Saturday

25th Feb 2017

Poland escalates media law dispute with EU

  • "It seems someone provided you with misleading information that is biased," the Polish government wrote to commission vice-president Timmermans. (Photo: European Commission)

The Polish government sent a fiery reply to the European Commission's concerns about a new media law, just hours after the commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said he wanted "friendly and good relations with Poland".

In a letter addressed to commission vice-president Frans Timmermans Thursday (7 January) and leaked by the Financial Times Friday, undersecretatry of State Aleksander Stepkowski assured that "freedom of information and freedom of speech are fully appreciated and respected by the Polish government".

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

On 30 December Timmermans asked Warsaw to reconsider a new law firing the heads of the public radio and television and giving the treasury minister power to choose their successors.

“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,” Timmermans wrote.

The Polish reply was sent only after the law was signed by president Andrej Duda Thursday and entered into force.

'Misleading information'

The fact that the letter is signed by Stepkowski and not by the ministers to whom Timmermans' letter was addressed, foreign affairs and justice ministers Witold Waszczykowski and Zbigniew Ziobro, or even by EU affairs minister Konrad Szymanski, can also be seen as a rebuke.

And although the letter gives answers on legal points raised by Timmermans, about respect of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and a 2010 EU directive on audiovisual services, it lambasts the commission over the mere idea of raising concerns.

"It seems someone provided you with misleading information that is biased against the Polish government," Stepkowski wrote.

"Media reports, even if believed to be pluralistic and free, often represent political interest and might appear an inappropriate base for official communication with member states," he added.

Warsaw's uncompromising reply will put the commission in a difficult situation.

It came just hours after the EU executive's president, Juncker, tried to avoid a showdown.

"We’re not bashing Poland,” he said Thursday. “Let’s not overdramatise. It’s an important issue."

Juncker also appeared to rule out the prospect of sanctions against Poland.

“I don’t think it’ll come to that,” he said, referring to the triggering of article 7 of the EU treaty, a rule of law monitoring process that can lead to suspension of the voting rights of a member state.

'Undesirable effect'

The college of commissioners is due to examine the situation in Poland on 13 January and it will have to decide on a political response to Warsaw's stand.

"The Polish government is always open to cooperation with the commission," Stepkowski wrote, before adding a veiled threat of escalation.

"Exposing the Polish government to interventions inspired by unjust, biased and politically engaged enunciations might have an undesirable effect, which is to be carefully avoided," he wrote.

Meanwhile the government nominated the new heads of the public TV and radio.

The radio will be under the direction of a journalist, Barbara Stanislawczyk, while the television is entrusted to another journalist, Jacek Kurski, who also happens to be a former MEP and MP for the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS).

In its letter to the commission, Stepkowski said the PiS government was "going to meet the expectations expressed by the biggest Polish organisation of media professionals", the Polish Journalists' Association (SDP).

Radical change

The government official also quoted the SDP as saying that "in recent years, public media have reached a state of pathology which is characterised, among other things, by political partisanship and the lack of pluralism". The SDP called for "a radical change".

The SDP is considered in Poland as close to the PiS and its president, Krzysztof Skowronski, was nominated director of public radio Program III in 2006, when current PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski was elected prime minister.

Unlike the SDP, four European journalists organisations said the new media law "is wholly unacceptable in a genuine democracy”.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) appealed to the Council of Europe, the human rights watchdog, on Wednesday (6 January).

On 7 January, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) also condemned the law.

"The new regime’s ambition is to turn Polish radio and TV into media instruments for the government, and not for its citizens,” EBU's director general Ingrid Deltenre said in a statement.

Bosnian football fans may miss out on Euro 2016

European Broadcasting Union concerned that Bosnia may become the first country without a public broadcaster, meaning sports fans would miss watching the Euro competition.

Poland postpones overhaul of public media

Reform to create "national media" that would promulgate views of authorities and respect Christian values put off until after July amid EU concerns.

Analysis

Why Romania erupted in protest

Current anger over corruption laws can be traced back to a night-club fire in 2015, when many died because of lax safety standards. Romanians then realised that corruption can kill.

French police raid Le Pen's party office

Officers raid the National Front headquarters near Paris over allegations that leader Marine Le Pen used fake EU parliament contracts to pay her personal staff.

News in Brief

  1. Spanish court jails former IMF chief Rato
  2. Macron proposes Nordic-style economic model for France
  3. Germany posts record high budget surplus
  4. Labour ousts Ukip in Brexit homeland
  5. Dutch lower house approves EU-Ukraine treaty
  6. WTO says Russian pork ban was illegal
  7. Belgian nuclear plant made 'significant progress' on safety
  8. Report: Commission gauging EU support for Poland sanctions

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EURORDISJoin the Rare Disease Day and Help to Advocate for More Research on Rare Diseases
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceStudents Who Are Considered Fit Get Better Grades in School
  3. QS World MBA TourMeet with Leading International Business Schools in Paris on March 4th
  4. Malta EU 2017Economic Governance: Agreement Reached on Structural Reform Support Programme for Member States
  5. Socialists & DemocratsWomen Have to Work Ten Years Longer to Match Lifetime Earnings of Men
  6. Counter BalanceTrans-Adriatic Pipeline Is a Major Risk for Banks, Warns New Analysis
  7. Martens CentreEU and US Migration Policies Compared: Join the Debate on February 28th
  8. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow
  9. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen
  10. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  12. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play
  2. UNICEFNumber of Ukrainian Children Needing Aid Nearly Doubles to 1 Million Over the Past Year
  3. Centre Maurits CoppietersThe Situation of Refugee Women in Europe
  4. Salzburg Global SeminarToward a Shared Culture of Health: Charting the Patient-Clinician Relationship
  5. European Free AllianceAustria Should Preserve & Promote Bilingual and Multinational Carinthia
  6. Martens CentreShow Your Love for Democracy! Take Part in Our Contest: "If It's Broken, Let's Fix It"
  7. CISPECloud Computing Leaders Establish Data Protection Standards to Protect Customer Data
  8. Malta EU 2017Landmark Deal Reached With European Parliament on Portability of Online Content
  9. Belgrade Security ForumBSF 2017: Building a Common Future in the Age of Uncertainty
  10. CESIEU Not to Revise the Working Time Directive
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAzerbaijan: 76 NGOs Urge the EU to Use President's Visit to Insist on Human Rights Reforms
  12. UNICEFDeadliest Winter for Migrant Children Crossing the Central Mediterranean