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"Repolonising means censoring" – write the authors of the annual report assessing the global state of press freedom.

Out of 180 countries, Poland has dropped to 64th – two positions lower than last year. In the EU, further down the list are only Greece, Hungary, and Bulgaria.

Reporters Without Borders attribute Poland's decline in press freedom to last year's presidential campaign, in which the pro-government media – including the state-owned TV broadcaster - clearly sided with the ruling camp’s candidate, "doing their best to discredit his main rival".

As one of the most glaring examples of the government’s political interference in the media, the report mentions the efforts of the state-owned radio broadcaster to censor a government-critical hit song (Kazik’s “Your Pain is Better Than Mine”), taking it off the charts. The scandal has led to a breakup of the Polish Radio Three- a station with a long tradition and a cult status among its listeners. Many of the veteran journalists have left the state-owned radio broadcaster, creating new projects, such as Radio 357.

Reporters Without Borders also evoke the government’s "repolonization” campaign, assessing that the acquisition of the German-owned Polska Press local newspapers and web portals by the state-owned oil company Orlen will inevitably lead to their subordination to the ruling party’s political agenda.

Moreover, as another example of the Polish government’s censorship strategy, the report mentions the proposed new tax on advertising revenue.

Hungary: Orbán’s government extends its control over the media

Hungary, on the other hand, ranked 92nd in the World Press Freedom Index (down three places compared to 2019). The country was placed in one row with Poland and Slovenia.

The Hungarian government is relentless in its attempts to subjugate critical journalists. A law passed in 2020 that threatens journalists with prosecution on charges of disseminating fake news is a tangible result of these efforts. While ostensibly aimed at preventing the spread of false information about the coronavirus pandemic, according to the authors of the report, the legislation is primarily calculated to have a “chilling effect” on government-critical journalists.

-In this case, Reporters Without Borders is right. It is already very difficult for journalists to even reach, for instance, doctors who are fighting COVID-19. People don't want to talk to journalists, they are afraid of the consequences- Gábor Polyák, a media expert at the Mérték Institute in Budapest, told "Wyborcza".

Another reason for Hungary’s decline in the press freedom ranking is the arbitrary decision of the Media Council to strip the Budapest-based station Klubrádió of its frequency, thereby limiting it to online broadcasting. Since Viktor Orbán's Fidesz party came to power in 2010, the left-leaning radio station saw its frequency range successively limited.

Last winter, Klubrádió finally disappeared from the air. The official reason for this was a formal error in the application to the Media Council (another was the station's allegedly financial problems, although its owners claim that they had raised substantial funds from public donations).

It was replaced by Spirit FM, a station owned by a Hungarian religious sect, the Assembly of Faith. The sect is also the formal owner of the only TV station to which opposition politicians have unlimited access.

According to Mr. Polyák, Spirit FM has no chance to fill the void created by taking Klubrádió off the air.

-Above all, it lacks professional journalism. It is difficult not to connect this and other changes in the media with next year's parliamentary election- says Mr. Polyák. He also recalls the case of the largest Hungarian Internet portal Index.hu, which has been compromised and passed into the hands of an oligarch with strong ties to the government in 2020.

Mr. Polyák points out that Index.hu has not actually become the ruling party’s propaganda mouthpiece: - However, if necessary, this can be changed in no time.

He adds that a lion's share of the Hungarian media landscape is in fact favorable to Viktor Orbán's political agenda.

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For the full report prepared by Reporters Without Borders, please see the following link.

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Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about Polish politics and society, keeping a critical eye on the ruling camp’s persistent assault on democratic values and the rule of law; the growing cultural tension between religious fundamentalism and human rights; and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Our journalists are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities, reporting from the streets, hospitals, and courtrooms about issues that move public opinion.

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