Polish media bill triggers concern for freedom

  • 30 December 2015
  • From the section Europe
Conservative PiS supporters marching in Warsaw, 13 Dec 15 Image copyright AFP
Image caption PiS rally: The conservative party is governing alone after winning the October election

Media watchdogs in Europe have voiced alarm about a Polish draft media law which, critics say, threatens to politicise public news channels.

The public service broadcasters TVP and Polish Radio - which have a huge audience - would be controlled by a national media council close to Poland's new conservative government.

The change would enable the government to appoint or dismiss media executives.

There has also been much criticism of changes to the constitutional court.

In October the Law and Justice Party (PiS) won enough votes to govern alone - the first party to achieve that since democracy was restored in 1989.

The public broadcasters would be re-designated as "national cultural institutes" under the new media bill.

'Hasty' legislation

The measure was condemned by media freedom organisations, including the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in a joint statement on Wednesday.

They said they were "outraged by the proposed bill, hastily introduced... for immediate adoption, without any consultation, abolishing the existing safeguards for pluralism and independence of public service media governance in Poland".

They said the bill would allow a government minister to "appoint and dismiss... the supervisory and management boards" of public broadcasters.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption TVP headquarters: Most Poles watch the broadcaster's output

The European Commission has asked the Polish government to explain the proposed changes, stressing the importance of safeguarding media freedom, in a tweet.

In an open letter to Polish Culture Minister Piotr Glinski and his deputy Krzysztof Czabanski, the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) urged the government to shelve the media bill and delay reforms "until the issues have been fully and publicly aired in an inclusive public debate".

The AEJ said the bill might enable the PiS to make media appointments in line with the party's "priorities and wishes".

Influential channels

The EBU - an alliance of European public broadcasters - has also written to the Polish government, saying it fears that the bill will harm Polish public media and "reduce, rather than enhance the independence of its governance".

According to the EBU, Poland's public TVP has a market share of 30%, "which is significantly higher than the average market share of public service media in Europe", and reaches more than 90% of the Polish population every week.

TVP has two national channels, operates regional services and the satellite network TV Polonia.

Public Polish Radio reaches just over half of the population, with more than 200 radio stations.

On Monday, Poland introduced controversial changes to the constitutional court.

A new law requires the 15-strong court to reach a two-thirds majority with at least 13 members present, in order to pass most of its rulings. The PiS also appointed five judges to the court.

Critics say the changes will undermine democratic checks and balances.

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