The two countries have slipped toward authoritarianism after representing, in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, a source of hope for freedom and democracy in the region as they emerged from under communism.

On Feb. 10, major news organizations in Poland shut down all coverage and programming for 24 hours in protest of a recently proposed tax on news organizations. Nearly four dozen of the leading news companies’ executives, in a letter this week to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, called the tax “extortion” of the free press.

The tax proposal follows a December purchase by a government-controlled company of Polska Press, effectively ensuring government control of 20 of 24 regional newspapers, according to a Thursday report by a group led by the International Press Institute.

The Polish government has also used licensing and antitrust regulations to undermine news organizations’ financial health, the report found.

In Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index of 180 countries, Poland has dropped from 18th in 2015–the year the right-wing Law and Justice, or PiS, party came to power–to 162nd place in 2020.

In Hungary–ranked 89th in the world in 2020 in press freedom– the government has virtually completed a takeover of its news industry. One of that country’s last independent radio stations was forced off the air just this week when its license was not renewed. 

In Washington on Thursday, Sen. Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he is “deeply concerned” about the plight of the press in Poland. 

National Press Club President Lisa Nicole Matthews and National Press Club Journalism Institute President Angela Greiling Keane issued the following statement on Friday:

“Press freedom is under assault around the world, and the situation in Eastern Europe is particularly distressing. As Hungary all but extinguishes independent journalism, Poland is quickly following suit. Most recently, the Polish government’s effort to strangle a free press under the guise of revenue-raising is in reality an attempt to sap the vitality of independent journalism. A vibrant news industry is an essential part of any democracy, because it enables people to rule themselves with facts, not falsehoods. Poland’s government, like governments everywhere, must do what is good for its people: stop hampering a free press.”

Founded in 1908, the National Press Club is the world’s leading professional organization for journalists. The Club has 3,000 members representing nearly every major news organization and is a leading voice for press freedom in the United States and around the world.

The National Press Club Journalism Institute, the Club’s non-profit affiliate, promotes an engaged global citizenry through an independent and free press and equips journalists with skills and standards to inform the public in ways that inspire civic engagement.

Contacts:
John M. Donnelly, NPC Press Freedom Team Chairman; [email protected], (202) 650-6738
Lindsay Underwood for the National Press Club; [email protected], (202) 662-7561

SOURCE: NATIONAL PRESS CLUB

SOURCE National Press Club

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