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UPDATE 2-'This used to be your favourite show': Polish media falls silent to protest tax

·3-min read

(Updates with new quotes, data)

By Joanna Plucinska and Kacper Pempel

WARSAW, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Several private TV and radiostations and web portals in Poland took themselves off the airon Wednesday in protest against a proposed media advertising taxthey say threatens the industry's independence and itsdiversity of views.

In place of their usual shows, the outlets ran written orspoken slogans like "This used to be your favourite programme"and "Media without choice".

Critics say Poland is following the example of centralEuropean ally Hungary in trying to increase government controlover the media, an issue that came into sharp focus in Decemberwhen state-controlled oil refiner PKN Orlen said it wasbuying German-owned newspaper publisher Polska Press.

The self-imposed 24-hour silence came a day after manypublishing groups addressed an open letter to authorities toobject to the planned tax, which the government says will helpraise funds for healthcare and culture, both hit hard by thecoronavirus pandemic.

The letter said the tax would mean "weakening, and eveneliminating some media in Poland" and deepening inequalitiesbetween private outlets and public ones, which the signatoriessaid were heavily supported by the government.

"Many publications are balancing on the edge ofprofitability. This additional tax could take away all of theremaining profits," Marek Frackowiak, the head of theAssociation of Press Publishers, told Reuters.

In particular, outlets pointed to the economic hit privatemedia had already taken during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Association of Local Newspapers in Poland,the local press saw an approximate drop of 30% to 50% inadvertising revenue and a 30% drop in sales since the pandemicbegan last year. Larger press publications also complained of asignificant drop in advertising and sales revenue.

Bartosz Weglarczyk, editor-in-chief of web portal Onet, toldReuters the outlet's parent company Ringier Axel Springercould be paying 10-20 million zlotys ($2.7-5.4million) extra a year due to the new tax, according to itscalculations.

"It means media will remain on a leash and those who jump orpull too much won't get money from the government, for example,and will have to shut up shop," Bartosz Wielinski, the deputyeditor-in-chief of Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, which took partin the campaign, told Reuters.

TV broadcasters Polsat and TVN, radio station RadioZet and web portal Interia were also among outlets that haltedcoverage on Wednesday.

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

In stark contrast to the slogans of these private outlets,public broadcaster TVP Info - which did not go off-air - rannews tickers including "Media companies don't want to sharetheir multi-million profits with Poles" and "Media firms aretreating Poland like a colony."

The government has long argued that foreign media groupshave too much power in the Polish media landscape, distortingpublic debate.

It says the tax will benefit the whole population, and thatother European countries have similar levies.

Government spokesman Piotr Muller told TVP Info that the taxcould amount to anywhere between 2% and 15% of advertisingincome, depending on the size of the company.

($1 = 3.6985 zlotys)(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska, Pawel Florkiewicz, KacperPempel and Alan Charlish: Editing by Nick Macfie, Pravin Charand Philippa Fletcher)

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