Article originally published in French on OJIM, with the title : “Pologne : déconcentration-repolonisation de la presse écrite”.
Poland’s biggest national newspaper (Fakt), its third-largest news weekly (Newsweek Polska), the biggest Polish Website (onet.pl), and a prestigious business monthly (Forbes Polska) are all in the hands of the German-Swiss Ringier Axel Springer Media Group, which resulted from the 2010 merger of the German company Axel Springer SE with the Swiss Ringier AG.
Along with this Teutonic-flavored foreign influence must be added nineteen regional Polish newspapers out of twenty-four that are owned by the German press group, Verlagsgruppe Passau. And this does not take into consideration the many publications in the specialized press owned by German companies. German influence on the print media in Poland seems to be one of the main motivations for a bill that would limit private ownership of the press, and which is now under discussion on the banks of the Vistula.
When Donald Tusk Sold Some of the Polish Media to the Germans . . .
The Conservative Party of Law and Justice (PiS) protested when Donald Tusk’s government allowed a Polish subsidiary of Verlagsgruppe Passau in Germany, Polska Press, to nearly double its hold on the regional press between 2013 and 2014. In April 2016, the PiS was also in an uproar when a recording dated April 17, 2014 surfaced in which a Secretary of State at the Chancellery of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Paweł Graś, convinced the Polish billionaire Jan Kulczyk to intervene when Fakt published articles that were critical of Tusk’s son and daughter. Kulczyk replied that he would attempt to influence Friede Springer, the widow of Axel Springer, who was the majority shareholder of the media group Axel Springer as well as a friend of Angela Merkel’s (whose husband is also a member of the Board of the Friede Springer Foundation). Six weeks after this conversation between Graś and Kulczyk, Fakt‘s Editor-in-Chief, who had held the position for nearly eleven years, was replaced, after which the tabloid adopted a more anti-PiS line which it has maintained until today.
. . . and when the Polish Forbes Called for a Local Maïdan
Newsweek Polska‘s current Editor-in-Chief, Tomasz Lis, has taken part in the protests against the government of Beata Szydło, and has repeatedly spread stories in the German media about the terrible repression of journalists in his country and the “dictatorship” that the PiS allegedly seeks to establish. Between 2007 and 2015, his unwavering support for the liberal government of the Civic Platform (PO) had given him the opportunity to produce a highly-paid and very biased political program for Polish public television, which the new management that took over in early 2016 discontinued. He therefore has personal reasons to be angry with the PiS in addition to his liberal-libertarian ideological motives. As for the Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Polska, he published instructions on how to organize a “Maïdan” in Poland during the occupation of the Diet that was conducted by an opposition party last December – something that he clearly hoped would take place!
The Germans Put Pressure on Polish Journalists
As if all of this was not enough to convince the Polish conservatives of the danger posed by the overbearing presence of their great German neighbor’s finances in their media, a leaked copy of a letter sent by Mark Dekan, the CEO of the Ringier Axel Springer Group, on March 13 following the Brussels summit (the March 9 session which saw Donald Tusk re-elected as the President of the European Council, over Poland’s objections) made the intentions and policies of this group clear. This was his weekly letter to the Polish journalists in their group. The news bureau of Poland’s public television network first revealed the contents of the letter, before Mark Dekan’s own media outlets had published it in order to defend themselves from what they called “manipulations.”
The letter says that, in relation to Tusk’s reelection, it was the Poles who had won and that the losers were the leader of the PiS, Jarosław Kaczyński, and Poland’s good reputation in the EU. Mark Dukan further told journalists from his own Polish media agencies that in Brussels on March 9, “ideology and primitive manipulations have lost ground to values and reason,” and that “on the motorway of European integration there is not only a fast lane and a slow lane, but also a parking lot.” He went on to explain, “This is precisely the moment when free media like ours comes into play. Let us never forget the fundamental values that we represent: we stand for freedom, the rule of law, and UNITED EUROPE [emphasis Dukan’s]. Let us remember that the majority of our readers and users belong to this overwhelming majority that supports Poland’s presence in the EU. Let’s tell them what to do in order to stay on the fast lane and not end up in the parking lot. The challenge is freedom and the success of future generations.” After this, there are some statistics showing the Poles’ support for EU membership (which the PiS does not question) and an attempt to explain increasing criticism of the EU among young people: “Why are they believing less in the idea of a common Europe? The populists who dragged the EU into the mud and the media that created the negative image of an EU deeply embroiled in crisis certainly contributed to it. “
Towards a “Repolishification” of the Polish Media?
For the PiS, this letter came at the right time to convince a majority of Poles of the need to “repolishify” the media. Ringier Axel Springer’s CEO asked his Polish journalists not only to promote the German vision of the European Union, but to do everything they could to “re-educate” their readers in order to turn them against the European policy of the conservative majority which had followed from the free and democratic elections of October 2015.
This foreign interference is so obvious that Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski promised to communicate a complaint to both the German and Swiss governments, while the government of Beata Szydło assured the people that it would quickly carry out its project for the repolishification and demonopolization of the media. Let us therefore expect new attacks by the European Union upon this decidedly and increasingly insolent Poland.
Translated from French by the Visegrád Post.