Poland’s ultra-conservative government has grabbed powers over the country’s constitutional court and recently also from the public media. The measures have stirred up emotions in Brussels and the European Commission will now investigate the Polish rule.

On Wednesday (January 6), the Polish President Andrzej Duda signed a law that will enable the government to sack executives of the public media and basically hand pick their replacements. It concerns the state broadcaster TVP, Polskie Radio and the news agency PAP.

While the president signed the controversial bill, the presidential office argued that the country’s public media has to be more impartial. (audio in Polish)

“The president wants public media to be impartial, objective and credible. It’s hard to argue that such criteria are the hallmarks of the media at present,” said the head of the presidential office, Małgorzata Sadurska, in a press conference on Thursday (January 7).

Polish journalists worried

The move, described by some as a witch hunt on journalist, has raised concerns across Europe. In Poland many journalists are worried.

According to Polish media reports, all employees in the public press could have to renegotiate their contracts with new directors loyal to the new government ruled by Law and Justice Party (PiS) that won the elections in October last year.

Parts of the public media have protested against the new measures. Several directors from the national TV resigned after the law was approved in the parliament at the end of December.

Channel 1 of the national radio protested by playing the national anthem every hour, alternating it with the EU anthem, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”.

Violation of freedom and democracy

Renate Schroeder, director at the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) in Brussels, argues that the recently signed law violates media freedom and democracy.

“It would mean that the supervisory board, which is extremely important for the independence for public service broadcasting, can be controlled, or will be controlled, by the government,” Schroeder said in an interview with Euranet Plus.

The EFJ and other free-press defenders had previously urged the Polish president not to sign the controversial bill, but in vain. They have also made a joint complaint to the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog based in Strasbourg.

The European Commission is considering to take action.

Commission to assess Polish rule of law

The first vice president of the Commission, Frans Timmermans, has sent two letters to the Polish government asking for clarifications, both concerning the media law and the constitutional court.

Günther Oettinger, the Commissioner responsible for media, told German press on Sunday that there were reasons to activate the so-called “rule of law mechanism” which can be used if there is a systemic threat to the rule of law in any of the EU member states.

However, the Commission is yet to decide whether to activate that mechanism or not. First the commissioners need to meet and discuss the Polish issue, which will be done next week on January 13.

The rule of law mechanism is described as a soft tool and the question is if Poland would really change its legislation just because the Commission recommends it to do so.

Another option would be to trigger Brussels’ so-called “nuclear weapon”, Article 7 in the treaty, which could strip Poland from its voting rights in the Council. This is not likely, though, as this tool has never been used.

Commission could be tougher on Poland

Previously little has been done to stop similar restrictive laws in Hungary. The Hungarian ruling party has been protected by being a member of the biggest political family in Europe, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP).

However, the ruling Polish party, PiS, is not a member of EPP, but the eurosceptic ECR, which could make the Commission go harder on Poland than it has done historically on Hungary.

“This is one factor, but I also think that Juncker [the President of the Commission], having seen what’s happened in Hungary, seeing what’s happening in Europe, seeing all what is happening with the refugee crisis, and the rule of law generally at stake and becoming more and more important, that he may take this much more serious than it had been taken in the past,” said Renate Schroeder at EFJ.

  • Author: Andreas Liljeheden, Euranet Plus News Agency

One Response

  1. Dorota Zielińska

    Please be informed that The Polish Journalists Association (SDP) – the biggest organisation of journalists in Poland – supports public media reforms. This is the link to the latest statements on this issue:
    http://www.sdp.pl/informacje/12219,oswiadczenie-zarzadu-glownego-stowarzyszenia-dziennikarzy-polskich-,1451576785
    and translation for your convinience:
    Statement of the board
    of the Polish Journalists Association (SDP)
    December 31st 2015

    The Polish Journalists Association (SDP) is deeply astonished by the fact that major European institutions are making statements on public media reforms in Poland without the knowledge of basic facts.
    In recent years the public media reached a pathological stage characterized among others by the political bias and lack of pluralism resulting in manipulation and providing a false image of Poland. Public media do not fulfil their mission and duties, as the SDP indicated during its extraordinary convention, insisting on radical changes.
    The amendment to the media law passed by the parliament on December 30th can only be regarded as the first move towards media with the space for fair and pluralistic public debate. We expect that in the coming months a new media law will be prepared and adopted. We also expect that the civil society organizations and the environment of media professionals will be involved into the work on the new media law.
    We expect that the final arrangement of the public media system will protect it from political influence, enabling it to reliably carry out its informational and cultural mission.
    On behalf of the board of the Polish Journalists Association
    Krzysztof Skowroński, President of the SDP
    Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy, V-ce President of the SDP
    Piotr Legutko, V-ce President of the SDP

    Reply

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