By Anna Koper
WARSAW (Reuters) - State companies in Poland have multiplied many times over their spending on advertising via news magazines that attack gay rights since the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power in 2015, market research data shows.
In the run-up to a parliamentary election expected in October, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people's rights have become a hot issue, with the PiS party facing accusations of fomenting homophobia.
The socially conservative party with a leftist economic agenda has also been accused of using state broadcasters as a political tool as part of a broader move to increase government control over industry and the courts.
Data collected by market research firm Kantar Media suggest PiS is supporting private news outlets that share its agenda.
"State-run companies support ... media that help promote the (government's) values," said Wieslaw Godzic, media analyst and professor at University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw.
"This has always been the case in Poland - but not on such a scale," he said.
According to Kantar, the conservative news weekly Gazeta Polska, which distributed "LGBT-free" stickers with one of its editions last month, has seen advertising inflows rise from just over 10,000 euros ($11,100) in 2015 to more than 2 million euros in 2018.
Sieci, another weekly, has seen its ad revenue from state companies increase 30 times over to about 7 million euros, the data obtained by Reuters showed. It did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Sieci published a cover story last week describing violent attacks on a gay pride march in the eastern Polish city of Bialystok in July as part of a broader effort by the liberal opposition to discredit the PiS government.
Titled "A massive attack on Poland is approaching" the story blamed Bialystok's mayor, an opposition politician, for allowing the march to take place at the same time as a far-right event.
It also appeared to take the side of the far-rightists.
"There is no consent in the least for violence in the public arena, but the motivation of (the attackers) is clear: They do not agree for their territory to be infected with leftist ideology that aims to demoralise children and weaken families," the story read.
Despite the swing in ad spending, data from industry association ZKDP shows that conservative publications which, like PiS, espouse traditional family values, oppose migration and promote close ties between the state and the Catholic Church, have seen their readership fall in recent years.
Kantar's data covered advertising placed by around 50 companies, including gas company PGNiG, energy group Energa and PKO BP, Poland's biggest bank, all three of which took out ads in last week's edition of Sieci. The bank declined to comment, while the other two companies did not respond to emailed questions from Reuters.
To make its estimates, Kantar used official pricing and computed the number of ads published, meaning the estimates do not include any potential discounts or payments above official price lists.
Reuters also sought comment on the estimates from other listed companies such as refiner PKN Orlen, the biggest state-owned firm, and coal producer JSW. They declined to reply.
PiS argues that any changes in how state firms spend their advertising budgets is aimed at correcting imbalances put in place by previous, liberal governments.
"The companies' policy has to, in a sense, support media pluralism in Poland," Deputy Culture Minister Pawel Lewandowski told Reuters.
Kantar's data also showed that under the PiS government, state support for liberal media has plummeted.
Ad spending in the Gazeta Wyborcza daily, Poland's main liberal broadsheet owned by Agora, fell by 97% from 2015 to 2018.
The tabloid Fakt, the country's biggest-circulation daily, owned by Swiss-German joint venture Ringier Axel Springer, has seen ad inflows drop by nearly 70%, according to Kantar's estimates.
PiS, which says Germany wields too much power in the European Union, has repeatedly signalled its ambition to reduce foreign media ownership in Poland, arguing that Polish owners would ensure that public debate is reflected better.
($1 = 0.9011 euros)
(Additional reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko, Alicja Ptak, Marcin Goclowski and Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Hugh Lawson)