, the interviewees pointed to “unprecedented cases of interference in the materials they prepared and changing their overtones or withdrawing them from print”.

“Some of the interviewees pointed to the practice of introducing fundamental changes to the texts, so that their overtones would correspond to the new editorial line” – the report says.

Election period test

“Some pointed out that regional media ‘still have a long way to go to TVP Info’, while others that they have already started to function in a manner similar to TVP’s ‘Wiadomości’. According to some interviewees, a key test that will check the quality of regional media journalism and their independence will be the upcoming elections in 2023-2025,” the Foundation said.

– The media as an independent fourth power are the touchstone of democracy. We want them to be free and that access to them, also during the elections, is equal – said Julia Brykczyńska, director of the Civic Fund for them, quoted in the press release. Henryk Wujec, who financed the report.

FULL REPORT >>>

Main photo source: Leszek Szymanski/PAP



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