Poland’s government said on Tuesday that it would amend aspects of a plan to levy a tax on advertising revenues, which private media groups have denounced as an attack on independent journalism.
Last week, the country’s biggest independent broadcasters and several radio stations suspended their news coverage for 24 hours in protest at the plan, branding the proposed tax “extortion”, and warning that it could lead to the “weakening, or even liquidation” of some Polish media companies, which have already seen their revenues hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the proposals published by Poland’s finance ministry earlier this month, advertising revenues would be subject to a levy of between 2 per cent and 15 per cent depending on the size of the revenues, the type of media in which the advertisements were published, and the product advertised.
Officials from the conservative-nationalist ruling Law and Justice party have said that the levy will help support the Polish health system, which has been battered by the pandemic, and is meant to receive 50 per cent of the proceeds from the levy.
However, as well as triggering concern among media groups, the proposals have been condemned by the opposition, and have even split the ruling camp. Agreement, a junior coalition partner of Law and Justice, said last week that they would not back the proposals in their current form.
In the wake of the outcry over the plan, which was under consultation until Tuesday, the government spokesman, Piotr Muller, said the finance ministry was preparing “a new project, which will take into account some of the concerns which were raised about the existing project”.
Asked by Poland’s state broadcaster what concerns had been raised, he said some groups had questioned the thresholds from which the tax would apply, as well as the tax rates themselves, and whether the press should be freed from the advertising levy.
However, he said that the tax would remain progressive “so that it doesn’t hit local media in any way, only international giants”. In total, the government expects to raise 800m zlotys a year from the new levy.
A senior official told the Financial Times that possible changes could involve increasing the amount of the tax that was levied on big global digital groups, as well as decreasing the burden on smaller media groups.
However, opposition politicians called for the government to go further and drop the proposals altogether, warning that they could drive some media out of business.
“There is no democracy without freedom of speech. There is no free society without access to the free flow of ideas, views and information,” leaders of the opposition Civic Coalition said in a statement.
“Media pluralism is a necessary condition for healthy democratic debate. The tax on advertising revenues announced by the cabinet threatens media pluralism and in particular [the media’s] presence in the life of local communities.”