Polish Media System in a Comparative Perspective

Media in Politics, Politics in Media

by Bogusława Dobek-Ostrowska (Author)
©2019 Monographs 288 Pages
Open Access


A media system does not exist in a vacuum. It develops and grows within social, political and economic systems. They interact with and influence one another, as well as stimulate each other’s development. The main subject of this work is the dynamically evolving Polish media system, which is under the influence of institutions and external stakeholders. Thanks to this, it is easier to understand that the "crossroads" is not only a problem of the Polish media system, but a global one. For this reason, a comparative perspective is employed. Three chapters help to provide an answer to research questions dedicated to political parallelism and journalistic professionalization. The analysis would be limited and unrepresentative if the book enclosed it with one country's border, omitting the broad global, European and Centro-European context.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Dedication Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Abbreviation
  • Introduction
  • Media systems as a matter of research
  • The media system concept
  • The area of research
  • Literature base
  • Studies dedicated to Central and Eastern Europe
  • The main aims, methods and research questions
  • Structure of the book
  • 1 Polish journalists and their professional culture
  • 1.1 Journalistic professionalism and journalistic culture – some conceptual remarks
  • 1.2 Characteristics and structure of Polish journalists
  • 1.2.1 Development of journalistic education after 1989 and access to the profession
  • 1.2.2 The professional profile of Polish journalists
  • 1.3 Journalistic autonomy
  • 1.4 Norms and professional ethics
  • 1.4.1 Codes of journalistic ethics and normative regulations
  • 1.4.2 Ethical norms in journalistic practice
  • 1.5 Journalism as a public service
  • 1.6 Instrumentalization and institutional roles of media
  • 1.7 Media accountability system
  • Summary: De-professionalization of journalism also in Poland
  • 2 Mass media in the logic of political actors
  • 2.1 Party logic versus media logic
  • 2.2 The concept and the indicators of political parallelism
  • 2.2.1 The dimensions of political partisanship
  • 2.2.2 The degree of media politicization by political actors
  • 2.2.3 The level of integration of media personnel and political elites
  • 2.2.4 The models of relationships between political actors and the media
  • 2.3 The mutually dependent party and media system in Poland
  • 2.3.1 Democratization of the political system and political parallelism
  • 2.3.2 The party system and its impact on the media
  • 2.3.3 The consequences of intervention by political actors in the media system
  • 2.4 Logic of Polish parties in their relationship with the media
  • 2.4.1 Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość - PiS)
  • 2.4.2 Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska – PO)
  • 2.4.3 The Democratic Left Alliance (Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej–SLD)
  • 2.4.4 The Polish People’s Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe -PSL)
  • Summary: Does media logic dominate over political parallelism?
  • 3 Mediatization and politics coverage in media
  • 3.1 Mediatization and its consequences for news media coverage
  • 3.1.1 The concept and dimensions of mediatization of politics
  • 3.1.2 The indicators of mediatization of politics
  • 3.1.3 Types of news media coverage
  • 3.1.4 Forms and practices of media bias
  • 3.2 News media coverage in the Polish mainstream media
  • 3.2.1 Polish daily newspapers: deep entrenched coverage vs. the tabloid vision of politics
  • 3.2.2 External pluralism of opinion weeklies
  • 3.2.3 The systemic parallelism of public broadcasters
  • 3.2.4 Negativism of private broadcast media
  • Summary: Political parallelism - political and structural bias go together
  • Conclusion: The Polish media system on the map of Europe
  • The media landscape in CEE
  • The Polish media system in a state of permanent change
  • Relations between political actors and journalists in the era of social media
  • Annexes
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • List of Pictures
  • Bibliography
  • Index


Media systems as a matter of research

The category of ʽmedia systemʼ is one of the most well known and most widely applied in the field of communication studies. Although the term itself was coined by Parson in 1937, it permanently became part of the terminology of social sciences only thanks to Deutsch (1966) and Easton (1965). The authors were the first to use a system analysis approach in their research on politics, which they saw as a system or complex structure, whose elements are interconnected and mutually influence each other. All political processes are carried out within this framework, positions and roles related to power are exercised there, and the authority of government is enforced. Institutional features, such as standards, values, principles, development rules, etc. appear and improve there. The political system does not exist in a vacuum. It develops and grows within a social system, and alongside it, other systems emerge, such as economic or media ones. They are all tightly interconnected, they interact and influence one another, as well as stimulate each other’s development (see Fig. 1).

The media system concept

The system approach very quickly found supporters in communication studies. Newcomb’s (1953) model (Dobek-Ostrowska, 2007:95) lay at the heart of the system approach in communicology, thus creating the foundations for other models that soon began to snowball in science. In the beginning researchers started with simple schemes which were supposed to explain the process of interpersonal communication. Over time, the models became more and more complex and included more elements constituting the process of mass communication. One of the first models, today rather forgotten, was DeFleur’s 1966 system model, in which the author included elements influencing the functioning of mass media and captured the mutual dependencies between them. On the one hand, the researcher pointed to legislative bodies and official controlling institutions, such as the Federal Communication Commission – FCC (political pressure), and on the other to financing institutions, advertisers, market research agencies and advertising content (economic pressure). Another element of the model was the audience playing a twofold part – of recipients with certain tastes, and of consumers of goods and services advertised in the media. In practice, in the 1960s, this model was applicable only to the USA, where media companies, ←13 | 14→since the beginning of their existence, were included into the mechanisms of the free market. There, the actions of the state (political system), were limited to creating the basic framework for the legal functioning of the media. A particular role was played by economic entities, such as the owners, the competition, and the advertisers (economic system).

Thus, in the case of the American system, we can talk about a minimal political input and considerable economic influence on the media. In contrast to the USA, in Europe, they had an etatistic character. State media were monopolist and, since market laws were not working, or their reach was strongly limited, politics played a decisive role in the process of shaping the media system. The situation first began to change in the 1980s with the deregulation and privatization of the media in European Union member states. During the following thirty years, a new quality was formed in these states – the dual model, which seriously endangered the public media. The press of political parties has been depoliticized step by step, journalism has become commercialized, tabloidized, globalized, and unprofessional. Even where the state jealously protected the position of public media as national values (e.g., Scandinavia, Austria), deep systemic changes took place, moving them toward the liberal model. How does Central Europe and Poland present themselves against this background?

The fall of the Soviet bloc coincided with a global audio-visual revolution and a progressive privatization of media in Western Europe. These two global processes, technological and economic, were bound to influence the formation of young democratic media systems developing on the ashes of communism. Now, almost thirty years later, we need to ask: how much of `the old` and how much of `the new` is present in contemporary solutions? Have the old, undemocratic practices become history, or are they still present? And if they are, then in what form? In what direction is the Polish media system heading? Is it prone to globalization and commercialization with all their consequences? Do politicians still control the media and play key roles, like in the old regimes? How do journalists feel about and react to this reality? And the audience? What part is played by Catholic institutions and organizations linked to the media? The last question has particular significance for the considerations on the media system in Poland, especially after 2015.

The researchers of media systems are, undoubtedly, aided by Hallin and Mancini’s concept of three models of media systems. Their 2004 book, has influenced researchers around the world and was a significant trigger for further studies on media systems, unrivalled since the 1956 publication of Siebert, Peterson and Schramm’s Four Theories of Press. The concepts of the Liberal system, Democratic Corporatism, and Polarized Pluralism spark the imagination of communicologists, political scientists, sociologists, and other researchers. ←14 | 15→It kindles appreciation, reservation or criticism, but never indifference. Today, also the authors themselves see some shortages and deficiencies, point to new trends, possible alterations and areas, where, even in this short period of time, their models have undergone considerable transformations (Hallin and Mancini, 2017), since, beyond any doubt, technological changes, which we witness developing at a dizzying rate, are primarily reflected in the media. They are the first to absorb new technologies and to transform themselves and the whole system in the process. This was perfectly exemplified first of all by the launch of social media, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube (see: Davis, Holtz-Bacha and Just, 2017; Guo and McCombs, 2016; Jacuński, 2016) (see Fig. I.1). Meanwhile, the transformation of the political and economic system is a more time-consuming process.

The area of research

The main subject of this work is the dynamically evolving Polish media system, which is under the influence of institutions and external stakeholders. This system has found itself at a crossroads, and it is uncertain which way its development will go. The analysis would be limited and unrepresentative if we enclosed it with one country’s border, omitting the broad global, European and Centro-European context. For this reason, a comparative perspective is employed from ←15 | 16→the first to the last chapter. Thanks to this, it is easier to understand that the ʽcrossroadsʼ is not only a problem of the Polish media system, but a global one.

This work is not about the whole, complex media system (Dobek-Ostrowska, 2007:116; Dobek-Ostrowska, 2012:49–50; Dobek-Ostrowska, 2015c:15–16), but its fragment – the relationship between the core of the system – the mass media on the primary market, and the political actors present on the secondary market (Fig. I.1). I am particularly interested in the relationship between the mass media and the political parties, which constitutes the foundations of every democratic political system, in which the authorities are chosen in regularly-held elections. The analysis of these interactions is conducted on two levels: from the point of view of the participants on the political scene i.e., politicians, parties, party leaders; and the media itself, that is owners, publishers, journalists, and media workers. In the first case, I pose the question how much media is present in politics? I focus on media strategies (or lack thereof) of political actors, the way they perceive the media, and their expectations on them. In other words, I consider what politicians in practice do or would like to do with the media. The focal point of the second analytical plane is the media content devoted to politics, that is, publicizing politics in the media. This is the best way to assess the political engagement of journalists, publishers, or owners; the distance from the world of current political events. Thus, I ask how much politics is present in the media? This approach, naturally, leads to Hallin and Mancini’s two-dimensional media system – political parallelism, which allows us to explain the first analytical level (what do politicians do with the media?) as well as journalistic professionalism, which I see as the leading instrument on the second level (what do the media do with politics?) I leave the two remaining dimensions of Hallin and Mancini’s media system, i.e., the development of the mass media and the importance of the state, outside the mainstream of my analysis. I refer to these aspects occasionally, to exemplify a discussed process or a specific situation.

The subject of this work is, therefore, a fragment of the Polish media system: the relations that evolve in the middle ground between the core of the system – that is the media, its owners and journalists—and the political actors of the 21st century, i.e., in the second and third decades after the fall of communism. The choice of the time frame is not coincidental. After years of intensive transformations of the first decade, a slow stabilization of both systems was progressing. Initially, six relevant entities remained on the political scene (2001–2007), and after that, four (2007–2011 and 2011–2015). Following the 2015 parliamentary elections, two parties dominate the political scene: Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość- PiS) and Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska - PO). Three middle-sized political formations, such as Kukiz (Kukiz - K), The Contemporary (Nowoczesna ←16 | 17→- N) and the Polish People’s Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe - PSL) play a secondary role. For the first time is The Democratic Left Alliance (Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej- SLD) left with no representation in the Sejm. The media market was appropriated by economically equipped organisms, which, despite fierce competition, do not allow themselves to be marginalized. I leave the third participant of the process, the citizens, on the margins of my considerations, as they are clients of both political actors and mass media. Research shows, however, that, on the one hand, they are not particularly interested in politics, quite often do not understand it and are not willing to be involved in it, yet on the other hand, they do not like business and do not accept conflict (Szczęciło, Cześnik, Markowski, 2013: 107–108).

The scope of the work includes an analysis of journalistic professionalism and culture, which, in turn, are determined by the attitude of the media and of journalists toward politics, politicians, and political parties. This is reflected in the intensity of the mediatization process and the quality of publicizing politics in the main, stable countrywide media, such as the two newspapers (the leftist Gazeta Wyborcza and the conservative Rzeczpospolita), the four opinion weeklies (Polityka, Wprost, Newsweek, Gazeta Polska), the three main television broadcasters (TVP public broadcaster, and private -TVN and TV Polsat) and the three radio broadcasters (the privately-owned RMF FM and Radio ZET, and the public Polish Radio). It has to be mentioned that, after 2015, the importance of Catholic media has considerably grown (with Radio Maryja and TV Trwam in particular) due to a much higher interest and strengthening of relations with the governing party — Law and Justice.

Among the political actors, I focus on the biggest, relevant political parties which have been active in political life, and which have set the direction of the political process and have influenced the quality of democracy: Civic Platform (PO), Law and Justice (PiS), the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), and the Polish People’s Party (PSL). I exclude from my considerations Self-defence (Samoobrona) and the League of Polish Families (LPR), which, though both present in the years 2001–2007 in the Polish Parliament, vanished from political life following the elections in 2007. The year 2015 marked a considerable change on the political scene, which has been monopolized by two parties - Law and Justice and Civic Platform. The Polish People’s Party has been visibly marginalized, the Democratic Left Alliance has no representatives in Parliament the first time after the collapse of communism and its role in politics was seriously limited. The new actors such as small parties Nowoczesna and Kukizʼ15 have entered the political scene. This part of my analysis is concentrated on the media strategies of individual political actors and political parallelism. I attempt to determine whether, ←17 | 18→almost thirty years after the fall of communism, political parallelism is still present in Poland.

Literature base

This study places itself in the field of studies on political communication, which emerged at the turn of the1950s and the 1960s on the edge of political science and communication studies. It is, therefore, no coincidence that so many experts in the field come from political science. In the last fifty years a vast amount scientific literature, as well as numerous key concepts and theories were created. Researchers have established new analytic methods during their more and more frequent participation in international projects. Particular attention should be paid to the achievements of American, German, Scandinavian, and British scholars who are leaders of this sub-discipline.

In this analysis, I refer to the most important theoretical accomplishments, in addition to the, aforementioned Hallin and Mancini’s conception of three models of media systems (2004, 2012, 2017). Blumler and Gurevitch’ 1995 proposals of politicization levels and models of the relations between political actors and the media still remains up-to-date and extremely useful. I implant also the concept of media logic and party logic developed by Mazzolini in 1987, as well as the models of politics coverage in media (Patterson, 1980, 1993; López-Escobar, Sabada, Zugasti, 2008; Dobek-Ostrowska, 2011b). The concepts of colonization of politics by the media (Meyer, 2002) and the mediatization of politics (Strömbäck, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011; Kaid, 2008) are particularly valuable. The monographs The Contradiction of Media Power (Freedman, 2014), Content is King (Graham et al. 2015), Political Communication in Real Time (Schill et al. 2017) have also considerably broadened the research perspective. The studies on media systems have been intensively developing in the last decade, which has repeatedly been emphasized by Hallin and Mancini (2017). The authors initiated the research on media systems beyond fully democratic countries, which they presented in their 2012 work Comparing Media Systems Beyond the Western World. The results of their studies are of key importance to the analyses of the Polish media system. In 2013 Chadwick developed the concept of a Hybrid Media System. Hybridization was also of interest to Mancini (2015). At the time, a significant article by Brüggemann et al. (2014) was published. The authors for the first time used empirical methods, and they presented their findings in their article Building Empirical Typologies with QCA: Toward a Classification of Media Systems (Büchel et al. 2016).The first notion of four media systems in post-communist Europe – Hybrid Liberal, Politicized Media, Media in Transition, ←18 | 19→and Authoritarian – was presented in 2015 (Dobek-Ostrowska, 2015c). This issue was also taken by a Swiss-German team of scholars two years later (Castro-Herrero et al. 2017).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2019 (May)
journalistic culture politicization of media political parallelism political partisanship systemic parallelism entrenched coverage structural bias democratization de-professionalization external pluralism internal pluralism political logic media logic
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 288 pp., 16b/w, 4 tables, 4 graphs

Biographical notes

Bogusława Dobek-Ostrowska (Author)

Bogusława Dobek-Ostrowska is a professor at the University of Wrocław, Poland. She has published several books and articles. Her research interests include political communication, media systems. She is the editor of Central European Journal of Communication, the series Communication and Media (the University of Wroclaw Press) and Studies in Communication and Politics (Peter Lang Edition).


Title: Polish Media System in a Comparative Perspective
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