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To say that Andrzej Duda has no real decision-making power would be a lie. The one thing he definitely can decide on is to pick and choose the journalists he wants to take on the presidential aircraft. Members of the daily “Fakt” are apparently not welcome. Their press credentials have been revoked for the time of the president’s official visit in Italy and the Vatican – the very first visit abroad since his reelection. An embarrassing spectacle of top-level pettiness.

But it also hints at what the ruling camp’s campaign against independent media might look like from now on. Bowing to the pressure from Washington, the Law and Justice government seems to have abandoned its plans to “repolonize” the Polish media market. What it chose instead are guerrilla tactics.

Harassing independent media

There are countless examples of how the government is trying to delegitimize and silence critical media, and the heavily funded government propaganda apparatus is only one of them.

May I remind you, for instance, that in 2017 a state-owned gas station chain was prohibited from selling “Gazeta Wyborcza”? All the stations were ordered to only promote journals that support the party line.

And what about that time when the former Deputy Minister of Justice, Patryk Jaki, instructed his Ministry to unsubscribe from “Wyborcza”, “Newsweek”, and “Polityka”?

More recently, the government decided to run a public information campaign about the coronavirus epidemic in all Polish-language media outlets other than... you guessed it- “Gazeta Wyborcza”.

What’s more, members of the ruling camp and the government-friendly institutions already filed over 50 lawsuits against our newspaper. It’s a scandal on an EU-wide scale.

May I also remind you of the Kaczyński Twin-Towers? The 190-meter-high skyscraper that was supposed to stand on Srebrna street in Warsaw?

And there’s still the case of masks with counterfeited certificates imported from China onboard a half-empty Antonov plane charted by the Polish mining company KGHM. Remember the Prime Minister’s photo-op at the Okęcie airport?

Each time independent media even dare to speak truth to power, government officials take offense and roll out new lawsuits.  International journalist organizations warn of a chilling effect such organized media harassment might have on independent journalism.

Is the ruling camp afraid of an epidemic of truth?

And the lists of lawsuits against independent media outlets will only get longer. Recently, we received a letter from the Minister of Climate, Michał Woś. In it, he demands that “Wyborcza” takes down all online articles criticizing his truly Putinesque idea to make NGOs disclose their donations received from abroad (even though that’s already the case). That’s not even a chilling effect anymore. It’s an attempt at media censorship, plain and simple.

When the Law and Justice party took over in 2015, Poland was placed as 15 on the World Press Freedom Index published by the Reporters Without Borders organization. Today, we’ve been degraded to place 62. The way the President’s Office treated “Fakt” reporters needs to be understood precisely in this context.

The official argument for revoking press passes for journalists working for an “adversarial” newspaper only shows how arrogant and shameless the president’s staffers really are. What does it even mean that their press credentials were suspended because of “preventive measures against COVID-19”? Did they refuse to cover their inquisitive faces? And, of course, not even a single word has been said about their story which, when first published by “Fakt”, infuriated the President- the story of him pardoning a pedophile.

Photojournalists from “Wyborcza” and “Fakt” heard a similar excuse when, back in July, they were denied access to the presidential palace where Andrzej Duda delivered his speech. So, it’s probably not the last time the Law and Justice government uses coronavirus as a pretext to silence independent media.

***

Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about the coronavirus pandemic for you.

They are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities. They work on the ground, reporting from hospitals and airports.

We have decided to open online access to our news stories and special guides focused on the issue of public health, for free.

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