Journalist at Gazeta Wyborcza and former Reuters Institute Journalist Fellow
Media in Poland has become deeply polarised in the last few years with the ruling Law and Justice party offering direct or indirect support to pro-government media while targeting critical journalists, sometimes with law enforcement agencies.
Poland’s highly competitive broadcasting sector has had a remarkable year: for the first time in a decade TV advertising spending outpaced the rate of growth of internet advertising.1 Substantial price hikes introduced by Polish broadcasters helped the bottom line. Public television (TVP) revenue, for example, grew by 14% on the back of stronger ratings – helped by major sports events, such as the World Cup and Olympic Games.
But ratings for news have not fared so well with TVP’s flagship bulletin, Wiadomości, falling from 17.4% to 15.1% share. There were smaller but significant declines also at TVN and Polsat. More widely, TVP remains dependent on financial support from government after further declines in licence fee revenue.2 The subsidies, which have now reached €227.3m, have been paid since 2017, and together with advertisements leaves just 20% of TVP revenue coming directly from licence payers.
The government continues to support a number of other media companies through the substantial advertising spend of state enterprises and agencies. Tadeusz Kowalski, a media scholar at the University of Warsaw, has shown that the main beneficiaries are pro-government titles such as Gazeta Polska, Sieci, and Do Rzeczy. For them, state-related revenues accounted for 45%, 40%, and 23% of total ad revenues respectively.3
Meanwhile, some independent journalists have been attracting government attention of a different kind. A reporter of the Polish edition of the Newsweek weekly was summoned for questioning after publishing a profile of the vice-president of Poland’s Constitutional Court.4 It was suggested by the prosecutors’ office that the article had constituted the unauthorised disclosure of personal data. In another case, the internal security agency entered the house of a TVN cameraman with accusations that he’d been promoting fascism. The agency referred to pictures taken while working undercover as part of a team that infiltrated Polish neo-Nazis and filmed Hitler’s birth anniversary celebration.5 The case against the TVN employee (owned by Discovery Communications) was dropped four months later.
Focused on fighting for survival, major independent newsrooms worked on improving their reporting and scoops. RMF FM, one of the most trusted brands according to our data, has built its reputation on breaking news. The Onet news team focused on in-depth reporting and investigations that translated into the Grand Press Digital award.
Gazeta Wyborcza published recordings of the Chairman of the Financial Supervision Authority soliciting a bribe from the owner of a bank.6 In January Wyborcza launched a series of stories based on recorded conversations between the Law and Justice leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his associates. The politician was discussing a project to build a pair of skyscrapers in Warsaw on land owned by a company controlled by his associates.7
Original content seems to help to sell subscriptions, and Gazeta Wyborcza remains a clear leader in this area with more than 170,000 digital subscribers at the end of 2018. Tok FM radio announced in March 2019 that it has 15,000 active subscribers and Onet is about to launch a new paid content section in 2019 to diversify its revenue.
French media group Lagardère withdrew from Central Europe. As a result, the company owned by billionaire investor Daniel Křetínský became the owner of the second largest commercial radio network, Radio Zet. In February 2019 the new owner sold it to the consortium created by Agora (the publisher of Gazeta Wyborcza) and Czech SFS Ventures, linked to billionaire George Soros.8
For years podcasts were seen by the Polish media industry as hard to monetise and have been largely left to amateurs. But in the last year newsrooms started to see podcasting as an important way to drive loyalty for premium products. Puls Biznesu launched a regular podcast Puls Biznesu do słuchania (Puls Biznesu to listen) and claims to have 15,000 regular listeners. Tok FM radio produces six regular podcasts and Onet and Newsweek also jumped on the bandwagon last year.9
Poles do not seem to be as concerned about their privacy as many of their European counterparts; hence time spent on Facebook and Facebook Messenger kept growing in Poland, while other European countries were using WhatsApp more often. Mobile operators offering data plans and pre-installing Facebook applications on smartphones drive Facebook usage in Poland.
Online and television remain the most important sources of news with popular portals like Onet and WP a defining part of the Polish media landscape along with extensive social media use (60% use for news). Meanwhile the smartphone has overtaken the computer as a way of accessing news for the first time.
The general trend is that private independent media score higher on a trust scale than public service broadcasters acting in recent years more like government cheerleaders. TVP’s news tickers have become an object of derisive memes among social media users. Despite significant indirect support from the government, partisan media is failing to grow audience or trust.
- Estimates from Wavemaker, the biggest media agency in Poland. ↩
- www.politico.eu/article/tvp-pis-poland-media-battle-gets-political ↩
- www.press.pl/tresc/56634,prawicowe-tytuly-z-najwiekszymi-przychodami-z-reklam-od-panstwowych-spolek ↩
- https://mappingmediafreedom.ushahidi.io/posts/22887 ↩
- www.tvn24.pl/tvn24-news-in-english,157,m/private-polish-broadcaster-tvn-says-is-facing-intimidation-from-state,886858.html ↩
- www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-11-13/poland-premier-to-probe-bank-watchdog-over-getin-bribe-report ↩
- www.ft.com/content/b08c0e68-2550-11e9-b329-c7e6ceb5ffdf ↩
- www.reuters.com/article/agora-radiozet-soros/polish-media-group-agora-buys-minority-share-in-radio-zet-idUSL5N20F62M ↩
- http://wyborcza.pl/7,156282,23983125,audio-pozostanie-nisza-ale-przychodowa-jak-zarabiac-na-podcastach.html ↩