By Joanna Plucinska and Kacper Pempel WARSAW (Reuters) – Several private radio and television stations and web portals in Poland took off the air on Wednesday in protest against a proposed tax on media advertising that they say threatens independence of the industry and its diversity of opinions. Instead of their regular shows, the media ran written or spoken slogans such as “This used to be your favorite show” and “Media no choice.” Critics say Poland is following the lead of central European ally Hungary in trying to increase government control over the media, an issue that was highlighted in December when the state-controlled oil refinery PKN Orlen said he was buying the German-owned newspaper publisher Polska Press. . The self-imposed 24-hour silence came a day after many publishing groups sent an open letter to authorities opposing the planned tax, which the government says will help raise funds for health care and culture, both affected by the pandemic. of the coronavirus. The letter said the tax would mean “weakening and even eliminating some media in Poland” and deepening inequalities between private and public media, which the signatories said had strong government support. “Many publications are teetering on the edge of profitability. This additional tax could take away all remaining earnings,” Marek Frackowiak, director of the Press Publishers Association, told Reuters. In particular, the media pointed to the economic impact that private media had already had during the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Polish Association of Local Newspapers, the local press has experienced an approximate 30% to 50% drop in advertising revenue and a 30% drop in sales since the pandemic began last year. Larger press releases also complained of a significant drop in advertising and sales revenue. Bartosz Weglarczyk, editor-in-chief of the Onet web portal, told Reuters that the outlet’s parent company, Ringier Axel Springer, could be paying an additional 10 to 20 million zlotys ($ 2.7 to 5.4 million) a year. due to the new tax, according to his calculations. “It means that the media will remain tied down and those who jump or pull too much will not receive money from the government, for example, and will have to close their doors,” said Bartosz Wielinski, deputy editor-in-chief of Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, who participated in the campaign, he told Reuters. Television stations Polsat and TVN, radio station Radio Zet and the Interia web portal were also among the media that stopped coverage on Wednesday. GOVERNMENT RESPONSE In stark contrast to the slogans of these private media, the public broadcaster TVP Info, which did not go off the air, published news tickers that included “Media companies do not want to share their multimillion-dollar profits with Poles” and “Media”. companies treat Poland like a colony. “The government has long argued that foreign media groups have too much power in the Polish media landscape, distorting the public debate. It says the tax will benefit the entire population and that others European countries have similar levies. Government spokesman Piotr Muller told TVP Info that the tax could represent between 2% and 15% of advertising revenue, depending on the size of the company. ($ 1 = 3.6985 zlotys)
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