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19th Oct 2019

Free press groups raise 'alert' on Polish media law

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and other free-press defenders have issued a joint complaint against Poland over its controversial media reforms.

The groups told the Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, on Monday (4 January) that Poland's new law on public service media "is wholly unacceptable in a genuine democracy.”

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  • Media groups have issued a formal complaint against Poland (Photo: AK Rockefeller)

The statement, submitted by the IFJ, the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), urges Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party to abandon the proposed legislation "at once.”

The law, which was rushed through Polish parliament in late December, removes guarantees for the independence of public service TV and radio.

It allows a government minister to appoint and dismiss all members of the supervisory and management boards of public media outlets.

The IFJ and the other NGOs say the new system makes public service media outlets "wholly dependent on the goodwill and favour of the government.”

The journalist groups noted the proposed changes were put to a vote in parliament without public debate.

They also say the law undermines the Council of Europe's 2012 declaration on public service media governance.

The declaration states public service media must remain independent of political or economic interference and must be transparent.

The NGOs' complaint does not constitute a court case.

But the Council of Europe has given it the status of an "alert" - a formal statement issued to its member states, which is designed to prompt a public dialogue between Warsaw and the Strasbourg-based body.

The AEJ, for its part, in a letter addressed to top Polish government officials in late December, also said the law would lead to “systematic editorial bias” in favour of PiS.

PiS won a majority in both of Poland's chambers of parliament in October general elections.

The move is seen by some as a power grab by PiS chairman, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, in his campaign to disseminate a brand of conservative Christian and nationalist values.

The legislation has drawn wider international criticism, with the European Commission asking Poland to justify how it meets EU standards on free speech.

The commission is to hold a debate on the situation on 13 January, with the German EU commissioner, for one, saying Poland could face unprecedented punitive measures.

The issue is also likely to come up at the European Parliament, with liberal group leader Guy Verhofstadt describing the law as moving Poland in the direction of Russia-type authoritaarinaism.

He said it’s “another hastily adopted step to quickly create facts and dissolve Poland from the European value order, manipulating the country eastwards.”

His reference to “another … step” comes after a previous PiS law which extends political control over Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal.

Poland under Kaczynski has been compared to Hungary under its hardman PM Viktor Orban.

But Orban has, to an extent, escaped EU censure due the protection of the centre-right EPP group in Brussels, the largest political group, of which his Fidesz party is a member.

PiS also has allies in the EU assembly, where it sits with the eurosceptic Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformist (ECR) together with the ruling British Conservative Party.

On Monday, Polish PiS MEP Anna Fotyga lashed out at Verhofstadt, saying he should "think twice before he describes a person like me as national socialist and as a helper of [Russian leader Vladmir] Putin."

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