When Communists Tried Censorship in Poland it Didn’t Work. Now their Heirs are Trying Again… and the Result Will be the Same

Poland’s government, having already brought state TV and radio under strict control and mooted rules to limit foreign ownership of media, has now drafted a law to control the internet. On one hand, it’s a clear attempt to block the freedom of journalists to report freely on news from this nouveaux-communist state; on the other, it’s an attempt that is so obviously doomed to failure that it’s laughable.

poland_news_internetThe newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza broke the story that the Law and Justice (PiS) government in Poland is planning draconian internet controls – a report that PiS were quick to deny. But then Money.pl published the full text of the draft bill, which left no room for doubt.

The bill would attempt to subject all news portals to a new Polish law governing their content and interaction with readers. It would include social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

The proposed law would also open the door to troll factories, by allowing anyone who comments on a post to go to court if their comment is later deleted. Furthermore, readers would be given the power to decide whether a report is true or not, by voting.

In addition, Poland’s national broadcasting council would monitor internet news sites publishing information about Poland – wherever they are based – and would have the right to impose fines of those who breached standards.

Of course, such a bill would be unworkable for sites based on servers outside Poland. Contrary to what PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński appears to believe, the word of his party isn’t the same as international law. The word of his party isn’t even universally held to be Polish law.

Then there’s the Polish reaction to censorship. Trying to stop people publishing things that the government doesn’t like has not traditionally gone down well here. Take, for example, the case of Maria Musielak; her job during martial law was to receive illegal texts imported from abroad and hidden in tins labelled “peaches”. Not that such actions don’t come with risks, of course…

During martial law, student Antoni Pikul was arrested for distributing publications banned by the government. The 28-year-old was indicted in a document signed by Communist Party prosecutor Stanisław Piotrowicz. The same Mr Piotrowicz is currently a favourite of the Polish government, for whom he holds a high-ranking post.

So, feel free, Mr Kaczyńśki, to try to censor the internet in Poland. Whatever you manage to remove, another will rise in its place. If you should manage to instigate total control, journalists will simply return to the practice of samizdat – simple ink on paper; like Ms Musielak, like Mr Pikul, there will always be someone to distribute it and receive it.

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