Press group says reporters are being harassed in Poland

A leading press freedom group called Friday on Polish authorities to "end their harassment and attempts to intimidate independent journalists," after a string of incidents that have raised concerns about media freedom.

Perceived attacks on media freedom in Poland have also triggered a strong rebuke from the U.S. ambassador in recent weeks, sparking tensions between the United States and the conservative government of the Law and Justice party, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

The party, in power since 2015, has turned tax-funded public media — the main source of news for some in rural areas — into a propaganda tool for the party. It has also repeatedly said it would like to reduce foreign ownership in the media, often blaming a U.S.-owned TV broadcaster or German or Swiss-owned media outlets for alleged unfair coverage.

There was no immediate response from Poland to the statement from Reporters Without Borders. But leaders argue that state media's pro-government bias is needed to balance out heavy anti-government bias in the private media.

Reporters Without Borders cited examples of authorities threatening legal action against journalists for coverage they found uncomfortable. The Paris-based group also noted that the head of the National Bank of Poland and a senator with the ruling party recently threatened to sue five journalists if their paper, Gazeta Wyborcza, did not remove seven allegedly defamatory articles from the newspaper's website. The paper has been reporting on a financial scandal exposing alleged state corruption.

"All this harassment is part of a campaign that the Polish government has been waging against independent media outlets since 2015, a campaign designed to economically throttle critical media, prevent journalists from doing investigative reporting" and to nationalize media ownership, said Pauline Ades-Mevel, who monitors media freedom in the European Union and the Balkans.

The statement also described a threat, later dropped, to prosecute a reporter for the commercial channel TVN, owned by the U.S. company Discovery. He had gone undercover to film a neo-Nazi group and to avoid suspicion had given a Nazi salute.

Reporters Without Borders noted that footage of the salute "was somehow obtained by the pro-government news website."