Sunday

20th Jan 2019

Polish government takes on public media

  • Polish public TV headquarters. The ruling PiS party wants to "bring back public media to the Poles".

A day after enforcing controversial constitutional reforms, the Polish government launched a new parliamentary initiative on Tuesday (29 December), this time to put public media under its control.

According to a bill presented to MPs, the head of the Polish public radio and television will be dismissed and replaced by three-member boards "appointed and dismissed by the minister of the treasury."

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The new board will be under the control of the treasury "until the introduction of new national media organisations," the bill specifies.

The draft law "represents the first stage of the reform of the Polish public media, aiming to establish a national media system," the bill says.


The aim of the government is openly to replace the current public media with a national broadcaster that would promote "national interests" under closer government control.

The ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) wants to "bring back public media to the Poles," said PiS MP Elzbieta Kruk during the debate at the Sejm, Poland's lower house.

'Ideologies and political orientations'

Kruk, herself a former chair of the National Broadcasting Council, said that public media "falsely presented as public opinion" ideologies and political orientations that were not supported by the majority of voters.

"The ethos rooted in Christianity and Polish traditions of freedom and independence is marginalised or discredited, while an ideological and moral fashion unacceptable to the majority of the population is ennobled," she said.

The leader of PiS's parliamentary group, Ryszard Terlecki, said the bill should be examined "quickly" because public media are "unreliable."

Another PiS MP, Izabela Kloc, went further, saying that "in a parliamentary democracy, it is unacceptable that [public] media only criticise the work of the government."

The reform of the public media has been part of PiS' plans to re-orientate Polish society towards traditional values since the party came back to power after elections in October.

It comes just after president Andrej Duda signed a law changing the rules of the Constitutional Tribunal.

The constitutional reform prompted street demonstrations and a warning from the European Commission that it would "undermine the constitutional order."

In a country where public media was a tool of the communist dictatorship until 1989, media and constitutional reforms raise fears for civil liberties.

The media bill is "a negation of the principles of a functioning public media in a democratic society," the current head of the National Broadcasting Council, Jan Dworak, wrote in a letter to the speaker of the Sejm.

It "represents a return to the model we know from the past where state media is completely subordinated to the government," Dworak wrote.

Principles not upheld

In a letter to the culture minister and his deputy, the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) said "impartiality, objectivity and fairness" of public media "will not be upheld" by the media bill.

The AEJ added that the reform "will undoubtedly dismay those in Eastern Partnership countries such as Ukraine, Armenia, and Moldova who are striving to achieve free and fair public media, as well as those in Russia who are struggling for free expression and independent public service media as important elements of democratic politics."

The government and PiS MPs expected the bill to be passed on Tuesday in a first reading by the Sejm. But no vote took place after opposition parties tried to request its rejection.

The draft law was due to be presented to parliamentary committees on Wednesday.

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