Legal Environment: 5
Political Influences: 8
Economic Pressures: 7
Total Score: 20
Life Expectancy: 75
Religious Groups: Roman Catholic (95 percent), other [including Eastern Orthodox and Protestant] (5 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Polish (96.7 percent), German (0.4 percent), other [including Byelorussian and Ukrainian](2.9 percent)
The 1997 constitution forbids censorship of the media and guarantees freedom of the press. Libel is a criminal offense subject to fines or imprisonment. This legal restriction was frequently used in a political manner against the independent media. Andrzej Marek, editor of the weekly Wiesci Polickie, was convicted of libeling a local official and sentenced to three months in prison. His sentence was first postponed and then dismissed in September after overwhelming local and international protests. Several other journalists received suspended prison sentences this year, and concerns over the chilling effect of such lawsuits against journalists are growing. Some journalists resort to self-censorship. Offending religious sentiment is punishable by imprisonment. Journalist Jerzy Urban's trial for an article criticizing Pope John Paul II began in September.
Private television is available throughout Poland, but the government-owned Polish Television, which includes four channels, remains the major source of information for the country. Public officials still exert pressure on public and state-owned media. In April, prominent filmmaker Lew Rywin was fined US$25,000 and sentenced to two and a half years in prison for soliciting a bribe from a major newspaper. Rywin allegedly sought money from the popular daily Gazeta Wyborcza in return for the promise of lobbying the government to change a media bill and allow the newspaper's parent company, Agora SA, to acquire a television station. Rywin claimed he was acting on behalf of high-level government officials, including the prime minister, who resigned in May following Poland's European Union accession. This controversy has been ongoing since 2002 with the adoption of the Law on Broadcasting, which was designed to limit cross-ownership by private companies. Critics of the law claim that it is an attempt by the government to strengthen its control over public media by prohibiting private media ownership. Concentration has increased in recent years as big media companies have been buying up smaller newspapers and broadcast stations.
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