The Republic of Poland is one of the largest countries in central Europe, and in size of population (38.7 million people) ranks eighth in Europe. Of that population, 98 percent are of Polish ethnic origin, and over 90 percent are Roman Catholics. Politics in Poland takes place in the framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic.
Poland’s history is characterized by a long-lasting struggle for independence and a late democratization. In 1795 the country was partitioned by its neighbors and erased from the map of Europe until its reconstitution in 1918. After a short period of democracy (until 1926), Poland was ruled by an authoritarian government. The Second Republic was destroyed by the German invasion in 1939. After World War II, the People’s Republic of Poland was created, a satellite state of the Soviet Union.
By the late 1980s the workers’ and intellectuals’ reform movement Solidarnosc (“Solidarity”) was able to enforce a peaceful systemic transition. The era of communism ended in 1989, and Poland underwent a process of far-reaching political and socioeconomic transformation. It is regarded as a consolidated democracy and one of the most successful transition countries of the former Eastern bloc. In May 2004 Poland became a member of the European Union. The country has a rather polarized multi-party system, which especially in the early 1990s was characterized by an extreme fragmentation. After the 2005 elections, six parties entered Parliament. Poland has since then been ruled by a centre-right minority government.
Transition And Legal Framework
The Polish media system under communist rule was regarded as one of the most consistently open in the Eastern bloc. Its press landscape especially was much less uniform than conventionally anticipated in a communist state. Nonetheless, for more than four decades its main characteristics consisted of state control, communist ideology, and centralistic structures. The systemic transition toward democracy and market economy facilitated fundamental changes in the media sphere. Old monopolistic structures have been dismantled and replaced by pluralistic ones, censorship and barriers to information have been abolished, and new players have been admitted to the media market.
Press freedom started to exist as early as mid-1989. In 1997 it was anchored in the new constitution. Article 14 states: “The Republic of Poland shall ensure the freedom of the press and other means of social communication.” In addition, Article 54 guarantees freedom of expression and prohibits censorship. Media communication is regulated mainly by three statutory acts: the Press Law of 1984 (amended in 1990 and 1991), the Broadcasting Act of 1992 (with later amendments), and the Intellectual Property Law of 1994.
Since 1989 the press landscape has become noticeably more differentiated. From 1990 until 1991 the Workers’ Publishing Cooperative (RSW), a gigantic press combine established by the communist ruling elite, was wound up and its publications privatized. Thereafter, the press market developed with practically no restrictions. With very few exceptions, all publications available on the Polish press market are privately owned and do not receive any state subsidies. The government basically has no means of exerting influence over the printed press.
The range of print publications is diverse and extensive. In 2004 there was a total of 6,502 publications, including 58 dailies, 396 weeklies, 226 fortnightlies, 1,815 monthlies, 2,153 bimonthlies and quarterlies, and 1,854 others (i.e., sub-local publications, distributed in one or more districts of a city, but not in the entire city). The written press has always had a strong tradition in Poland. Nonetheless, newspaper readership has been declining in the last two decades. In 2006, the average total single circulation of paid daily newspapers amounted to 4,369,000 copies (free daily newspapers 597,000). Newspaper sales per 1,000 adult population amount to 137. The market for national dailies has expanded in recent Poland: Media System years with the successful launch of new paid and free newspapers. The regional daily press, however, has been in decline. Since 1999 eight regional dailies have ceased to exist.
In 2006, there were 12 national dailies on the Polish market, including seven dailies of general interest (five quality papers and two tabloids) and five specialized dailies (one focusing on sports and four focusing on economical and legal issues). For more than a decade Gazeta Wyborcza (“Election Newspaper”), the first independent daily in the Eastern bloc, set up in May 1989 by former dissidents, kept its leading position. A market shake-up occurred in 2003 with the introduction of the tabloid Fakt (“Fact”) by the German publishing company Axel Springer. Within a short time, the newcomer succeeded in attracting many Polish readers, and reached a circulation of 529,000 copies in 2006. Gazeta Wyborcza has been relegated to second place (423,000 copies). Besides national titles, there were 27 regional dailies and four free newspapers in the Polish market in 2006. External pluralism can be observed in the national press especially. Whereas regional dailies keep their profile rather neutral, national dailies represent a variety of political orientations and worldviews. National dailies are owned by Polish and foreign companies or Polish–foreign joint ventures. The regional market is dominated by two foreign companies: the Norwegian Orkla and the German Passauer Neue Presse.
The magazine market has changed significantly since 1989. It was mainly foreign companies that identified many market deficits in this area and that filled the gaps successfully with the introduction of new offerings (women’s magazines, young people’s magazines, TV guides, and popular color magazines). The magazine market is characterized by a high concentration. The 14 biggest magazine publishers publish more than 100 titles with a total circulation of 30 million copies. The major magazines are owned by foreign companies: Bertelsmann, Axel Springer, Heinrich Bauer, and Hachette Filipacci.
The process of restructuring the broadcasting sector was accompanied by numerous controversial discussions. It lasted until March 1993, when a new broadcasting law came into force and a dual system was introduced. State broadcasting was broken down into 18 separate stock corporations of Polskie Radio (Polish Radio) and Telewizja Polska (Polish Television [TVP]), which serve as public broadcasters. Public broadcasting de facto remained under state control because the state is the 100 percent stockholder of all of the stock corporations. Also in 1993, the first licenses for private broadcasters were awarded.
The Broadcasting Act of 1992 established a new controlling body: the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT). Inter alia, its responsibilities include the allocation of licenses to private operators, the supervision of public and private stations, the nomination of the supervisory boards of the public media, and the distribution of the broadcasting fees. Although in the initial concept it was foreseen as a group of independent experts, the National Broadcasting Council has always had strong links to politics. Its members are nominated by Parliament (Sejm and Senat) and the president. Right from the start, each president and each government has attempted to name people close to them as candidates to the Council and to exert influence over the body in various ways. However, because individual council members could not be dismissed during their period of office, direct governmental control was not always possible. It often happened Poland: Media System that the majority of the political powers in the Council represented the opposite of the ruling government’s views. Major changes occurred after the Act of December 29, 2005, became law: the term of office of the previous Council expired and a new board was established. All its members, who in spring 2006 nominated new supervisory boards for the public media, have political allegiances with the ruling center-right government. Furthermore, the Act has reduced the number of board members from nine to five: two are appointed by the Sejm, one by the Senat, and two by the president. The term of office of each of the members is six years. Before this, a rotating system ensured that every two years one third of the Council members were changed.
The market for audiovisual media has expanded significantly since 1993. Polish radio listeners and TV viewers have a wide and varied choice. Polish public radio provides four national programs. Its independent regional stations provide 17 regional and four local programs. Nationwide programs are also offered by three private operators: the commercial stations RMF FM Radio and Radio Zet and the Catholic station Radio Maryja. Furthermore, there are three stations that broadcast supra-regionally and 168 local stations. In terms of listeners reached, the private commercial stations are leading: RMF FM with 21.4 percent, and Radio Zet with 18.8 percent. The most popular public programs are PR 1 (14.9 percent) and PR 3 (6.1 percent). Most of the nonreligious radio operators with national or regional transmission range have foreign partners.
Regarding the TV market, it is crucial to distinguish between broadcasters whose programs can be received terrestrially (via the analog signal) and those whose programs can be received via satellite, cable, and digital TV platforms. To the first group belong Polish public television (TVP), which broadcasts two nationwide programs and one regional program (produced by 16 regional departments), as well as the private operators that received a license to broadcast (POLSAT, TVN, TV 4, and Telewizja Puls). In terms of viewers reached, the public channels have kept their leading position: TVP 1 (25.4 percent) and TVP 2 (20.8 percent), followed by POLSAT (15.9 percent) and TVN (15.1 percent). POLSAT and Telewizja Puls have remained Polish in their ownership structure, while TVN and TV 4 have foreign partners.
Via satellite, cable networks, or digital TV platforms more than 400 TV programs (foreign programs, thematic channels) can be received in Poland. Of these, 50 are Polishlanguage broadcasts. They are produced by foreign operators as well as by Polish public television and the licensed commercial stations. In 2006, 30 percent of all Polish households subscribed to cable TV, 20 percent possessed a satellite antenna, and 8 percent took advantage of the services provided by the two digital TV platforms Canal+ Cyfrowy and Cyfrowy Polsat. It is planned to introduce terrestrial digital TV before 2015.
The importance of the Internet has been growing continuously since the 1990s. In 2006, 30 percent of all Polish households and 87 percent of all companies had access to the Internet. About 10 million Poles are regular users, spending an average of 22 hours per months on the web. The two most important Internet portals in Poland are Wirtualna Polska and Onet. Almost all important Polish media outlets have developed their own websites, too. In the media market, the observable tendency is that the boundaries between telecommunication operators and cable TV operators are disappearing. Companies possessing the corresponding infrastructure are able to provide access to television, telephone, and Internet at the same time.
The development of the Polish media since 1989 has been influenced by two crucial factors: structural transformation following the systemic change, and a far-reaching technological transformation. In both respects, Polish media have followed “western” standards and global trends. The Polish media system shows characteristics of diverse western models. As in Mediterranean countries, a political culture prevails that aims to exert influence over the public media. This is especially true for public television, which is often instrumentalized by politicians. The degree of regulation (of commercial time, violent content, and ownership) in the broadcast sector is rather high. In this respect, Poland resembles countries in northern Europe. Communication policy toward print media, however, is particularly liberal.
- Filas, R. (2005). Rynek prasy codziennej w Polsce przed Faktem i po Fakcie [The market of the daily press in Poland before and after Fakt]. Zeszyty Prasonawcze, 3–4, 7–32.
- Gross, P. (2002). Entangled evolutions: Media and democratization in eastern Europe. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Hadamik, K. (in press). Transformation und Entwicklungsprozess des Medien-Systems in Polen [Transformation and the development process of the Polish media system]. Munich: Saur.
- Jakubowicz, K. (2006). Rude awakening: Social and media change in central and eastern Europe. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
- Kopper, G., Rutkiewicz, I., & Schliep, K. (1999). Medientransformation und Journalismus in Polen 1989–1996 [Media transformation and journalism in Poland 1989–1996]. Berlin: Vistas.
- Planeta, P. (2002). Media and communication landscape in Poland: An overview. Bochum: Project.