As of December 31, 1998

Despite President Alexander Kwaniewski's assurances in 1996 that he would push for the abolishment of the country's criminal libel statutes, these disturbing laws remain in the penal code that took effect this year. Article 135 punishes defamation of the president with prison sentences of up to three years, while Article 226 covers defamation of other public officials. Although criminal libel prosecutions are rare, the existence of these provisions in the penal code continues to be a black spot on Poland's generally positive press freedom record.

Civil libel suits continue to be common. The president himself is pursuing a 2.5 million zloty (approximately US$800,000) suit filed in September 1997 against the editorial board of the newspaper Zycie. Kwaniewski alleges that the paper libeled him in an article which reported he had contacted a Russian spy during his 1994 vacation.

Other than the state-run television station, which observers say is highly politicized, there is a wide variety of independent media, including television and radio stations and newspapers. Privately owned distribution companies have emerged, but the country's largest distributor, Ruchs, remains state-owned. Print publications are licensed through the Communications Ministry.

Poland's laws governing electronic media are protectionist, and place a variety of restrictions on foreign media. These laws, at odds with European Union standards, will have to be reformed as a precondition of Poland's entry into the European community. The strict licensing process for electronic media has led some television stations to relocate outside Poland's borders.

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