Monday

18th Jan 2021

Poland passes media law, ignores EU again

  • Public TV and radio broadcasters to come under PiS party control (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Polish MPs have passed a law on reform of public media despite growing EU and wider international criticism on democratic standards.

The lower chamber, on Wednesday (30 December) passed the bill by 232 votes against 152, with 34 abstentions.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

It must also be passed by the upper house and signed by the president, but both organs are controlled by the Law and Justice (PiS) party, which took power in October.

The bill terminates the tenure of the current management of public TV and radio broadcasters and gives PiS the right to directly appoint its own people. It also limits the number of independent supervisory board members.

MPs took the decision despite a letter from European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, sent earlier on Wednesday, to the Polish foreign and justice ministers.

Timmermans asked them to justify how the law meets EU standards on free speech under article 2 of the EU treaty, article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and a 2010 EU directive on audiovisual services.

“Freedom and pluralism of the media are crucial for a pluralist society in a member state respectful of the common values on which the Union is founded,” he said.

The OSCE, a European rights watchdog, and European journalists’ associations, echoed the concerns.

Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE’s media freedom chief, said on Wednesday: “I fear the hastily introduced changes will endanger the basic conditions of independence, objectivity and impartiality of public service broadcasters … I urge the Polish government to withdraw the proposal.”

Five of Europe’s biggest journalist groups, one day earlier, said: “If the Polish parliament passes these measures … Poland will create a regressive regime which will be without precedent in any other EU country.”

The letter was signed by the European Federation of Journalists, the European Broadcasting Union, the Association of European Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

PiS rejected the criticism, however.

Witold Waszczykowski, the Polish foreign minister, said Wednesday evening on Timmermans’ appeal that “no such letter has reached my office.”

Konrad Szymanski, the EU affairs minister, said: “Poland conducts, and will conduct, responsible and constructive politics in the Union. This or other opinions on changes in Poland’s internal politics won’t prevent that.“

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the PiS party chief, said negative coverage of the developments is due to the fact “most of our [Polish] media are in the hands of German owners” and represents the “defence of a privileged system, in which media … exert too big an influence on public life.”

Constitutional dispute

Speaking on Radio Maryja, a PiS-loyal broadcaster owned by a right-wing Roman Catholic group, he also attacked the head of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, Andrzej Rzeplinski.

The PiS government, earlier this week, passed a law extending political control over the tribunal, also ignoring a previous Timmermans letter.

Rzeplinski said on Wednesday the tribunal will, on 12 January - one day before an EU commission debate on Poland - issue an opinion on the legality of the reforms.

He said it will take its decision based on the pre-reform quorum of judges and pre-reform composition of the tribunal’s members.

Kaczynski said: “In my personal opinion, I would treat this as his [Rzeplinski’s] resignation from the … tribunal.”

The constitutional dispute has prompted critical remarks by the US.

US concern

Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, said on Wednesday: “We are concerned - we care deeply about the character, the quality of Poland’s democracy.”

"A system of checks and balances and judicial independence are crucial elements of constitutional democracy and the rule of law.”

Two former Polish foreign ministers, Gregorz Schetyna, from the opposition Civic Platform party, and Adam Rotfeld, a left-wing politician turned academic, said PiS threatens to harm Poland’s international standing.

“Poland’s position, Poland’s brand, Poland’s success … are suddenly ending and the opinion of Poland, in a very concrete way, is changing in Europe,” Schetyna said in the Polish parliament on Wednesday.

Rotfeld told the TVN24 broadcaster: “If it comes to a rupture between Poland and the EU, it will be due to internal [Polish] reasons.”

He compared Poland under Kaczynski to Austria under its late, far-right leader Joerg Haider, when Vienna was stigmatised by the EU Council. “Values play a very important role in the EU - democracy and rule of law are key issues,” Rotfeld said.

Poland to trade UK welfare for Nato bases

Poland says willing to trade British welfare rights for UK support for Nato bases, as country edges closer to EU pariah status over domestic reforms.

EUobserved

How to build an illiberal democracy in the EU

With Brussels increasingly worried by Poland, we take a look how Hungary's Viktor Orban created a template for dismantling democratic checks and balances inside an EU state.

EU commission criticism upsets Warsaw

The Polish foreign ministry has summoned the European Commission’s top official in Warsaw to clarify criticism of its new media law.

News in Brief

  1. Navalny arrest prompts calls for EU sanctions
  2. Portugal's EU celebration caused corona risk
  3. Women's rights protesters 'evil', Polish deputy PM says
  4. Eurostar says government help needed for survival
  5. German party elects Armin Laschet to continue Merkel's line
  6. Vaccine apartheid on show in EU neighbourhood
  7. Hacked EU files show pressure for quick vaccine approval
  8. EU court and Irish dog make history

Opinion

Rule-of-law deal: major step for Europe of values

At the very moment when an incumbent president across the Atlantic was carrying out staggering attacks on the foundations of democracy, the European Parliament obtained a historic agreement to protect the rule of law in Europe.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. How one man and his dog made a mark on EU history
  2. Frontex spent €94,000 on a dinner in Warsaw
  3. EU's AI military strategy poses 'threat to Europeans'
  4. EU leaders seek to speed up vaccinations This WEEK
  5. EU name change masks new restrictions in development sector
  6. Frontex and Europol pledge greater access to documents
  7. Dutch government resigns two months before election
  8. The battle for Germany's ruling party that will change Europe

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us