|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.