We present high-sensitivity and absolutely calibrated images of diffuse radio polarization at a resolution of about 10 arcmin covering the range 10° <l <34° and |b| <5° at 2.3 GHz from the S-band Polarization All Sky Survey and at 4.8 GHz from the Sino-German δ6 cm polarization survey of the Galactic plane. Strong depolarization near the Galactic plane is seen at 2.3 GHz, which correlates with strong Ha emission. We ascribe the depolarization to spatial Faraday rotation measure fluctuations of about 65 radm-2 on scales smaller than 6-9 pc. We argue that most (about 90 per cent) of the polarized emission seen at 4.8 GHz originates from a distance of 3-4 kpc in the Scutum arm and that the random magnetic field dominates the regular field there. A branch extending from the North Polar Spur towards lower latitudes can be identified from the polarization image at 4.8 GHz but only partly from the polarization image at 2.3 GHz, implying that the branch is at a distance larger than 2-3 kpc. We show that comparison of structure functions of complex polarized intensity with those of polarized intensity can indicate whether the observed polarized structures are intrinsic or caused by Faraday screens. The probability distribution function of gradients from the polarization images at 2.3 GHz indicates that the turbulence in the warm ionized medium is transonic. © 2013 The Authors Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Society.